America will be listening and watching as President Barack Obama addresses the nation during his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, January 28. Where will Black Americans be in the conversation? Specifically, where will young Black Americans be in the discussion?
Thanks to the League of Young Voters Education Fund, Black millennials will be at the forefront of the tonight's address, engaging in not only what the President will declare as his key areas of focus this year, but also exploring the issues affecting young Americans of color. Where is it taking place? On the internets, of course.
Before President Obama takes the stage to deliver his SOTU, the League will host its signature #BarackTalk Twitter Townhall to get the pulse of young Americans of color, as well as predict what the President will cover in his Address. Directly following the SOTU, the League will host its first ever State of the Youth Address. We had a few moments to speak with Dr. Robert “Biko” Baker, Executive Director of the League of Young Voters, to discuss what we can expect Tuesday and why young Black Americans should be a part of this discussion.
EBONY: What are the top three issues concerning your constituents: millennials of color, non-college youth, and low-income youth?
Biko Baker: The League works with a number of orgs to touch a variety of issues.But for us and the upcoming #BarackTalk, we are first focusing on the economy and raising minimum wage. Secondly, we’re focused on gun violence; we think given that gun violence is the leading cause of death for black males 16-19 it is important to talk about. For this topic we’ve partnered with Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg). And last, while it’s not a sexy topic, we’re focused on voting and protecting the right to vote. Voting is getting harder so we want to bring attention to issues around voting like the voting rights act and voter identification.
EBONY: How is social media changing how millennials engage around politics? And do you think or know if politicians are listening?
BB: When I was at The Source, I never got invited to political meetings. Now, ten years later doing the same work with the League, I am getting invited to these meetings because of the [power of the] internet. We are having conversations with politicians. They see the power of social media. They are watching. It is cool to have their boss on EBONY.com. It wasn’t like that ten years ago.
Millennials are way more informed that previous generations were. You’ve seen it even with the Electoral College. Millennials are more engaged than before. Twitter allows us to be part of the conversation. #BarackTalk has trended on Twitter in cities across the country every time we’ve done it. We trended in D.C. when Barack Obama was trending on Twitter. We’re shifting the discords, I think.
EBONY: The State of the Union Address is key for America. What tools on the ground does the League have in place to help engage its core audience with this critical information?
BB: The League is on the ground in Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin and Virginia. And we have volunteer chapters in California and Maine. In our chapters young people are doing peer to peer organizing and getting out there working with legislative officials. The League trains [young people] up with skills to influence the next group to get them going too.
EBONY: What exactly is the State of the Youth Address?
BB: We’ve partnered with amazing partners for the State of the Youth Address. At the forefront is Phillip Agnew, Executive Director of the Dream Defenders, to step us and talk about the issues affecting millennials. He’ll most likely talk about Trayvon, incarceration, and jobs. We want to put a magnifying glass on Phillip so he can rally the troops and get us engaged through Twitter.
EBONY: What are your anticipated outcomes from the State of the Youth Address?
BB: We want to influence the narrative before 2016. People think young people are disengaged in non-election years but we want to keep millennials part of the conversation. We want to influence the Administration. We want our network to continue to reach folks people think we can’t reach. We’re going to do this on Twitter.
We’re also on Facebook. There we’re always talking about the key issues and posting information. The best part about all of this is that we have leaders in the network, artists and cool organizers, who have fan pages with tens of thousands of fans that continue to share the information. The League is truly a youth led organization.
The #BarackTalk Twitter Townhall will begin promptly at 7:30pm EST on January 28. The State of the Youth Address will be broadcast online immediately following the SOTU on The League's YouTube channel. Engage with and follow The League of Young Voters on Twitter and Facebook.
Ebonie Johnson Cooper is a millennial writer/blogger with a passion for community engagement and giving. She is the owner of Friends of Ebonie, a social impact company dedicated to young Black philanthropy. Ebonie enjoys singing off-key and dancing on beat. Follow her at @EJCthatsMe.