BY TRONE DOWD
For the second year in a row, graduating students of George Washington Carver High School had the opportunity to register as a voter within the walls of their own school.
The event, aptly called Student Voter Registration Day, took place last Friday morning on the first floor gymnasium of George Washington Carver High School, located in the Springfield Gardens Educational Complex. The event was a one-day program sponsored by the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“Our principal Dr. Sutton was called and the offer was granted to our school,” Instructional Support teacher Renee Freeman said. “She graciously accepted.”
Freeman said that she hopes to see more schools follow through with initiatives like this, preparing the youngest of voters for their civic duties as U.S. citizens.
“This is the first of many we hope,” she said. “We hope that this is something that we can offer to students on a yearly basis, especially the seniors.”
Traditionally, students are given a card upon graduating that allows them to register. Students are usually expected to mail the cards off to complete the process. The event registered about 110 students total according to Freeman, who said that the registering seniors seemed very excited about their new ability to vote later this year.
“If we can have an event like this, it would be phenomenal. The kids are excited and they’re looking forward to it. We are encouraging them to make sure they go and vote for this election.”
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) visited the school and spoke to the younger voters about the political process as well as the importance of participating in the local and national elections.
“This was very important,” Richards said. “To get young people engaged in the voting process very early. To see them excited, this early, first period of the day probably, is really good.”
He specified that instilling a sense of duty in their right to cast their vote is key to making sure they are engaged in the long term. Richards also mentioned that the current trend of young people around the country is helping Southeast Queens voters of tomorrow see just how much influence they can have through their civil rights.
“It’s all about teaching our young people about civic engagement and that it is their responsibility,” he said. “People died, their ancestors died, for them to have this moment. […] When you look at movements like the Black Lives movement and you look at all these young people that are setting the bar now, you start to see the policy now move in that direction. When you listen to the Democratic Presidential candidates for instance, all you hear about is the need for better policing the need for a new minimum wage. These are all conversations that were pushed by young people and their movement. There’s not a debate you listen to nowadays that you don’t hear those issues mentioned. It shows you the power of young people.”
Just earlier this year, former educator and vocal Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson announced his bid in this year’s mayoral run for his home city of Baltimore. He recently managed to pick up endorsements and donations from big time tech companies like Twitter and Netflix and celebrities like Susan Sarandon, running on the platforms often times brought up by the groups Richards spoke about.
“Clear messages have been sent in cities like Baltimore and Chicago,” Richards said, citing that many elected officials in these urban cities have lost their positions based on the deaths of people wrongly killed during police related incidents.
“That was young people rising to the occasion” he continued. “We want them to know, in our community, that their voice does matter in the process. They are the future.”
The high schoolers engaged the councilman, speaking on the current landscape of presidential election, the specificities of the voting process and potential prospects for students interested in getting involved in the world of politics. Although Students Voter Registration Day is fairly new and still being tested, Richards said he has a bigger vision for the program in Queens.
“This is the start of a pilot program,” he said. “[My office has] a strong partnership with the [City] Department of Education so we would hope to do this city wide. Personally, I think every school should be registering 17-year-olds who are going to be 18 this year for the general election. It should be the standard, the norm, across New York City and across every high school.”
In addition to registering to vote, eligible students were able to sign up to work for polling sites.
“The hope is that once the children register to vote they will register to work at polling sites,” Freeman said. “This gives them experience with what’s going on and gives them a chance to learn a little bit more about candidates. We want to encourage them to do that and help people within their communities, and as a result, maybe get more young people to vote.”
Students seems excited for a chance to take part in the election process this November.
“We all have our own opinion and this is a way to share it as a people, especially as minorities,” Senior Brandon Lambert told the Press of Southeast Queens. “It’s important to vote because in order for us to be a well rounded community, everybody should get their say.”
Eighteen-year-old senior Shoshanna Hall also spoke on the importance of voting, even though she won’t be voting this time around.
“I think through voting, all sides of young people will have a voice on different matters and who we want in office,” Hall said. “I’m not yet a citizen, so that’s unfortunate, but until then I will be supporting this process.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly.