Just how crucial will the engagement of Black students, including those from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) be in the 2020 election? Black Students for Biden and HBCU Students for Biden say that it could mean the difference between life and death for many African Americans.
During a 30-minute livestream this week, sponsored by the Biden-Harris campaign and featuring actress Yandy Smith-Harris, an enthusiastic but focused group of young African Americans declared the race between Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump a battle not just for the soul of the country, but for the lives of Black people.
“So many of our civil liberties are under attack, including the right to vote, the right to assemble, to be who we are and to exist equally,” said Smith-Harris, the star of “Love & Hip Hop: New York.”
“Our basic freedoms are under attack, so it’s incredibly important right now, more than ever, to vote for Biden. I feel like we are back in 1963, so many of the things that Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for are prevalent today.”
“We have to realize that our vote can change our lives. It is that serious. This administration has made blatant racism okay, and it has no concern for Black lives.
“We are traumatized that we can’t walk outside or sleep in our beds, if we continue with this administration, where you can be called a patriot when you kill someone.
“We can’t continue to live in fear with the police’s militarization and where Black lives don’t matter. If we don’t change the face of what democracy looks like in this country, there will be no more democracy.
“There is no way we can continue with another four years of this administration where we are dying and being incarcerated at crazy amounts. We have to stop this, there’s no room for error and there’s, no room for [uncertainty].”
Hosted by National HBCU Students for Biden Co-Chair William Fairfax, and Lubna Sebastian, the National Director of Students for Biden, the event kicked off a series hosted by the Black Students for Biden and HBCU Students for Biden.
Organizers said the forums provide opportunities to highlight the easiest ways students can get involved, why Black youth is so important in making change, and how to mobilize their friends and families for the election.
As a Black student and senior at Duke University, a primarily white institution (PWI), Adrianna Williams, the co-chair of Black Students for Biden, said the odds are stacked against her and other African Americans each day.
“Several of our PWIs are institutionally racist,” Williams declared. “I know for the past four years, as much as I love my experience at Duke and the memories and friends, as a Black woman, I wake up every day knowing that I’m going to be faced with professors who don’t see me as I am and don’t see that my voice matters.”
Williams, who lists Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, as her role model, said it’s a fight each day for equality. “My role model said if you don’t have a seat at the table, bring one,” said Williams, noting that she had paraphrased Chisolm.
“Activism takes on different forms. Activism at a PWI is a way for Black students to support one another and remind ourselves that we matter,” Williams exclaimed.
“We are fighting for our rights to thrive and prosper in these spaces every single day.”
Williams added that among her concerns about the Trump administration is inadequate healthcare for African Americans.
“The state of public health in this country and health issues that disproportionately affect Black people and people of color concern me,” Williams said.
“We have Black women in this country who are disproportionately affected when it comes to maternal mortality. I’m going to medical school, and I want to become a doctor because it scares me that this country fails to recognize that Black women are dying at such high rates during childbirth.”
Biden’s plan for Black America includes reducing the high African American maternal mortality rate, expanding access to reproductive health care including contraception and protecting the constitutional right to choose, and doubling the nation’s investment in community health center which provide primary, prenatal, and other important care, and whose patients are disproportionately members of racial and ethnic minority groups, including African Americans.
As president, Biden has pledged to invest $70 billion in HBCUs to close the funding disparity between them and PWIs. In the plan, $10 billion would go toward funding retention, enrollment, and job placement for alumni.
“I come from the Harlem projects, and it was a challenge. So, I think I understand right now, being on the other side, a little older, how important [it is] for this community to speak out on what they’re dealing with,” Smith-Harris said.
“I remember when I went to Howard University and wondered how I would pay for it, how I would pay rent and survive. I graduated during the mid-recession, and now we’re facing the same thing with the coronavirus pandemic with people losing their jobs,” she noted.
“Black voices are loud and vital. I went on an HBCU campus tour, and there are so many Black youths who were so real about where they were, so many people are making decisions over the lives of young Black people who have no idea of what they’re everyday challenges are.
“They weren’t exposed to just how vital their voices are on the legislative level. They realized how vital they are. Black youth have a very important role in remixing our democracy and the principles and practices because they are now at the forefront.”