The Atlanta University Center is not okay. Zoom fatigue from remote learning has students from Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University collectively eager to return to campus. All homecoming activities were cancelled, and students are fraught by the thought of the coronavirus pandemic not ending anytime soon.
“I don’t want to go into the job search in the middle of this when it’s already very hard to find work,” says Spelman College senior Jazmine Thomas. “It’s important to me that legislation changes and that we have a great leader that is able to make it his or her priority to allow HBCU graduates—and graduates around the world—to be able to have good livelihoods.”
On Friday, eleven days before Election Day, Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris dropped by Atlanta for a pop-up rally in the parking lot of Morehouse College’s Ray Charles Performing Arts Center to try to encourage concerned AUC students to vote for her ticket. The two-term former district attorney for San Francisco and first African American woman to become Attorney General for California stood before a euphoric, socially distanced crowd honking horns and carrying banners reminding them of the history Atlanta has cultivated toward mobilizing social movements.
“Atlanta represents the hopes, dreams, and fight to make real the promise of America,” Harris said to the crowd, invoking the late Congressman John Lewis. “It’s a place that has produced national and international leaders who have always understood that hope will fuel the fight, and faith will be what grounds us in knowing what is possible.”
In her pitch to the students, the Oakland-born, Howard University alumna mentioned flattening Covid-19 rates, supporting environmental justice, attacking racial injustice, and investing in working families as concurrent issues that primarily affect Gen Z. Currently the only Black woman serving in the U.S. Senate, Harris and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker are proposing the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, which bans chokeholds, carotid holds, and creates a National Registry for law enforcement officers that violate laws.
“You gotta just organize the folks, bring people together, and recognize that nothing we have ever achieved as a nation by way of progress came without a fight,” Harris said, dressed in a black pants suit and wearing a matching black mask before she took the stage.
Police brutality hits close to home in the AUC. Morehouse student Messiah Young and Spelman student Taniyah Pilgrim were harassed and tased by on-duty officers during a protest in May. (Two APD officers were fired after the incident.) Some students say they appreciate the bill being drafted and led by Harris.
“We’ve had so much racial injustice and systemic racism in the country this summer, all year and throughout history,” says Morehouse senior Sizwe Chapman. “Having someone in office that comes in with that discomfort with America is comforting. It’s good to see her stand behind her platforms and hear what she has to say.”
Rick Hart, the co-chair of Georgia Young Leaders for Joe Biden and HBCU outreach director for College Democrats of America, says he is excited about Harris potentially becoming vice president. A first-time voter, the Morehouse junior says he appreciates that Harris and her running mate, former Vice President Joe Biden, take science seriously when looking for solutions to overcoming Covid-19, which is responsible so far for the deaths of over 220,000 Americans—more than 7,000 in Georgia.
“We have a choice to make, or we can choose to continue to walk through these next years backwards and blindfolded,” says Hart. “We must charter a future that is inclusive and [has] justice for all.”
Clark Atlanta University senior Miranda Perez says she was impressed by Harris’s ability to firmly articulate her position of the issues counter to the current White House administration, but didn’t think Harris’s public address specifically targeted HBCU students.
“Her speech missed the real opportunity to grasp the HBCU student vote,” Perez said. “I expected a true HBCU viewpoint, but she made great points on being the opposite of Trump, which we all need. That alone will work us into a more equitable playing field.”
By the time Harris made her 25-minute presentation, Georgia had already tallied 2.3 million early voters, a sharp increase from the early turnout in the 2016 election. Noting that she chose to run with Biden because he’s “always uplifting emerging leaders,” Harris said she was confident that young citizens would use their voice and vote to honor history and work towards the change they want.
“It’s about everybody taking on their role of leadership knowing that we have so much at stake,” Harris said. “Voting is about honoring those ancestors, what they fought for, and what they sacrificed. When we vote, things change. Let’s not let anybody take our power from us and out of this game. We know the power of our voice.”
For Thomas, the Spelman senior majoring in international business, the speech was worth viewing in person. “Something is different when you can see somebody and really feel their energy,” she says. “I feel the emotion of empowerment after hearing her speak. I can see a lot of myself in her. It’s very inspiring seeing someone from an HBCU potentially being in such a high position. It lets me know that whatever I’d like to do is possible.”
Disclosure: Writer Christopher A. Daniel is a mass media arts instructor, digital/multimedia journalism, at Clark Atlanta University.