Civic Responsibility For A Better IE
Voter Empowerment Workshops
By Dianne Anderson
When it comes to politics, the most important thing to Damon Alexander is location, location, location.
And, by location, he means keeping politics local.
He feels that all politics has the biggest impact at the community level, even as voters often look to the national front.
“Our gas tax has gone up how many times? Locally, those are your assembly people who voted for that,” said Alexander, one of the founders and a past president of the 100 Black Men of the Inland Empire.
“Locally you have to know who your assembly person is, your council person, your local state senators,” he said.
He said upcoming voter empowerment workshops and collaboration will help enlighten the next generation of voters about what it takes to be a keeper of civic duty, and if they’re lucky, educate their parents into the process.
Alexander said that it’s important to prepare today’s school-aged kids with lessons because they are tomorrow’s voters.
On Saturday, April 7, BCAUSEU Voter Empowerment Workshops will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Carolyn E Wylie Center, 4164 Brockton Avenue in Riverside.
With multifaceted problems facing the community, he feels there must be a multi-pronged approach to reach the youth.
“There are quite a few of us collaborating, and it’s in our mission to do such because African Americans don’t get out and vote in the numbers that we should,” he said.
Many organizations are represented at the workshops. Among them: the Inland Empire Section, National Council of Negro Women, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Epsilon Eta Omega and Eta Nu Omega chapters, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and Inland Empire National Pan Hellenic Council. League of Women Voters, both Riverside and San Bernardino counties; the Riverside African American Historical Society; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.; Theta Pi Sigma Chapter along with The Group, Riverside, and Youth Action Project, Inc.
Also on board, the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and BLU Educational Foundation. The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Pomona Valley Alumnae and San Bernardino Riverside Area chapters; Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement; Fair Housing Council of Riverside County; Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches and Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary
On Saturday, April 14, he is also co-hosting another voter workshop as part of the 100 Black Men of the Inland Empire, along with his wife, Felicia with the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Pomona Valley Alumnae. That event will be held at San Bernardino Valley College from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at 701 South Mount Vernon Avenue in San Bernardino.
Through both events, he hopes parents will come out and take a bigger role in getting their kids to cast their ballots when the time comes.
“My children will tell you, every time I went to the ballot box, I dragged them along with me,” he said. “You teach them the value of voting. To me, it all starts with the parents, morals, and values.”
Any talk about voting must include African American history, he said. To help students appreciate voter rights, he recalls giving a test when he taught political science at the university level to a diverse group of college-age teens and the adult learners.
“You know the test,” he said. “It’s the test they gave African Americans, that, if they passed it, they could vote. Nobody in the room passed the test.”
He said the workshops will include some spoken word and other entertainment to keep it interesting for the kids.
“It’s not just going to be [let’s] lecture at the youth because that doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s information, relax. Information, relax.”
At his “100” meetings, he often notices that younger students want to know what voting has to do with them. He tries to bring them to the place they never knew, a time when reading, writing and learning math was against the law for African Americans. He wants them to recognize that history left unchecked can repeat itself.
He poses questions from the past as if it is the present.
“All right, let’s talk about when you couldn’t vote. Your grandparents couldn’t vote. Do you guys know that it was illegal for you to read?” he said.
He fears a sense of urgency may not kick in until later in life when they figure out they can’t support their family or themselves. For African Americans, he said only about one-third that enter college actually graduate, and high school graduation is still sub-par.
The workshops, held in both counties, will reach ages 12 to 18, middle and high schoolers.
At the end of the program, the League of Women Voters will provide voter registration information, and help clear up misconceptions that prevent many in the community from voting. People who have moved from one county to another, even from Riverside to San Bernardino, or Los Angeles, do not know they have to re-register to be eligible to vote.
“If you came from Los Angeles, you are not registered in the IE because you are not going to be on the list for the county that you live in,” he said.
The event targets the students, but he also wants parents to not just drop the kids off, but stick around long enough to participate in the workshops, and get registered if they need to.
“We’re encouraging them not to just drop off them off and leave, but stay, they may garner some information that they don’t know. Maybe they’ll learn something,” he said.