Do you know where your Social Security card or birth certificate is? Do you know the lyrics to "Kiss the Ring"? If the answer to question number one is no and the answer to two is yes, there could be a problem, according to Black leaders who participated in a voting rights town hall meeting in Charlotte, N.C., before the start of the Democratic National Convention, that was hosted by BET Networks, the Hip Hop Caucus and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.
African-Americans helped make history in 2008 when they headed to the polls in unprecedented numbers to help Barack Obama win his presidential bid. If he's lucky, they'll do it again in 2012. But what about 2014?
It's during those off years that voters of all races and ideologies experience a sort of collective lethargy that keeps them at home on election night. African-Americans, the panelists warned, don't have that luxury. A prime example are the measures in states around the country that now require voters to present specific forms of photo identification at the polls, which could make it difficult for many Blacks to cast ballots in November.
"This may be President Obama's last election, but it's not yours," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, head of the Hip Hop Caucus.
What many people don't realize, noted community activist Carrie Cook, is that the actions taking place in their state legislatures, city halls and other local government entities are just as important—and sometimes more—than what's happening at the White House or in Congress. But too often, she and other panelists observed, some voters are more familiar with the latest on Beyoncé and Jay Z, as if they know them, and the lyrics to the hottest hip hop song, than they are with what's going on in their own communities.
"If you can tell [people] what's going on with the [Bravo] housewives, ESPN on Monday night or Momma Dee and them, then you can run and tell them what's happening at the city council meeting, what's happening at the school board meeting and what's happening in Washington," Cook said. "Our future is at stake and the ones behind us, their future is at stake too, and people have fought too hard for us to be where we are today."
Activist and writer Kevin Powell said he wants future generations to talk about the activism of the current generation the same way people today talk about the civil rights movement. They should not have to wonder, he counseled, why the current generation stood by instead of fighting for their futures. To underscore that point, Powell recalled a conversation with the late artist Tupac Shakur.
"He said, 'Kev, me and Snoop sell six million records. I wish that these six million people who buy my CDs on a regular basis would actually get involved in something,'" Powell said.
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(Photo: XINHUA /LANDOV)