October 13, 2016

Black Studies hosts Black Votes Matter discussion

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump engaged in their first debate on Sept. 26, the day before the Black Studies Program fostered a discussion about political and racial issues.

During the presidential debate, NBC anchorman Lester Holt, the first black journalist to moderate a general presidential debate in almost 25 years, questioned the candidates about how they would heal the racial divide in America. This question served as a starting point for the ensuing discussion, held in the Howard A. Mims Cultural Center.

The conversation was part of the Curtis Wilson Colloquium Series, named after the former Black Studies Program director. The series provides a platform for debate and argument within an academic setting to honor citizens’ right to the freedom of speech.

Nate Simpson, founder of the Black Votes Matter (BVM) Movement presented a lecture about the goals of his organization. BVM is a nonpartisan, cross-cultural campaign that aims to advance the economic status of black  through a nonviolent, empowerment movement to mobilize black voters.

BVM began in Cleveland in 2012  after Simpson, a former performance artist who sang the national anthem in stadiums, became unsettled by the disparity between impoverished black stadium workers and wealthy white executives, what he said exemplifies the modern effect of Jim Crow segregation. Simpson said that in light of the current presidential campaign, citizens should think deeply and vote based on candidates’ platforms and stances on contemporary issues.

“You must think deeper, because it’s not about color or party line,” Simpson said. “It’s about who’s going to do the job always [when] on duty. Once you hire a candidate…they work for you.”

According to Prester Pickett, coordinator of the Mims Center, the aim of the discussion was not to endorse Simpson or BVM, but to foster an open dialogue and debate.

“Our conversation with Nate Simpson is to gain a better understanding of what this organization is that he’s involved with,” Pickett said. “Our students should be aware of the various organizations and the various movements that are happening in our community.”

Pickett described the conversation as an interdisciplinary intersection of history, journalism, political science and urban studies, and that he wanted to encourage criticisms of BVM.

“It is the individuals who will ask the challenging questions who will allow conversation to occur so that we can experience this American experience,” Pickett said.

Simpson did receive criticism against BVM and some of his assertions, including that mass incarceration is beneficial to the black population because it serves as a better alternative than death.

Eric Johnson, member of Black on Black Crime Inc., a Cleveland-based activist organization, said that he was surprised by the low turnout to the discussion, especially in light of the debate the night before. Johnson was critical of Simpson because he did not present a clear strategy for mobilizing voters. Johnson said that although the black vote had a higher turnout in 2008, apathy toward both Trump and Clinton may keep voters at home this November and the challenge is to encourage those citizens to vote.

The next Curtis Wilson Colloquium Series Lecture will take place on Nov. 1st in the Mims Center from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., about the works of Langston Hughes.


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