HIGHLAND HILLS, Ohio — During Tuesday’s debate, a church in Highland Hills held an event for Black voters to eat dinner and watch the debate, as well as to register to vote if they hadn’t already.
At Mt Zion Fellowship, cars drove into the parking lot early Tuesday evening to enjoy free food from food trucks and other activities as they waited for the debate later in the night.
“I know this year, more than any year, it’s super important to vote, specifically for our demographic,” said Gina Birch of Oakwood Village, who said she was invited by a friend. “So I just wanted to show my support.”
She added, “And I heard there was going to be free food, so that never hurts.”
The event, part of the “We Got the Power” tour by the Black Voters Matter Fund, focused in part on voter registration, something Birch feels is important.
“I do a lot of work with digital inclusion, so there are so many people that just don’t have internet at all, let alone a computer or a smartphone to kind of get access to that,” Birch said. “So being on the street and in the community, and having the applications that you need right there on hand, I think is a very important way to get people registered.”
LaRese Purnell, founder of The Real Black Friday and one of the event’s organizers, said they were expecting more than 200 cars Tuesday night. He said it is critical for people to stay engaged in the political process and to vote.
“The biggest understatement is that your vote doesn’t matter,” Purnell said.
Purnell said it’s imperative for Black voters to vote, not just in this year’s election or in national elections, but every time.
“Your vote matters,” Purnell said. “You’re voting for your kids, you’re voting for your parents, you’re voting for your community, but most importantly, you’re voting for yourself.”
And, he added, Black voters are important “not just for today, but just everything it took for us to have the right to vote. How many generations, how many people died for our right, so that’s first, I want to make sure I say that foremost.”
Purnell said the pandemic creates more challenges, with barriers in transportation and mail ballots being received on time.
“There are barriers that are being created that must be discussed, and it’s imperative that as a community that we stay woke,” Purnell said. “We have to stay woke during this time and don’t get rocked to sleep and make sure that we pay attention to the issues that are taking place in our community, and stand for something.”
He emphasized how much he wanted to see the community get energized.
“I just feel that with the energy that we’re going to receive collectively, it’s gonna just infuse change with school systems, with medical institutions, with community businesses,” Purnell said. “So I’m just looking for a lot of energy and power to just be gained today by this community.”
Monica Green, organizer for the Ohio region of Black Voters Matter Fund and a Cleveland entrepreneur, said that “when Black people don’t vote, then they kind of take [themselves] off the table from having a voice.”
Green said voting is especially important in this climate.
“There’s a whole cry out around ‘I want to be heard, I want to have justice, I want to have a voice, I want to have a seat at the table,’” Green said.
Green emphasized the importance of staying engaged in the political process, too.
“Not only is it easy to fall through the cracks when you’re not engaged, but because there’s certain barriers that are in the climate that will automatically put Black people in a position where they’re not able to participate at the level that they should,” Green said. “So it’s extremely important to check and double-check and double-check and make sure that you are truly engaged in the process, so that you can make sure that, when you get to the polls, you can participate at the highest level, which is voting.”
She spoke specifically to the 30-year-olds in the Black community, some of whom she had talked with recently.
“They said that their generation doesn’t see the value in voting, and so it was extremely disheartening, because I know if they don’t vote that they are leaving their whole lives to someone else, you know, they’re not participating,” Green said.
Green said younger people need to be invited to the table to share their unique viewpoints.
“No one generation has all the answers,” Green said. “We have to engage and we have to synergize so we can have a better community overall.”
She said that sometimes people become apathetic when they “don’t feel as though they’re invited to the table or that their voice doesn’t matter.”
“So it’s extremely important that tonight, all of the things that are of interest to African American people, that they’re addressed along the lines of every single issue that affects our community,” Green said.
She added, “It’s not just about voting, just checking the boxes. You gotta know which candidate is for what and which candidate isn’t. We have to look at the history of what these candidates do. Are they really participating in a way that is going to be of some value to our community?”
For Gina Birch, this debate was an opportunity to hear from the candidates as the election draws near.
“My main concern with Joe Biden is solidity and consistency. So if he can mean what he says and stick to it, I think I’ll be OK,” Birch said.
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