Xenophobic headlines diminishing Black suffrage are circulating inaccurate messages to Black Americans. Such discrimination has prompted the University of Miami’s National Pan-Hellenic Council to work toward undoing minority voter suppression as the nation enters election season.
In conjunction with UM’s Get Out the Vote, the student-led Black Greek committee is developing a justice-oriented voting campaign set to launch this fall.
With aims to educate on the importance of the 2020 census, voter registration, work at polling stations and vote-by-mail options, NPHC and GOTV will strategically promote voter registration throughout marginalized areas of Miami-Dade County — including South Miami, Coconut Grove, Richmond Heights and Homestead — by dropping palm cards explaining how to vote in people’s mailboxes.
Activists can maintain social distance yet still play an integral role in ensuring that Miami’s impoverished neighborhoods are not excluded from voting.
NPHC and GOTV plan to roll out the initiative before National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22 and repeat it leading up to the November election. Furthermore, joint actions with UM’s Black Student Leadership Caucus and United Black Students, including an on-campus registration drive and social media campaign, are under development.
“We’re all in this together to create change within and beyond UM’s community,” said Marckell Williams, UM senior and president of NPHC.
“We must vote like our lives depend on it because they do.”— Marckell Williams
NPHC sought to conduct outreach when the Iota Pi Lambda graduate chapter in South Miami orchestrated a similar socially distanced service opportunity and urged UM’s council to follow and take action.
“To have these dialogues and raise attention to our civic duty to vote is extremely important,” noted senior Miles Pendleton, UM Student Government senator for NPHC, without hesitation.
Voting rights and community outreach are historically at the core of what NPHC represents.
“We served at the center of the civil rights movement and we’ve been protesting against voter suppression ever since,” Williams underscored. “This project is true and dear to the heart of why our organizations exist: to advance the quality of life and politically advocate for Black lives in the U.S.”
“Of course, voting and voter rights are at the top of the agenda for the council this year. Historically, NPHC has fought for the rights of the disenfranchised, including back to our founding as a support organization for Black students, who were not isolated from the issues faced by Black Americans in society. From that foundation of brotherhood and sisterhood grew the values and emphasis on scholarship, leadership, philanthropy and service. Each of the Divine Nine are unique in their own way, but that shared history has always united them: the emphasis on community action and awareness through service. It has been that way for 100 years and will continue in 2020 and beyond,” stated Assistant Dean of Students and NPHC Advisor Anthoney Kinney in solidarity.
“This is the election of a liftetime.”— Devin Foster
GOTV is a non-partisan student organization at UM’s Butler Center for Service & Leadership encouraging voter engagement, student participation and overall voter education through its flagship Voter Ambassador Program and a series of comprehensive events frequently inviting representatives from Miami-Dade County’s Elections Department.
GOTV is no stranger to joining forces with campus-wide leaders to inform and provide resources to the student population: On July 7, the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program within the UM College of Arts & Sciences teamed up with GOTV to hold a Zoom webinar in partnership with Engage Miami and League of Women Voters discussing opportunities for civic participation in South Florida.
“As UM students, we only know the Coral Gables bubble and don’t know how we can better Miami as a whole,” explained Devin Foster, UM junior and program coordinator for GOTV. This virtual conference sparked out of the killing of George Floyd and consequent #BlackLivesMatter uproar and became a major outlet for people to connect with community leaders and not only voice their concerns but also act on them.
The collaboration with NPHC was also born out of protest because, “as a prominent civic engagement group on campus, we felt it was our duty to do something and couldn’t stand quiet and wait to be approached by other orgs,” Foster added. “This is who we are. We reached out to NPHC and UBS and asked what we can do, because we recognize the problem that Blacks have been underrepresented in politics for far too long.”
GOTV has ambitions to host a second video campaign next month heightening the significance of National Voter Registration Day to ‘Canes. Foster is confident that this year’s “election of a lifetime” will be a turning point.
“We were ineligible to vote in 2016, but now even freshmen can vote. It’s our moment to step up to the podium and shout that we want change,” he remarked.
The fact that the government is initiating conversations about defunding the post office proves that they are deliberately stripping low-income Black voices of their suffrage. An already oppressed racial class is now being wrongfully misled that their votes don’t count. Williams believes the current presidency has invigorated a lot of millennials to cast their ballots.
“Honestly, I’m counting on it to push people to vote. We must vote like our lives depend on it because they do,” he emphasized.
“This election will decide the future of America.”— Leïla Metellus
While targeted toward Blacks, the motive and impact of this voting campaign matter to ‘Canes of all races, ethnicities and nationalities, for its underlying principle nevertheless applies.
“[The vote is] a civic expression of our concerns and a vision of our future county,” Pendleton described. “When you think about the U.S. and the expressed ideals it was founded upon, suffrage is the most essential aspect to American life.”
Present voter diminution, however, is contradictory to freedom and liberty. It weakens these pillars and threatens the notion of democracy. Therefore, “lots of people don’t grasp the full weight of the vote or feel valued or heard.” And when not casted, the vote is a privilege wasted.
UM junior Leïla Metellus, historian of NPHC and president of Zeta Phi Beta sorority, wishes that this activism will unsilence Black women who are prejudiced and neglected.
“Little black girls are growing up watching Kamala Harris change the game boldly and proudly. Black women set trends, start movements and empower others — even when no one empowers us,” she proclaimed. “This initiative is groundbreaking because it will educate and enable young voters to speak up against the injustices we are facing. We need to elect people who take our best interests into account.”
Metellus refuses to be a bystander, exclaiming that it’s “imperative” that Black women vote, and remembered words attributed to the iconic American writer (and fellow Zeta lady) Zora Neale Hurston: “If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
“For Black lives to matter, Black voice has to matter.”— Miles Pendleton
Driven by enthusiastic changemakers, NPHC and GOTV are student-run associations contributing to greater nationwide reform. “What we’re doing is hard work, but it’s very much necessary work,” Foster reminded.
“We must vote. Vote for whoever you want to, and make the best decision you can, but vote,” Pendleton stressed, “because for Black lives to matter, Black voice has to matter, and Black political voice has to matter.”
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