Crowds piled into Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium on Wednesday night for the release of the National Urban League’s 2012 State of Black America report.
This years report sends a call to action African American’s urging the community to “Occupy the Vote” during the swiftly approaching election season.
Under the leadership of Vernon Jordan, the National Urban League began releasing State of Black America reports in 1976 to address social and political issues that face the Black community. Past reports have addressed the issue of jobs, education and working with the sitting president; NUL President and CEO Marc Morial says that this year, the organization was compelled to address the current alarming trends in minority voter registration and participation.
“The Black vote is under attack,” Morial said as he addressed the crowd of activists, community members and students.
The “attack” Morial was referring to stems from the fact that a number of states have passed or in the process of passing legislation that with limit the voting rights of minority citizens, students and senior citizens—groups that made a huge impact on the election of President Barack Obama.
In 2011, Kansas, Georgia, Indiana, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, implemented strict voter identification laws that made it mandatory for voting citizens to have a photo identification card. A judge in Dane County, Wisconsin issued an injunction that bars the state from using the new laws and the Department of Justice denied pre-clearance for the new law in South Carolina; however there are still 23 states that require some form of identification before voting.
These new laws, along with limited voting hours and deadlines for voter registration, the Urban League believes, are in line with the laws imposed in the post-reconstruction era that restricted Blacks from voting by imposing poll taxes, literacy tests and the infamous grandfather clause. However, they believe these laws will have a negative impact that expands beyond lines of color.
“Voter suppression law will affect Black people, yes, but it will affect senior citizens of all races and young people of all races,” Morial said. “We must occupy the vote. If we’re going to have a voice in the discussion on what America is going to be, we must vote.”
The report also addresses issues of education that face black and brown communities across the nation. In the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data plan that was released earlier this week, it was reported that African American students are twice as likely to repeat a grade or be suspended than their white counterparts.
In the report’s eight-point plan, solutions are offered that address education specifically including equalizing funding for schools, expand and make mandatory early childhood education for all people, improving the quality, training and availability of teachers.
Dr. Leslie Fenwick, Dean of the College of Education at Howard University said during the evening’s panel discussion that one of her biggest concerns is that a large portion of black students don’t have access to African American teachers.
“If there’s a singular effort that we as a community can engage its increasing the representativeness of teachers in this country,” Fenwick said. “Only eight percent of the nation’s teachers are African American and 68 percent of inner city principles are white and 73 percent of inner city teachers are white—the nation can ill afford a future where its school children see a singular or White model of intellectual authority.”
Other panelist for the evening included Keli Goff , Kevin Powell, Nolan Rollins, Warren Ballentine, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Howard University professor Dr. Gregory Carr and Urban League essay contest winner Desiree Luckey,
After the discussion, which was moderated by Morial, members of the audience presented questions that challenged the panel to come up with real solutions.
Nolan Rollins, the President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, believes this was the most compelling part of the evening.
“At the end of the day, our plight is not going to be solved by just having a conversation,” Rollins said. “Our plight is going to be solved by defining the problem and creating a solution. I think what we saw here was a solution-oriented panel discussion that really dug deep into what really needs to be done. We can’t just talk any more, we’ve got to do.”
The NUL has also launched an election center on iamempowered.com that gives people a hotline to get access to a registration form, information on voting laws. Election Center will also provide updates throughout the year.
“We are going to be working to occupy the vote, to activate our community, to work across lines with civil rights-like minded groups and faith based groups,” Morial said. “We’ve got to educate people about the threat of these new vote suppression laws. It’s not too early to begin to think about election season. ”
The full State of Black America report can be accessed here.