We CANNOT turn Back!!

root - Posted on 24 February 2004

A young Black woman investigates the situation of the vote in America for young people of color

by Martrice Candler/PoorNewsNetwork Youth in the Media Intern

We cannot walk alone

And as we walk

We must make the pledge

That we must walk ahead

We cannot turn back

- Martin Luther King

I would like to begin this article by acknowledging that only a short time ago, 38 years to be exact, Blacks in the south were violated to the point that laws had to be enacted to protect the basic right to vote. In fact, many of us were killed by lynching or injured during our attempt to secure the right to vote.

In the 2000 Presidential election, watching the candidates run for office made me queasy. I always felt that the persona the candidates portrayed in their advertisements were artificial and that the media focus was limited and slanted. I, as a young Black woman, felt excluded from the future president’s agenda and knew institutional racism disqualified most honest women, men and people of color for running for office. That fact alone created my feeling of disconnect from the government and I lost interest in voting. As a young woman of color I felt like I was receiving a subliminal message to not vote at all. In fact, the 2000 presidential election revealed that there is still injustice within our voting system: The same tactics used in the Jim Crow days of the south are still in practice today. Strategies from Jim Crow laws from 1877 to the mid 1960’s were recreated in Florida in the last presidential election when Republican agents and local police warned Blacks seeking to vote that innocent technical errors in their registration information such as wrong addresses could subject them to arrest. Blacks seeking to vote were photographed, with the suggestion that they might be arrested later.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was instituted to protect Blacks seeking the right to vote. It makes me sad for all those who participated in the civil rights movement who suffered and died that almost forty years later, Florida demonstrated that injustice is still alive.

In high school one of my teachers encouraged me to work the voting booths for an opportunity to earn a little extra money and learn about voting so when it was my turn to vote I would have learned the process. I signed up to work the voting booths and at first it felt good. After my training, I started reading voting manuals. The material was hard to read. I had learned how to work the voting booths but I didn’t know how to pick what president to vote for. That made me I feel out of place, undereducated, like I didn’t belong. It was the closest I had ever come to voting and using the voting booths.

I can understand why voting isn’t popular in the Black community. Some of us were raised by parents or grandparents who have experienced and witnessed injustices that are still among us. My Grandmother, who raised me, is an 80 year old Texas native. I have been influenced by the stories she told me about enduring racism. "I think my vote should count, but you don’t miss something you never had," was my grandmother’s reply when I asked her about voting.

To educate myself on this issue I interviewed a Black community Advocate, MaJeid Crawford, owner of theater company "Roots and Rhythm Playhouse," an after school program for youth and co owner of all night studio located in Hunters Point, who works to get young people of color to vote. When I asked Majeid how to get black youth to vote he said, "We need to get black youth together and glorify empowerment. I feel that Black people never had the opportunity for voting to be ingrained in our culture, and it makes it hard to internalize voting when we have adopted and glorified self destructive lifestyles, which leads to catching felonies which strip us of our right to vote. We need to make voting cool. The problem with voting is that it is such an individual task."

PNN: How old were you the first time you voted?
M: I was 18 when I first voted. I voted one year after that but I didn’t vote again until I was 26. I didn’t vote regularly but I will not make that mistake anymore.

PNN: Do you feel that you were given enough information through formal education to know how to access the democratic Process?
M.Definitely not! In high school, the teachers talked about voting as it related to white people with big wigs, the founding of the 13 colonies. I remember teachers talking about the Civil Rights era and how we got the right to vote, but they hardly talked about what Black people had to do to get it. I don’t remember any of my classes at Francisco Middle School, Galileo, Mc Ateer or Downtown High that talked about the local elections which applied to me as a youth growing up in San Francisco, a city with some of the worst racial and social disparities in United States.

PNN: Do you feel black youth receive enough education to know where to seek information to make informed democratic decisions?
M:No. The city government, social service industry and schools do not package information to let Black youth or any youth know which initiatives and politicians represent their best interests. Non-profit organizations are limited to what they can legally do, but I don’t remember many pastors in church talking about the importance of voting. As an adult I hardly know where to go to seek information about elections; and what is available is usually written in a confusing manner.

PNN:For Example: Do you think black youth know how to obtain accurate information on the candidates and their political history and position?
M: No. When you search the Internet it is like a maze. When you find the information you are looking for it’s written in a way that is hard for many adults to understand, let alone youth.

PNN:Have you or anyone you know been harassed by the police? If so did the experience affect the way you view or viewed the government and voting?
M: Yes. I was waiting on the bus when a police car rolled by and one of the officers stuck his middle finger at my friend. My friend threw a napkin on the ground. The police made a U-turn, got out of the car and told my friend to take off his shoes and socks, then started stomping his feet. One of the cops looked at me and told me, "get the fuck out of here!" I called 911, told dispatch some men were harassing my friend. Dispatch asked me what they looked like. I said they were police officers her reply was that she couldn’t do anything about it. She said since the police were already there, why should she send more? I told her that the police are the ones that are harassing my friend and she hung up on me.

PNN: Do you think that the way police harass black youth negatively affects the way black youth feel about the government and voting?
M:Yes! It is wise for Black youth to not trust our government which legally claimed we were 3/4 human.
As a youth I felt like I was the enemy of the police and the government. It seemed like whatever I did to try and better myself and my community, the government would undue it. It made me afraid of the police and I found myself wanting to accept my situation as a black man and stop resisting. Voting seemed like a small solution to the big problems I faced as a black youth. What made it worse was that in my own community I was catching hell from people that looked like me and the police who were supposed to protect and serve were against me.

PNN: Do you feel that school should prepare students to exercise their full rights as citizens?
M: Yes. Next to home, schools are the most important place in the community. Where else do kids sit for six hours Monday through Friday? Schools should teach students how to vote and provide straight forward and easy to understand information about the impact each initiative will have on the communities of black youth and all youth. Each school should look at its population and teach them how to vote in a way that will empower themselves and their communities. They should give information to bring home to their parents. Education is most useful when it teaches a person how to survive. The reality, though, is schools will never empower us. The same government that put us in this position is the same government that pays for the schools. The public school system in San Francisco has been mis-educating children and children of color for over 30 years. If you go to the school district they will tell you themselves. The one thing that public schools do well is create jobs for white people.

PNN: In essence you’re saying that the institutions in our country such as education and paramilitary create a mistrust of government as a whole. If so, how do we correct it by voting within a system that we see as corrupt, misrepresenting us and or not representing us at all?
M: I realize Black people ( and all people) in this country are damaged by racism, mis-education and hate. The only way to cure ourselves is with knowledge of self. We need to get grimy! Protest the injustice and demand what we need, have rallies in the black communities with support from positive black role models. Bring music, food, registration papers and pens, promote voting and make voting the next biggest trend to the Air Force One’s. We need to transform our hoods and ghettos into black communities. We need to have representation, hold meetings, and make web sites for youth and adults informing them about all local initiatives that are coming up and how it relates to them, in simple English. We have to educate, motivate and organize ourselves. We must take control of these schools that our tax dollars pay for, bring in teachers from our own community and create a new curriculum all together that will give Black children knowledge of themselves, without that we will continue to be mis-educated, tricked by politicians and misleading initiatives, have high infant mortality rates, populate the prisons, be on welfare and reinforce the many stereotypes black people are under.

In my search for hope and direction on this issue I decided to seek out elders in my community, I was priveledged to speak with Minnijean Brown of The Little rock nine. Ms. Brown left me with these strong words, "The denial of the truth of our history is such that we won’t feel any kinship with our history which is a social control mechanism. Black youth need to know that their not in charge of their own lives, but the transnational and multinationals are in control of their lives. A many-pronged problem requires a many- pronged response. One of the things that happened in the Civil Rights movement was forming Freedom Schools. If you look at the conditions in Mississippi they’re comparable to some conditions in various communities here. All is not lost," she proclaimed, " it just requires some creativity. Voting is a apart of that creative response.."

For more work by PNN youth in the media go on-line to www.poormagazine.org and click on Youth in Media. To hear more of Matrice Candler's media activism, poetry and art come to POOR's Book Release Party at 2:00 pm on Sunday November 16th at The SF Main Branch Library at Grove and Larkin streets. For more info call 415-863-6306


By Alpha Woody III

For real man

The streets is Calling

Come holla at me man

The streets wont talk no for an answer

The streets aren’t satisfied

Till it sucks all the life out cha man

The streets got crack, hop and speed man

The streets move in high speeds

The streets are stained with blood from my brothers and sisters

Look right here man

The streets ain’t playing man

Listen to the fading sounds

Of the black men and women marching and chanting for unity and equal rights man

Come over here with me
Look this way

Listen man

Gun shots


Babies crying in dumpsters

Over here man


Don’t choke

It’s crack smoke man

Feel my hand it shivers in the cold man

Watch out duck

From the long arm of the law man

Dressed in a three piece suit man

Talking real fast

Looking down on you man

Am I human man?

Damn man

I’m stuck

Help me man


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