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The Voice of the Black Community

Local & State

Black voter outreach, advocacy gain strength in eastern North Carolina
Turnout could shift political fortunes in 2020
 
Published Saturday, October 24, 2020 11:00 pm
by Kristen Johnson | For The Charlotte Post

FILE PHOTO
Black voter outreach in eastern North Carolina centers on education, registration access although the region faces issues of lack of internet access and so-called "media deserts" in poorer communities.

Valerie Jordan has always been involved with local politics. Growing up in rural Warrenton, North Carolina, not being involved in something was almost unheard of. 

She was first introduced to environmental injustice after a toxic, waste landfill was built in her predominately Black hometown, causing more than 500 African Americans to protest the state’s decision to place it in the community of about 800 people near the Virginia border. 

“I was always part of important issues as it pertains to economics and development in rural communities,” said Jordan, lead consultant of Hunter J. Group, a Raleigh behavioral health center focused on helping those with disabilities. 

Because of her town’s unique history and family’s participation in grassroots organizations, Jordan has always felt a duty to do what she can to improve conditions for rural communities. It means taking elections seriously.

“I registered to vote at the age of 17 and I have never missed an election, OK? Because that was so important to my family, of the right to vote,” she said. 

In North Carolina, political power flows from the east, primarily through the General Assembly, which controls legislation and spending. Shifting demographics and political affiliations, however, are creating new coalitions that challenge the old order and conflicts between urban centers and rural areas. This year, Jordan is thinking about health care, economic development in rural communities, and for a country that will be fair and just for her grandson Bryson, a bright 8-year-old. 

To Jordan, one of 2 million North Carolinians who have already voted either by mail or in-person since early voting began Oct. 15, those issues are connected. She wants to elect leaders who will have people’s best interests at heart, such as incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper.

“He has the most diverse cabinet in history, and he is a Rocky Mount native, so he understands all of the rural areas,” she said, citing a broadband initiative to increase internet access to underserved communities, a matter of growing importance as most children are learning remotely due to COVID-19. 

In one of the most historic and unique presidential elections, Black North Carolinians are propelled to vote by the urgency of issues directly affecting them, their communities, and the nation. 

Experts are calling this “high stakes” election one of the most important as more than just a candidate’s name is on the ballot this year. Matters such as COVID-19 and healthcare, racial injustice, unemployment and criminal justice reform have raised concerns among voters over the past four years. 

Organizations such as the NAACP, churches, and community groups are trying to reach more Black residents to educate, register and even take them to the polls. 

“We’re bringing out all types of games, we have the pastor coming out to pray,” said Keith Rivers of the Pasquotank County NAACP chapter. “This will be the first time in Pasquotank County that will have Sunday voting.” 

On Oct. 25, Rivers will lead with other community leaders to host a “safe site” non-partisan voting event to encourage more Black people to the polls. The event will feature football games on TVs and other features.

“We have had 10,000 people to vote already,” Rivers said. “We’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of people seem to be confident when they’re going into the polls. Everybody is talking about it, which is a good thing. That means that the process is working.”

In northeastern North Carolina, one of the state’s poorest areas, many residents are removed from mainstream conversations surrounding the election cycle. According to Rivers, the area is a “media desert” where even residents with satellite or cable can’t get local news channels.

“So that drives into the part of being able to let people know what’s at stake, what’s on the ballot,” Rivers said. “Just trying to get the message out about things we’re trying to do can be very difficult because we don’t have that external network.” 

Still, Rivers is optimistic. He helps residents in the county with rides to the polls, often visiting local ABC stores to find people he can educate about the voting process and the realities of issues like education, Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reform that can be influenced by votes. 

One voter Rivers took to a polling site was voting for the first time in 10 years. 

“Sometimes people think that their vote doesn't matter,” he said. “And because they look at the election process on the big scale which is the federal level, not realizing what goes on on the local level dictates many times what goes on at the state level and those are the things that are gonna affect you the most.”

DeAnthony Collins, a Raleigh entrepreneur, voted on the first day of early voting with his wife, Kelly, and 9-year-old son, Preston, armed with hand sanitizer and snacks. For him, the election is about choosing candidates who will prioritize matters such as economic development, affordable housing and law enforcement reform. He also hopes for a Democratic Senate majority.

“Being honest, at the very tip-top of my list, would have to be just getting rid of Donald Trump,” Collins said. “I think without doing that, the things that we want to get done can’t be done if Donald Trump is still in office. We have to replace him so that we can do those other things.”

President Trump’s failed efforts to properly address the COVID-19 pandemic with suggestions from health and disease experts has resulted in thousands of Black Americans dying from the virus, and millions more infected. 

More than 211,000 Americans – one in five of them Black – have died from the virus and more than 8 million infected, including Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and members of the administration’s staff. 

While there is little knowledge of when the country will see fewer infections and deaths, voters are still making their way to the polls.

On Oct. 25, Colene Kelly Faulk is participating in a “Souls to the Polls” event in Columbus County. As an elected official and pastor of the Life Church of Chadbourn, about 60 miles west of Wilmington, Faulk has a mission to bring as many people to the polls as possible.

“It's so interesting to see people you grew up with and different family perspectives of voting,” said Faulk, a Chadbourn town council member and professor at Southeastern Community College in Whiteville. “I think a sense of urgency for people to vote now is that they’re saying ‘is that how you get [Trump] out of there?’”

In North Carolina, there are several Black candidates on the ballot for state and legislative offices, including Yvonne Lewis Holley (Democrat) and Mark Robinson (Republican) who are running to be the state’s first Black lieutenant governor. 

“For the last four years, I've been anxiously awaiting this day,” said Antoine Marshall, an attorney in Wake County who voted in person early to avoid long lines.

“We have no other choice but to stay with our heads up, our eyes on the prize and if everybody pulls together, we can get there,” said Jordan. “Lighnting can’t strike twice in the same place.” 

 

 

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