“Education and justice are democracy’s only life insurance.” – Nannie Helen Burroughs
Texas was the sight of one of my most memorable Congressional campaigns. I remember hitting the ground and not being sure where I should begin. This was a special election, and the voter’s last opportunity to voice their preference for representation. I lived in Beaumont, but Galveston Island was my headquarters and base of operation. I chose this location because of Juneteenth, and it’s a great historical significance for the African American community. Also, it had a large youth population — I had a theory that people of color would be essential in a low turnout election like this, and I figured young voters of color would be necessary to turn that key.
My first contact was with a group called A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI). Attending an emergency meeting, I walk into a heated discussion between a senior woman in charge of youth outreach and a middle-aged gentleman in control of its finances. “Yes, we can train students of color to take the lead in that precinct. We need them because we are shorthanded.” Her point was simple, “don’t impose thoughts of lack and limitation on these students of color.” When we think they can, they will believe they can. When we erase our doubt in their ability, they will face this challenge with confidence and a yes-we-can attitude.
She was also hitting on another truism – Americans are resourceful. In particular, we are witnessing “true resourcefulness” from communities of color during this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. Especially from civil rights institutions like the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph Institute, Urban League, NCBCP, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies with their fearsome, seemingly everlasting civic engagement programs and innovative mobilization instruments. It may be hard to believe, but this has been the case for many years. It’s not just civic engagement, healthcare, and economic justice; our work has had a tremendous impact on public education. Admittedly, our public schools have not made it to the “Promised Land” yet; we are a lot closer to achieving our high aspirations. Now students of color are not just learning to read, write, and mathematics; they are becoming self-advocates, social managers, and financially literate. They are mastering sophisticated tools that will create systems change now and in the future.
As the A. Philip Randolph youth outreach director later explained, “We must develop and invest in their education and proficiency because our existing paradigm as it relates to social safety nets like healthcare are unjust.” Therefore, our education aspiration has to be culturally competent to understand, preserve, and enlighten all people’s intelligence. Our lesson plans must be both student-focused and grounded by evidence-based scholarship principles that transform livelihoods.
A past Supreme Court decision regarding Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070, and The Affordable Care Act is similar to another significant moment in American history–the Court’s ruling on the Brown v. Board of Education case. That ruling profoundly impacted every person in the country and helped move this country forward regarding civil rights, social justice, and equality.
Like the 1950s, it was hard to measure the impact that decision would have on this country’s social fabric and the world at the time of the decision. We are now witnessing those results, and for many voters of color (VOC), those rulings are a strong signal that there is hope. Moreover, the fact that there may be at least one new Justice to the Supreme Court in the near future gives people of color even more reasons to be encouraged. Note that our civic engagement will help appoint someone to make landmark decisions that can move our country forward.
Like 2012, healthcare will be a significant issue for igniting greater civic engagement among students of color. According to a Gallup survey then, 21% of Latino registered voters rated healthcare as one of their top priorities. In states like Texas, 20% of children in the country had no health coverage, and 37% of Latinos didn’t have health insurance. Many adults living in major metro areas around the state are uninsured: Beaumont-Port Arthur area—26%, Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area–24%, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area–21%, San Antonio area–18%, Austin-Round Rock area –18%. Interestingly enough, these metro areas still have significantly high Latino and African American populations.
Census data show the Latino population increased by 15 million in 2010, and 20% of that growth happened in Texas. People of Color are already the majority in Texas, and they believe in healthcare and public education.
- Latinos made up about 25% of the state’s new registrants in 2009 and 2010.
- People of Color represented 54% of the state’s total population and 41% of the citizen voting-age population (CVAP).
- They represented 40% of registered voters and just a little more than 19% of frequent voters. However, over 3 million registered Latino and African American voters stayed home in 2010.
Imagine what would happen if Latino turnout went from 24% to 49% and African American turnout from 35% to 49%. Together, we could add over 1 million more VOCs, which would be the difference in areas where so many VOCs are uninsured. For example, Fort Worth grew by 38% to 741,206 and now has over 140,000 registered “Key” VOC with close to 95,000 infrequent voters. If adequately resourced, and the electorate continues to expand, we may see a significant voter turnout increase. These voters may vote for more pro-public education and healthcare reform leaders. This would put TX’s 38 electoral votes in play for future elections.
No one is entirely sure how voters will respond to this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. The truth is that The Affordable Care Act was an example of politicians getting something done. First, it was voted out of Senate Committee with bipartisan support, then passed with two independent politicians and upheld by the Supreme Court.
Are students of color the key to winning this battle over civil and human rights? Will they light the fire of social justice and change our nation for the better? I have confidence that they can do it. They are better situated to have an impact now more than ever. For one, they are skilled end-users of informative data, consuming it directly from social media. Second, they have a great awareness of unique cultural systems, instruments, and trustworthy institutions’ methods. Lastly, students of color are conscious of the need to embrace hope and play a part in shaping our nation’s future in a way that will help people dealing with hardships. When we think they can, they will believe they can. Yes, We Can.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.