N.C. Central University alumnus and Rep. G.K. Butterfield told the audience that the November election is “the most consequential election that you will ever see,” at “One Vote, One Voice,” Oct. 5 at B.N. Duke Auditorium.
The event, sponsored by the Gamma Beta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and its Miss Black and Gold Court, hosted a series of speakers to highlight the importance of the black vote on issues such as healthcare, economic inequality and maximizing political power at the local level.
“Yes, I’m going to ask you to vote, to get involved, but also I am going to ask you to try and understand the history and how we got to this point,” Butterfield said during his opening remarks.
Butterfield earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from NCCU. His father, a dentist from Wilson, N.C., was the first African American city councilman elected in Wilson. Butterfield served as an North Carolina judge for 15 years.
In 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Congress and since 2014 he has served as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus where he has focused on protecting voter rights, advocating for the appointment of African American judges.
He represents N.C. District 1, which includes Durham, Greenville, and Goldsboro.
Butterfield discussed the suppression of black voters and black candidates during his lifetime. He said he believes that there has been a “concerted effort” in the past 25 years to suppress the black vote again.
“I’m counting on you to do your part,” Butterfield said. “Just spread the word that you’ve got to get involved in this election, because our communities depend on it.”
The next speaker, English and history senior Rebecca Barber, echoed Butterfield’s concerns about the need for student mobilization.
Barber is the daughter of the Rev. William Barber, an NCCU alumnus and president of the North Carolina NAACP and convener of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Peoples Assembly Coalition.
“We have the ability to elect legislators who will fight for a good quality of life,” she said. “Every election is important, but this election is truly a matter of life or death.”
Following Barber was Brian Kennedy, an NCCU alumnus and public policy fellow for the N.C. Justice Center, who discussed how public policy decisions are shaped by voting.
“These laws and policies that legislation put into action — they’re not colorblind,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy continued with statistics about school segregation, explaining that high poverty levels aren’t zoned into the same schools as affluent neighborhoods.
Under 9 percent of white students in North Carolina experience educational rezoning, while 34.2 percent of students of color are rezoned.
“The inequities that you see every day, these are intentional policies,” Kennedy said. “That’s why it’s important to make your voice heard in not just this November’s election, but in the primaries and midterm elections as well.”
The last speaker of the night was Stewart Johnson, program coordinator of the NCCU Men’s Achievement Center.
“Tonight I want to empower you,” Johnson said. “Let this be the start of the work you are planning to do. Let it be the start of your legacy, that you will leave here in making this place better.”
Organizers were pleased with the turnout for “One Vote, One Voice.”
“It means a lot that students actually care about topics like voting, because these are the things that actually matter and should matter to us,” said Karen Villanueva-Sierra, a criminal justice junior and Miss Black and Gold 2016. “I’m very excited to have support not only from NCCU but the outside community as well.”
Villanueva-Sierra said that around 200 students registered to attend the event.
Hospitality and tourism senior and Alpha Phi Alpha member Jurel Myers said he thinks the event was a success and the speakers did a good job of promoting voter awareness.
“I feel like it got our point across for more people to wake up and vote,” said Myers.