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Students activists on campus part of long university history

FAMU’s Student Government Chief Diversity Officer discusses the several students and alumni that have made an impact through political activism.

During my time at Florida A&M University, I have been enlightened on the importance of creating Black spaces for education. These institutions provide a body of knowledge that holds objective truths, commonly connecting us all in the Black community.

Students at FAMU have always engaged in political conversation. Because of our location in Florida’s capital, our students can attend protests, hearings and other political events easily.

In 1956, two FAMU students, Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson helped spark the civil rights movement in Tallahassee by refusing to give up their seats for a white woman on the bus.

Jaelyn Guyton

This led to the university president holding a meeting to discuss what should be done, which prompted the student body to take action and make the decision to suspend the use of buses. The city’s bus system maintained for just 33 days before suspending services due to lack of funds.

Lewis M. Killian, a prominent white sociologist, acknowledged “The largest black social structure in Tallahassee was the Florida A&M student body.”

This event was followed by the creation of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which consisted of militant Black and white students from Florida A&M and Florida State University. Florida A&M was unique due to its student protestors attending a publicly backed institution and having the only mixed-race organized protest in the south.

In contemporary times, Florida A&M students upheld that legacy of activism during the 2000 election season when they challenged the state over voter suppression and intimidation at the polls.

Student leaders like former SGA president Derrick Heck called for a statewide investigation after discrepancies arose when students tried to vote. Currently, political science professors Abdul Sharif and Brandon Armstrong are working on a project to study the behavior of Black voters in Florida.

The purpose of this project is to inform others of the tendencies of registered Black voters in Florida and dissect how this segment of voters differ across various issues.

The inspiration for this project stems from the 2016 elections and the Haitian population’s response at the ballot box to then-presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, for her disaster relief efforts at the Caribbean island.

The other objective of this research is to utilize the project to mobilize more Black voters to the polls. I believe that this information would also help us target those places where we see high voter apathy in Black communities. The data can also help us analyze voter behavior on issues that plague us today like systemic racism, healthcare and the economy.

All of this ties into our current mission of activating young voters today to not only engage in the activism aspect of politics but utilize that energy to mobilize to the polls.

In the words of rapper Killer Mike, for us to realize the change we must “plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize” to be effective. Today, there are parallels between our students and those two women who attended FAMU in 1956. Ashleigh Hall and Chyna Carney are FAMU students that carry that legacy forward.

These two Black women revitalized the spark in Tallahassee’s civil rights movement after the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and George Floyd.

The stories and accomplishments of the students and faculty members that have the honor of attending this illustrious university should serve as an impetus for every HBCU attendee and voter to go to the polls this November and vote down the ballot for change.

Jaelyn Guyton is the Chief Diversity Officer for FAMU’s Student Government Association.

Next: HBCU students and professors in Florida explain how the $15 minimum wage initiative will affect the economy and citizens.