The Grand Rapids Community College Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion continued its Diversity Lecture Series on Tuesday, Feb. 15 with keynote speaker, LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Votes Matter, to discuss the importance of voting and vision as well as laying out how to stay engaged and continue the fight for equality.
As well as being the Black Votes Matter co-founder, Brown is also an award-winning organizer, philanthropic consultant, speaker and political strategist.
The event started with Brown being honored with the Ujima Impact Award which was presented by members of the Greater Grand Rapids’ National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“The Ujima Impact Award recognizes extraordinary commitment and contribution to scholarship, artistic expression, and service that uplifts the experiences of communities of color,” said Cle Jackson, President of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP. “Whether through professional or personal projects, the awards recipients influences transformative initiatives that impact changes through socioeconomic, political, health, or environmental systems.”
To start her speech, Brown posed two questions for the audience to think about, which included, “What would America look like without racism?” and “What would Michigan look like if all people in the state of Michigan felt valued and respected?”
The purpose of the questions was to have people think about what it would be like because according to Brown, to achieve that future, people need to envision it first.
“If we ought to create a Michigan that serves the people, that values and respects (the people)… we have to spend some time envisioning that,” Brown said. “If we are to create an America without racism, the only way we can bring that into being is we must envision that.”
Brown continued her speech by talking about the importance of the midterm elections which led her to discuss how hard it is to keep the stamina to keep staying engaged when people of color have had to go through so many battles with voter suppression and voting.
Brown then shared three ways to start thinking about the process of staying engaged. First she said, “I want us to shift our frame for thinking about this just as a political struggle. This ain’t a political struggle, this is a power struggle.
“There is a group that we have seen in this country, they’re seeking to create an environment that undermines our democracy, that consolidates power just for a few at the expense of literally marginalizing the voices of the many,” Brown continued. “So how do we sustain in this moment? We have to literally start looking at (and) thinking about this in the context of power.”
Brown also stressed that voting rights and voting suppression should not be a partisan issue in this country.
“The bottom line is it doesn’t matter where you are on the spectrum,” she said. “Whether you consider yourself a republican, democrat, a libertarian, a green party (member), I would fight equally for you to get access to the ballot because I do believe fundamentally as a human right belief, I believe that every single human being should have the right and has agency to be able to input on those things that impact their lives and their families and their communities.”
The last point she made was people should define themselves as human beings and not define themselves by a political party.
“I am a human being (in) that I have certain principles and values that I support and that is for the well being of all of us,” she said.
Brown then shifted into what she called her “V strategy” which is five steps she believes are required for people at this moment to fight voter suppression and to stay engaged.
The five steps included vision, voice, values, victory, and vote.
Brown reiterated her earlier comments about the importance of having a vision, stating that she believes in order to fight this issue, we need to envision a future where the issue is solved.
“We are not just fighting against something but we are fighting for a greater vision, and so it’s really important that we start seeing ourselves not just as citizens in this nation. We need to transcend that, we need to start seeing ourselves as founders of a new nation,” Brown said.
Brown went on to point out how important it is to use your voice and speak that vision into words. She gave advice on how to speak up, saying to find a political home, get involved in that community, and use your talents and strengths to help amplify voices within that community.
Brown also continued her discussion of values and the importance of being a human being first rather than picking a political party. Instead of thinking about everything as a political issue, she wants people to reexamine their values as human beings.
Victory was the next point she talked about, in which she mentioned how the meaning of “victory” needs to be changed. It shouldn’t be a situation of “in order for me to have a victory, you have to lose.”
The last factor is to vote, where she highlighted the importance of voting and the importance of fighting voter suppression so everyone has an equal opportunity to vote.
“When we work together, we win,” Brown said at the closing of the event.
To watch the full program, click here.
For more information on the upcoming Diversity Lecture Series, click here.