The 2008 presidential election showed the biggest turnout in young and minority voters America had ever seen. Few remained involved and engaged politically say black elected officials.
In 2011, more than a dozen states passed new voting restriction laws hindering minority participation at the polls. In an effort to unite to fight recent moves to legalize “voter suppression”, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators will host the 10th annual “State of Black Florida” conference Wednesday through Saturday. This year’s theme is “Protecting Our Votes, Preserving Our Voices.”
“It means a lot because this body definitely represents the interests of African-American students as well as the masses,” said Marissa West, a fourth-year pharmacy student, who is also senate president.
“They’re able to reach—as far as their opinions are concerned—Gov. Scott or anyone else who doesn’t necessarily think in terms of how to help the African heritage.”
Rep. Mia Jones, chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, said that the annual gathering brings together experts, leaders and citizens, to ensure their constituents are informed on important political issues.
“This year’s event is especially important because for the first time we will be uniting African-American professional and civic organizations against the ongoing attacks on our voting rights,” Jones said.
The conference begins Wednesday evening, Feb. 8, at 6 p.m. in the Capitol’s fourth floor House Chambers, with the Annual Distinguished Lecture Series and Reception. This year, Charles Ogletree, director of the Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, will be the keynote speaker.
Ogletree’s 33-year career includes serving as a public defender in the nation’s capital, representing professor Anita Hill, and teaching both Barack and Michelle Obama as students at Harvard.
“My personal reasons for participating are not only to gain insight about the problems that we face, but to network and meet the people who fight to serve us better,” said Antorris Williams, a fourth-year public relations student. Williams, a first vice president of the Student National Alumni Association, said SNAA will be volunteering their services to the summit as well. The week’s events include free informative workshops and receptions, networking opportunities, a town hall meeting and a unity rally.
The conference concludes on Friday, with the annual luncheon and gala. Proceeds go toward college scholarships and other important causes.
“Students can make their voices heard. They can make sure that they have the right to vote because that’s an essential part of being an American,” said Martine Lunis, a fourth-year political science student.
Lunis is the account manager for the Florida Legislative Black Caucus in the PRodigy PR Firm and a member of the Hatchet Pre-Law Society. Lunis said Hatchet is also working to facilitate the conference.
Many student organizations are volunteering for the promotion, preparation and facilitation of the “State of Black Florida” conference and encourage everyone to get involved:
“Get involved and informed. Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter,” said Edward Meriwether, a fourth-year pharmacy student and member of Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity, Inc.
“Spread the word and check out the events. Afterwards, stay actively involved in politics, especially with policies that directly affect us,” said Meriwether.