Conor Moore | Staff Writer
Just a week shy of Juneteenth, FIU’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted a panel at the MARC Pavilion discussing the Black vote and its importance to America.
The June 13 event featured State Rep. Shevrin Jones, Coral Spring City Commissioner Nancy Metayer Bowen and activist Briyana Joseph speaking at length about what it means to vote as an African-American within a country grappling with the systemic effects of its of racist legacy.
Agatha S. Caraballo, associate professor in public policy and Founding Director of the Maurice A. Ferré Institute for Civic Leadership introduced the panelists.
In addition, David Bynes, director of the Office for Social Justice and Inclusion gave a short speech contextualizing the history of the political discussion surrounding the Black vote before the panel began.
“If we’re being brutally honest, the perception and the speculation about the Black vote is across the spectrum,” said Bynes. “And that makes conversations and discourses like today not just important, but in my opinion critical and vital to the success and heritage and history of our people moving forward.”
The focus then shifted to the three speakers, who talked about the Black vote from multiple angles.
Bowen would emphasize the need to highlight the racist legacy innately intertwined with any discussion of Black political power.
“It’s important for us to remind folks that, that history happened, even though our governor has been working hard to erase that history. But it’s important to remind our young folks why it’s important to vote and use your voice,” said Bowen, referring to Senate Bill 266, a higher education bill that has been criticized extensively for attempting to re-write or even outright erase certain parts of history.
“I know that as Black people, we have a really large demographic influence, even though we only make up 13 to 15 percent of the population,” said Joseph, program manager for Engage Miami, an organization centered on increasing civic engagement within marginalized communities.
“We’re able to split the vote, even in battleground states. Because our vote does matter. Our issues do matter.”
Speaking on these issues, the discussion would turn to climate change and how it is affecting the Black community in ways that are not often thought of, such as changing transportation and affordable housing, or even pregnancy.
Returning to the Black vote, Jones talked about how political parties often take the very concept of the Black vote for granted.
“We’re not a monolith. The Black community is treated as if we’re in need of just some social service and not as if economic and small business development is not something we also are,” said Jones.
Jones also spoke of the detrimental effect gentrification has had on historically Black neighborhoods.
“Our communities are dying because the economic diversification that should be happening doesn’t happen because our businesses are being shut down and replaced by larger companies,” said Jones.
During the Q&A portion of the panel, PantherNOW asked the panelists whether or not they thought the average voter truly understood the issues at hand and what was at stake, and if that problem can be remedied.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Bowen. “We have to make sure that people feel like their elected officials care about them. When talking to a constituent, I sometimes have to explain the fine lines of certain legislation, why this jeopardizes them and why this doesn’t. It’s all about one-to-one conversations, which I will continue to do.”
Jone would highlight the need to have these conversations across the aisle.
“We cannot be afraid to go to the lion’s den, and sometimes that causes you to go to a Republican meeting and have conversations, for example. People have to know we’re real people and what that looks like. There’s a lot of noise from both sides but nobody talks to each other,” said Jones.
To conclude, Joseph emphasized the need to have spaces where these critical conversations can be had.
“A lot of spaces where we would come together to have these conversations are disappearing, we need to make new ones and we need to make sure we’re having these conversations to come back around to the issues that matter.”