SDSU Black organizations organize behind a ‘24 imperative: Vote!

Harold K. Brown lived through an era when civil rights were a new and hard-fought victory. Now he’s working to preserve those gains.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024
SDSU HB KEEP director Rachael Stewart (center) poses with Harold K Brown (left) and his wife LaVerne
HB KEEP director Rachael Stewart (center) poses with Harold K Brown (left) and his wife LaVerne after the Vote And Amplify campaign kickoff event on March 6

A campaign to get Black students more involved in the electoral process is underway at San Diego State University. 

Spearheaded by the Harold K. Brown Knowledge, Education and Empowerment Program, the Vote and Amplify campaign is aimed at engaging with students of color — Black students, in particular — to inform them about the issues in the upcoming general election and empower them to affect change by exercising their right to vote.

The campaign’s partners also include the Black Resource Center, the Afrikan Student Union and the Urban League of San Diego County Young Professionals.

The HB KEEP organization’s namesake, civil rights activist ​​Harold “Hal” K. Brown, who became the university’s first Black administrator in the 1970s and established the Afro-American Studies program in 1972, spoke to students March 6 at the Black Resource Center as part of the campaign kickoff. 

Brown distilled down his message to a single formula: V + M = P or “voting plus money equals power.”

“The money and vote produces the opportunity for empowerment,” said Brown, who co-founded the San Diego chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality and was jailed for protesting discriminatory hiring in San Diego. “Right now we have governors in other states who are trying to undo the things your grandparents and I have done, and have suffered through — the jailings, the beatings and the discrimination — to accomplish.  

“We need to do some things that are necessary to avoid going back to that,” Brown said. 

Historically, there have been both coordinated and tangential efforts to stifle or dilute the political power of the black vote. In the Jim Crow-era, they included poll taxes, literacy tests and threats of violence or intimidation. In the modern era, voting rights advocates contend that strict voter ID requirements, limits on absentee and early voting, gerrymandering and disenfranchisement due to felony voter restriction laws, all impact the black voting population at a disproportionate rate. 

Brown, who was joined by his wife, LaVerne, noted that higher turnout by young Black voters could have changed the outcome of close elections in previous years. 

In 2024, Brown said, “We can’t afford to sit out. There is too much at stake.”

The campaign kickoff also included presentations by students in the Afrikan Student Union about the differences between the nation’s political parties, as well as a breakdown of the timeline leading to the Nov. 5 general election. Students were able to register to vote at the event.

“Part of the mission of ASU is that students learn not only to build community but become activists of the community,” ASU President Sateyia Taqi Kanu said. "The voting conversation is important because it pushes the conversation of taking action to a positive change in the politics that affect our Black community."

ASU Vice President Jada Reed agreed. "If more students are informed they can feel more comfortable with voting and issues surrounding politics.”

Rachael Stewart, the Black Resource Center’s Charles Bell faculty scholar who serves as HB KEEP director, said the Vote and Amplify campaign isn’t geared towards a specific candidate or political party. Rather, the goal is to make sure that students of color vote and amplify their collective voices. 

“There’s a struggle within underrepresented communities to get folks to vote,” Stewart said. “Students are waking up and seeing what’s going on around them, and we are hoping that we can help inform them and empower them to get their voices heard.”

Stewart said the campaign will include several events over the next few months leading up to the general election. 

Students who participated in the kickoff said they think the campaign will achieve its purpose. 

Afrikan Student Union external relations coordinator Lauren Jimerson speaks to a groupOpen the image full screen.
Afrikan Student Union external relations coordinator Lauren Jimerson breaks down the difference between the major U.S. political parties during the Vote and Amplify campaign kickoff event

“One of my biggest passions is making politics more accessible and understandable to young students of color, who historically have low voter turnout rates but have the power to affect legislation in San Diego and the rest of California,” said Lauren Jimerson, a second-year political science and Spanish student who serves as the Afrikan Student Union’s external relations coordinator. “I look forward to staying involved with the campaign through the fall as a BRC program assistant.

“It’s really important to get our young Black students educated on these topics, because we can make a difference,” added Jimerson. “The first step is learning how to make a difference.”

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