I grew up in a family that took voting very seriously. My father, a preacher, often used his sermons to stress the importance of going to the polls and exercising your power to pick leaders who care about your community. But the truth is I never really understood why it is so important and how empowering it is to vote until I had my first chance to cast a ballot.

The first election I was able to vote in was the 2008 presidential election. I was a freshman at Wilberforce, a historical Black university that ironically is located in an Ohio town where the Ku Klux Klan still exists. Though I was terrified out of my mind, I joined other young people who walked door to door every day canvasing for then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid.

It was during those days that I began to understand that my vote was crucial—that I, along with other Black women and young people, had the ability to help determine who would be this country’s next president. I began to grasp just how significant that power was when Greene County officials launched an investigation of our voter registration efforts because it seemed impossible that we could legally register 300 Black college students—most of them women—to vote in same day early voting. The moment I saw our story in the national news I knew our votes really did matter. We were passionate, involved, and when Obama won the presidency, we learned that our actions can make change.

I am hoping the same excitement that we had in 2008 and 2012 gets us to the polls this November 4th. We may not be voting for the first black president this time, but the issues are just as crucial. In states like Ohio, where I first voted, elected officials are passing laws that make it harder for young people and black people to vote. The only way we can change that is by showing up at the polls and casting ballots for candidates who will protect our right to choose our leaders and decide the direction of this country.

I am proud of the role that young Blacks—particularly young Black women—played in the last two presidential elections. It truly was our votes that put Obama over the top and allowed him to become leader of the world’s most influential nation. But our work is not done. It’s crucial that we show up at the polls this midterm election, because while we’re not choosing the next president, we are deciding who will be our local and state leaders and who will represent our interests in Washington. In many ways, the individuals who hold these offices have more power than the president to affect our daily lives. Frankly, I’m tired of having elected officials who share little in common with me make decisions on my behalf. That’s why I’ll be voting on November 4th.

Lauren Wilson is a blogger and social activist who lives in New York City. She plans to one day run for political office.