By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,

The 15th Annual Black Women’s Roundtable Policy Forum Series: “Power of the Ballot: We won’t be erased!” helped set the tone for the 52nd Annual Legislative Conference, which opened on Sept. 20. 

The panel took place in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. and focused on the power of the ballot and leveraging the political influence of Black women leaders. The panel featured community and faith leader, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, White House correspondent of 26 years April Ryan, and many more powerful women from across the U.S. 

“It’s important for us to be here, in this moment, because we are under attack: Black women, our communities– from voting rights to workers rights– reproductive rights and rights for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Ryan. “At this table, we’re going to come up with solutions.”

Cassandra Welchlin, executive director of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, suggested that leaders work to center registered and unregistered voters’ concerns, connecting them back to public policy.

“We’re talking about Medicaid expansion, maternal health care, clean water for our cities, and childcare. Those are the kinds of things that will guide people back to the polls,” said Welchlin. 

Williams-Skinner offered advice for Black Americans to help solve the low Black voter turnout issue.

“Stop talking about what other people are doing to us when we won’t even get out of our house – and vote and take our kids to vote. That’s our responsibility,” said Williams-Skinner. 

Ellisica Cannon, a teacher and conference attendee from South Dade Senior High School in Homestead, Fla., shared her perspective on what can get Black citizens to the polls.

“We just have to get back to being a collective– loving one another– and then realizing how important it is for all of us to still get out and vote,” said Cannon. “We have to get back to speaking to each other. I don’t know if it was COVID-19 that has everybody kind of hands off, but we have to get back to [asking one another] ‘can we do this together?’”

Charkera Ervin, a D.C.-based attorney and conference attendee, believes that Black women should realize that they are the community’s gatekeepers and that there’s much to advocate for on the ballot. 

“Our spaces in the workforce are under attack with many of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs being targeted,” said Ervin. “There’s so much that’s under attack and a lot of the attacks are coming at the state level. As much foolishness as we see in the U.S. House of Representatives, our state houses are doing the most damage. Black women have to show up.”

Panelists also presented solutions for maintaining Black history, literacy and Black presence in the U.S.

“We need to add literary and educational justice to our overcrowded agendas. We have to have the freedom to write, read and learn,” said Bishop Vashti McKenzie, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches. “Every Sunday school and bible study should teach about Black history. Have your children read and buy books [for them].”