By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
While college campuses might look a bit different this year, September marks the celebration of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) month and Sept. 20- Sept. 24 is National HBCU Week. This conference was planned under the White House Initiative on HBCUs. However, even when the glitz of HBCU month and week passes, the students are still putting in work to make their voices heard, as is the case with young women from the Next Generation Leadership Institute Fellowship offered through In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.
“We wanted to set up a program that basically became a formal pipeline into the next generation of reproductive justice leaders and we decided to concentrate on Historically Black Colleges and Universities- recruit activists,” said Marcela Howell, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.
The Next Generation Leadership Institute Fellowship offers young women on HBCU campuses a paid opportunity to be change-makers on their campuses for two years. Through programming offered with the organization, such as “I Am A Voter,” the fellows are now rallying their peers to vote by educating them on the history and fight surrounding Black people voting- particularly Black women. In addition, the fellows are emphasizing the importance of exercising their civic duties in such critical times, particularly considering the pandemic, protests fighting racism and police brutality and a threat to voting rights state-by-state.
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Khaelyn Jackson, one of this year’s fellows. “I attend Dillard University where [on] the campus, most of the student population is women. So with this fellowship that I’m in, [I’m] making sure they’re aware of certain laws being passed, things to vote on, making sure the students know what they’re voting on, because a lot of the laws that are being passed, and a lot of things that are being talked about, affect Black women. So that’s really what we’re trying to do- make everyone aware of what’s going on and making sure people are registered to vote, because we need to show up at the polls.”
Spelman College student and fellowship participant Tyra Gravesande underscored the significance of voting, not only as it relates to the current state of the world and future, but also as it connects to the history of the Black foremothers and forefathers who fought for the right, as well as its importance to today’s political and social climate.
“This fight is definitely one of the most exhilarating and one of the most important ones of my life and future lives and it’s going to affect us, not only a year from now, but 10 years, 20 years from now,” Gravesande said “So it’s really imperative that young people get their selves out there, educate themselves on what’s going on, and absolutely getting out their to vote. Voting is one of the most important things that people have- and people of color have. And there are so many people who have died for us to have this right to vote so it’s extremely imperative that we all get out there and vote and make sure. [With] everything that’s going on around us it’s extremely, extremely imperative that you have a say in what’s going on, because, if you don’t, someone else is going to make that decision for you and that’s the last thing we need right now.”
As Howell and the young students discussed their work and push for voting in all elections, they also emphasized the importance of having a voting plan.
“Making a plan to vote- knowing what your rights are, and making a plan and then sharing your plan with your friends and family so that they are also making a plan to vote,” Howell said. “If you remember, former First Lady Michelle Obama, at one point said ‘Pack your lunch, in fact, maybe you need to pack your dinner too and go out on election day, and stand in that line with your mask on and make sure you cast your vote.’ That’s part of the making the plan- decide what you’re going to do, and then stick to it.”
Both Gravesande and Jackson said they traditionally go to vote with their moms, and will do the same this year. Jackson also said she plans on rallying a caravan of her friends so that they can vote together.
“The people who are running the voting station- they’re always excited to see me, and I think it’s because I’m young. So what I’m doing now [for] my friends, I asked them, and I even said it on Twitter, that if you need a ride to the polls I will take you. So we’re like carpooling and setting up some type of arrangement to go together and carpool to the polls so that we’re not alone. And for some people it’s their first time, so I think it would be cool to experience going with my friends, and it’s their first time voting.”
As the “I AM A Voter,” campaign continues, In My Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda is busy with many causes, including the fight to fulfill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish to stop the Trump administration from appointing another Supreme Court seat, and gearing up for Reproductive Justice Week of Action (Sept. 28- Oct. 2).
For more information visit www.BlackWomen.vote.