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More Crucial Now Than Ever

Georgia HBCU student leaders have used a litany of methods in an attempt to get their involved in the coming election.

With Election Day quickly approaching, student leaders at Georgia’s historically black institutions have been especially adamant in urging their peers to exercise their right to vote in November, given their myriad concerns heading into election season.

Briana Fennell

Savannah State University NAACP chapter president Briana Fennell expressed that rising unemployment rates resulting from COVID-19 was her chiefmost concern, since the upheaval impacted her campus community at Savannah State University and the city more broadly.

“Many people, including students lost their summer jobs and were laid off from campus jobs due to our school having to adjust,” she said.

The precarity that comes with losing a job can become even more severe with the burden of student loan debt. The Trump administration suspended interest on many federal loans earlier this year, but Albany State University NAACP president Kenturah Reed wants to see an even more robust response.

“We need to find a way to cancel, reduce or implement more loan forgiveness programs,” she said. “Student debt has become a big financial burden with the effects of the pandemic and having to pay out of pocket for school,” Reed said.

Reed’s chapter of the NAACP has done virtual webinars, social media challenges and dorm raids where each member goes to each students’ dorm to register them to vote. “What we’re fighting for starts with our government and if we don’t vote, we don’t have a voice,” she said.

In an attempt to get students registered to vote, staff from Paine College held voter registration sessions and Porter’s fraternity implemented a “Project Vote” program to help students understand the importance of voting and its process.

Robert Wilson

Social media is the tool of choice for Clark Atlanta University NAACP president Robert Wilson. He uses his chapter Instagram to spread information about the election season.

Many of the same tools have been integral in placing unchecked police brutality squarely in the nation’s conscience, including the deaths of people like Breonna Taylor and Jonathan Price. “We are no one’s threat. We don’t deserve that. We’re human beings just like everyone else. Let us live,” Wilson said.

Tiffany Cole

Echoing the same concern, Fort Valley State University NAACP president Tiffany Cole mentioned police brutality and the sweeping response she’d like to see at the federal level. “I am an African-American woman that lives in America so these issues impact me the most, especially since attending an HBCU,” she said. “It could be me; it could be my family.”

Cole’s chapter hosted voter registration drives and Zoom call sessions to discuss candidates and their views on other issues, including abortion and climate change. Morehouse School of Medicine Student Government Association President Kamron Robinson said access to affordable health care is especially important heading into this election. “I have seen and experienced first hand how these issues can affect an individual and plague a community,” he said. “It is time for change and progress. ”

Kamron Robinson

Robinson urges students to remove the pre-conceived notions of their “vote not counting” or the election results being “predetermined” from their minds. “This is the time to vote and hold those in office accountable,” he said. “Every vote will matter.”

Having spent several hours voting in Georgia’s most recent gubernatorial race, Spelman College’s NAACP president Brooke Watson is especially sensitive to voter suppression issues. “In 2018, I had my first experience dealing with voter suppression during the Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp election for governor,” she said. “My [voter registration] got purged and I had to wait in line for over five hours.”

Brooke Watson

Watson’s chapter partnered with neighboring institutions Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University to host virtual watch parties, social media takeovers and debate discussions to motivate students to vote. “We’re not voting for a person,” she said. “We’re voting for the next four years.”

Four years is a fraction of the time Darias Bowers is considering. Bowers, the Student Christian League president at Interdenominational Theological Center, is concerned with the Supreme Court and its appointees’ lifetime terms. He and his colleagues are partnering with social justice activists and Black seminarians at the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference to recruit students to be poll workers. “With this election, whoever is in office has the authority to appoint and fill those positions which can greatly impact the current generation and generations to come,” Bowers said.

Next: Professors at Georgia’s HBCUs believe this election could have rippling effects on the future, and here are some of their worries about the upcoming election and the issues they believe the next president will need to address.