With democracy, reproductive rights, and so many more everyday intimate issues on the ballot, Livingstone College student leaders gathered and vowed to make voting a priority for this year’s student activities.
Since freshman year, I’ve heard voting is a constitutional right and I have firmly agreed with that notion. However, after engaging in an academic faith-based discourse with Livingstone faculty advisor Da’Tarvia Parrish, I have come to learn – it is also sacred.
“There is blood that cries out in the universe in the name of voting,” stated Dr. Parrish at a rally to register students to vote. She continued with examples of the Opelousas, Louisiana and Eutaw, Alabama massacres during the Reconstruction era, and shared direct quotes from participants in the Selma, Alabama march and Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Moreover, Dr. Parrish noted the Opelousas massacre in 1868 and Hamer’s testimony in 1964 were only four years shy of 100 years apart; and today, over 150 years later, “. . . more blood, sweat, and tears are still crying out in the universe.” It was in that moment, I knew it was time to act.
As President of the Student Government Association, I asked all student leaders to meet with Office of Student Affairs under the direction of Terri Stevenson, and faculty and staff interested in the initiative because we were intentional in finding a program to complement our mission. We found Interfaith America’s Vote is Sacred, Black Voters Matter, Common Cause North Carolina, and Students Learn Students Vote. Interfaith America’s programming served as the framework for our mission. The content helped to educate, enlighten, and inspire our student leaders, who in return had the skillset and confidence to stand before others. Moreover, Black Voters Matter assisted tremendously with community initiatives, marketing, and igniting a greater sense cultural pride. Common Cause of North Carolina and Students Learn Students Vote connected us with other college campuses, training, and aided as well in marketing materials and supplies. We were truly blessed in our efforts.
Grant funding from the organizations provided us the opportunity for a six-phase program.
Phase One: Student leader and advisor training included Interfaith America’s Vote is Sacred content-based workshops, discussions, and simulations to help define purpose and mobilize the mission. Common Cause of North Carolina Ambassador training included voter registration, voter intimidation tactics and poll monitoring. Students Learn Students Vote and Black Voters Matter training primarily focused on voter awareness and engagement.
Phase Two: Voter planning included methods and programming to register voters, increase voter awareness, and mobilize voters. Each area aimed to have at minimum five programs.
Phase Three: Voter registration included registration in freshman orientation, traditional orientation, campus events to include community engagement such as “LC on the Green,” sporting events (football and volleyball games), dorm storms (visiting each residence hall), and registration rallies at local churches and community events. Furthermore, voter registration efforts were rewarded with trivia games activities and events such as a skate party.
Phase Four: Voter awareness included multiple campus discussions on the current events, local elections, Supreme Court decisions, and kitchen-table topics that specifically effect college students such as financial aid. Moreover, in an effort to better acquaint students with candidates, Livingstone College engaged in four major forums to include faculty serving as a facilitator for the Sheriff candidates (Da’Tarvia Parrish) and female candidates (Nicole Oehman), and the campus hosting U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley, and a forum exclusively for Rowan County candidates.
Phase Five A: Voter mobilization included early voting immediately following the Rowan County candidates’ forum. A “Party with the Prez” pep rally that hosted the college’s president Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Davis and radio host personality No Limit Larry from Power 98, helped to galvanize students and staff to the main location as grant funding assisted with transportation to the polls. Black Voters Matter disseminated clothing apparel, the local NAACP was present, and various city officials charged the Livingstone College community to vote. From 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. students were shuttled to the Board of Elections to cast their ballot.
Phase Five B: After evaluating the number of students who engaged in voting, we decided to sponsor two more days of early voting with transportation to the polls. Early voting is important because students, who may not be registered, can register and vote in the same day. We had a few students who registered with their local DMV and then registered with Livingstone College; however, their addresses were not updated.
Phase Five C: Voting on Election Day is our final attempt to move voters. Again, the student leaders, faculty, staff, and community leaders rallied at Livingstone College to march-to-vote at the community precinct, Miller Recreation Center. This effort not only gets the final few who may not have yet cast their ballot, but it also gets the attention of people in the community, who also joined us in these efforts.
Phase Six: Evaluating our program includes two months of collecting student feedback and comparative data analysis. At present, we know compared to other HBCUs in North Carolina, Livingstone College is the number one voting institution; however, we need to ensure our outcome is parallel to our output. We will assess our student population, our current number of registered voters, and those who actually voted. As political action and social responsibility is a tenant of our holistic modules, we will determine a hands-on plan to target students who did not vote and even engage in discussions as it relates to reluctant voters and maintaining engagement in student voters. After review, we will begin with meeting and planning programming the spring semester for returning students.
As we have taken on much regarding voter awareness and mobilization, it has all been worthwhile. Voting is sacred because democracy is sacred. In my faith, we learn we are many members of one body, and in political terms, that body is democracy. Therefore, whether we are Christian, Jew, Gentile, bond, or free, we are one in the spirit of democracy; and this too cries out in the universe.
Michael Gilyard is a student and the president of the Student Government Association at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina.