By Alison Vinick | February 23, 2021
Students tuned in via Zoom to hear prominent civil rights activist LaTosha Brown speak about her work in Black voter rights activism in the South and the role of racial and social justice in public policy.
Co-founder of Black Voters Matter and an award-winning organizer, social activist, philanthropist, political strategist and fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business, Brown began her keynote speech with a short description of Black Voters Matter and its aspirations for minority voters in marginalized communities across America.
“Our goal is to increase power in our communities,” stated Brown. “Effective voting allows a community to determine its own destiny.”
Brown founded Black Voters Matter in 2017 with Cliff Albright, a writer and social rights activist, and since then the organization has grown to have over 70,000 followers on Twitter. Recently, the organization worked to improve accessibility to the polls for Black voters in Georgia in the recent run-off election that created a Democratic majority in the Senate.
In a statement issued on Black Voters Matter’s website Brown said, “Georgia owes tremendous gratitude to its Black voters, who turned out and voted in record numbers, just as they did in November.”
In spite of voter oppression, Georgia saw a surge in Black voters, with over 1 million Black citizens casting their ballots. LaTosha Brown, whose work was instrumental in encouraging Black voters to cast their ballot in the crucial Georgia election, said that her work isn’t done yet.
“I don’t do my work for democracy; democracy isn’t the end goal for me,” Brown said in a speech during a zoom presentation that was a part of SUNY Albany’s Annual MLK luncheon. “Democracy only facilitates the advancement of the quality of humanity. More inclusivity and opportunities come from working towards a better democracy.”
During an extremely trying time in society involving social rights among other issues, Brown emphasized that in order to grow as nation, systematic racism must be addressed head on.
“We, as a nation, are going to have to radically reimagine the systems that have instilled racism in our society,” said Brown. “We can envision what a nation would look like if we uprooted racism entirely. Ask yourself, what would American look like if you felt honored, valued and respected?”
Black Voters Matter is currently advocating for policies to expand voting rights and access, including expanded early voting, resisting voter ID, re-entry restoration of rights and strengthening the Voting Rights act, according to the Black Voters Matter Fund. In addition, they are advocating for policies defending gender and race inclusivity, and various other aspects of equity.
Brown described how, “Discomfort in society is shaping the future. It is calling us and asking us, what can we do to be better? We need to reshape the paradigm of how we see victory. We need to see victory as a possibility for unanimous access in all forms of the word”. Voting accessibility is exceedingly important in expanding voting rights as a whole, and Black Voters Matter sees unanimous voting access as a goal.
Alfredo Medina, the director of UAlbany’s Office of Public Engagement, issued a closing statement in which students and faculty were provided with resources regarding Brown’s keynote presentation and voter inclusivity at the University at Albany and surrounding communities, including a video by the Aspen Institute titled “How to be an Antiracist”, and a podcast by the New York Times titled “1619” which reexamines American history through the perspective of slavery. Each of these can be found on the University at Albany’s School of Public Health website.
UAlbany’s annual MLK Luncheon was postponed for 2021 due to COVID-19 and replaced with the virtual Celebrating of Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month Event, sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the UAlbany Student Association and the NYS Writers Institute, and included a featuring a variety of guest speakers, Zoom presentations, panelists and discussions.