BALTIMORE, MD —
At Brightwood College in Baltimore, Maryland, Black Girls Vote is reaching out to young eligible female voters, explaining the election process and showing them the connection between their vote and their everyday life.
They try to make the point that everything that happens in a community, even basic safety, has a political angle.
“Whether it is the street police patrolling in that community, whether it’s light in that part across the street from me or whether it’s more economic opportunities for African-American men, that’s tied to policy,” explains founder Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson, adding that “Because every single day politics happen, every single day in every single aspect of our life.”
The newly founded non-profit organization, is working to raise awareness among eligible voters about the importance of political participation.
With the U.S. presidential election less than 80 days away, some voters have already decided which candidate they’re going to elect, while others are still undecided. It is estimated that around 40 percent of Americans just don't vote at all.
Black Girls Vote founder Robinson, says she is aiming her efforts toward the large group of young black women who just don't vote, despite their growing power at the ballot box.
“We know that in 2008 and 2012 that it was the black women that decided the presidency. Seventy-six-percent of African American women were registered to vote with 70 percent of them voting, according to the Center for American Progress," Robinson says.
Why don’t they vote?
With statistics like that verifying their power why are so many young black women, between the ages of 19 and 25 still reluctant to cast a vote?
“Sometimes they don’t understand the ballot voting,” Robinson estimates. “Many of them don’t know what voting is, what impact it has in their day to day life.”
And that's where Black Girls Vote comes into play with a message of empowerment, not partisanship.
“We have Republicans. We have Democrats and independents. We have folks with the Green Party,” Robinson notes. “But we advocate things we truly believe will improve our quality of life. We support who supports us. We need to understand our power.”
Educating, registering and mobilizing
During the primary elections, the group members collected umbrellas to encourage voters to go to the polls even if it was raining. They called day care providers to arrange late service so mothers could vote after work.
“We were blessed with an opportunity of partnership with Lyft, which is the driving company,” Robinson says. “So what we did here in the city of Baltimore, we lifted people to the poll for free.”
The grassroots organization meets women where they are in stores, hair salons, restaurants and college campuses.
Keaira Banks, 20, who is studying at Brightwood College to get a certificate in medical assistance, has never voted before.
“I came today to register to vote and become a member of the Black Girls Vote. I think it’s time for a change,” she says.
Keisha Addison who is also studying to become a certified medical assistant is working full time and raising three kids. Middle-aged now, she has been voting since she was nineteen. For the upcoming elections, she’s weighing which candidate is going to help her and her community.
“My main thing is education because I have children at school, and I’m still currently receiving education," Addison says. “Also, we have a problem with police brutality with our young men. So I’m eager to hear how they feel about that and what they’re going to do about it.”
Addison is considering becoming a member of the group because she believes that younger women should be more politically involved. She says her 21-year-old daughter, for example, doesn’t want to vote.
“She just wanted someone that actually had a voice for youth and was concerned about the voice of youth,” she says. “So I was telling her that regardless of who you vote for, you need to vote. Your vote counts no matter where you put it.”
Your vote, your voice
To get that message across to the community, group members plan neighborhood events, like a campaign for class president for children in Kids Zone, a summer program.
“We understand that once we teach them early, so when they go home, they say, Mom, I voted for the president today, not the president of the U.S., but for Kids Zone," Robinson says. “So coming November, they hear about voting, they say, ’Mom, you need to go vote too.”
Robinson, says educating younger generations about the democratic process is crucial to help them understand why their vote counts --- and how choosing candidates who represent their needs can bring change into their communities.