A scene from director Ava DuVernay’s classic “Selma” captures what African-Americans had to fight for in decades past when we tried to cast a ballot. Oprah Winfrey’s character is quizzed on a variety of issues including the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and how many county judges are in Alabama.
But her determination to vote is just one moment among thousands in which members of the Black community defied the system. What your family members had to endure for the right to vote required a steely backbone, a firm belief in a higher power and the will to protect their constitutional rights. Don’t take that lightly.
Today, as members of both political parties nervously prepare for the final results some brothers and sisters may decide to sit out this election. While I think it’s important to vote, each individual has a choice. For instance, several years ago I decided to protest a decision by not voting during a Presidential election. The issue I opposed proved to be catastrophic for the Black community and continues to ruin lives today.
In retrospect, my moral stance on the issue was correct and I sleep at night because the candidate I would have considered won the election. However, the current election is like none other in U.S. history. The rhetoric including blatant sexism, xenophobia and racism is real and not blaring from a television sitcom. You are not living in a dual universe.
So Black men, what are we prepared to do?
During the Democratic and Republican primaries I wrote an article for EBONY.com on why Black men will play an important role in the election. Although some experts are suggesting that Black voter turnout may be lower than 2008 and 2012 don’t let that prevent you from making a choice. In 2012, for the first time in history, Blacks voted at a higher rate than Whites. Your vote does matter!
For the brothers reading this article you probably have the following questions: How important is your vote? Why should you care? What is the connection between the past and today? As you ponder each question below are a few issues that will likely be addressed by the next President that Black men should not ignore:
Supreme Court-after the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County v. Holder) states including North Carolina made immediate changes to state law. The next President will have the opportunity to recommend a Supreme Court candidate who has to be confirmed by the Senate. After the death of Antonin Scalia, the court only has eight members (instead of nine). The Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment. Let that sink in.
Higher Education Act (HEA)- the next President is likely to work with the House and Senate to reauthorize HEA. Like most people, I have student loans. If you share my pain look carefully at the proposed policies of each candidate. Ensuring students that come from underserved communities have the resources to attend college is critical. In addition, one candidate is proposing dramatically increasing funding for HBCUs while the other _________(crickets).
Prison Reform– Republicans and Democrats have discussed and introduced comprehensive prison reform. While they made progress a bill never made it to President Obama’s desk. The U.S. consistently has one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world. We need to make sure we fight for this issue. Far too many Black men are caught in the system.
Economy – the last jobs report of the Obama presidency noted that unemployment is at 4.9% nationally. Unfortunately the Black community consistently has higher unemployment rates (8.6%) in comparison to the rest of the country. We need to ensure that the next president supports investment in the Black community. Ensuring brothers and sisters have the opportunity to be entrepreneurs and build wealth is important.
Affordable Care Act (ACA)– recent news that premiums could increase by 25% is like manna from heaven for anti-ACA critics. Despite surviving legal challenges there may be some minor or major changes that the next President may seek. Secretary Clinton has suggested that she supports some slight changes to the law. In contrast, Donald Trump doesn’t think highly of the law. While ACA isn’t perfect the uninsured rate is in single digits. There are more Americans that sleep well because they have health insurance. Ask around to see if you have any family or friends that benefitted from ACA.
After several months of UFC-like fights during debates, via Twitter and rallies it’s finally coming to an end. What comes next will become another key point in history. When you stand in the line to vote understand you could face voter intimidation. Stand strong. If you aren’t sure who to vote for check out Ebony Media Operations reasons for supporting one candidate over the other. On Tuesday I plan to tag @EbonyMag via Twitter to share my pic outside my polling place in Baltimore. Make sure you share a photo with other voters.
It is my belief that one of the most significant steps that members of the minority community may take is that short walk to the voting booth. It is the responsibility of every good citizen to register and vote. I strongly urge you to vote in the coming election. Vote for the party and candidate of your choice, but by all means vote. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (September 6, 1962)
Dr. Larry J. Walker is an HBCU mental health advocate and former Capitol Hill staffer. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming two volume set titled, “How the Obama Presidency Changed the Political Landscape.” Follow him on Twitter @LarryJWalker2.