Florida A&M University (FAMU) Black History Town Hall panelists and speakers urged students and young people to honor the sacrifice of those who fought for the right to vote by stepping up their participation in the 2020 elections.
“It’s important for every segment of the community to participate in the process, especially those of you who might be participating in the process for the first time,” FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., told the Lee Hall Auditorium audience Thursday morning.
In his introduction of the five-member panel, Robinson invoked the name of sisters Patricia Stevens and Priscilla Stephens, who as FAMU students 60 years ago protested segregated lunch counters in Tallahassee for which they served 49 days in jail.
“This the kind of courage and legacy we have to build on. We’ve always been on the forefront of social change,” Robinson said. “We have always fought for the rights and privileges everyone has benefitted from. We are not afraid.”
During the 90-minute “African Americans and the Vote” event, panelists addressed questions about African-American voter participating, President Donald Trump, economic and political power and other issues.
“Exercising the right to vote is the most basic tenet of a democratic form of government,” said Tallahassee City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, who treated the 300 students, staff and faculty gathered for the event with an overview of Black voting rights history. “Nonparticipation is not an option for African Americans. People gave their lives so we would get the right to vote.”
Assistant Professor of History Kimberly Brown Pellum, Ph.D., warned “blind loyalty is also not an option.”
“We have to make politicians campaign to us and not entertain us. Bringing out saxophones and Jay-Z and Beyoncé isn’t enough,” said Pellum, who paid tribute to Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Month.
In addressing national politics, John Warford, Ph.D., said there is too much at stake for people not to vote.
“We should use our vote to protect our personal interest,” said Warford, an assistant professor of geography, history and political science. “Not voting is not protest but is cynicism. Being cynical does not help our situation. We are tied to this country. We need to know what our interests are. We need to participate based on principles not just protest.”
Echoing a point raised by Richardson, Professor Darius Young, Ph.D., asked the audience to focus on the political power closer to home. While many African-American voters are disenchanted with electoral politics, those who support FAMU cannot afford to be disengaged, he said.
“We need to focus on a local level because it has direct implications for this University,” said Young, who cited the recent move in the Florida House of Representatives to merge New College in Sarasota with Florida State University and Florida Polytechnic with the University of Florida.
“They have the power to do that. We can’t ignore that,” Young continued. “Student activism has always been about protecting this institution. We have the responsibility as alum, students and faculty not only to participate in the political process but we have to harness the political power in the streets and raise our voices and articulate why this institution is still important.”
One of the biggest challenges is to reach those who are not on campus and are disengaged, said Tiffany Loftin, Youth and College Division director of the NAACP.
“We have not yet figured out ways to master speaking to the community, the people who are not on college campuses. We have not figured a way to reach the part of that community that is disenfranchised, don’t have Wi-Fi, differently abled.
“If the 70 percent who are not on college campuses don’t vote,” Loftin later warned, “we are going to lose the next election.