- Faith & Family
As thousands of Blacks left church last Sunday afternoon, instead of going home for dinner or to their favorite restaurant, they headed over to the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City. There they joined the Rev. Carl Johnson, pastor, 93rd Street Baptist Church and Lovette McGill, president of the Miami-Dade branch of the A. Philip Randolph Institute — the local organizers for a statewide effort to get Blacks to vote early.
Here in Miami, both religious and community leaders teamed up for a “Souls to the Polls” day. Marchers locked arms and sang spirituals as they moved from NW 62nd Street to the Joseph Caleb Center on NW 54th Street. Cars detained by police escorts, blew their horns in support. Others who were on foot, joined the boisterous marchers, adding to their numbers and their strength.
Sunday has always been a crucial day for Black voters with clergy taking full advantage of their pulpits to encourage their congregations to leave worship and go to the polls. In the 2008 race for the White House, Blacks overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama for president. Here in Florida, estimates show that one-third of all Black votes were cast on the Sunday before Election Day. But after Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature reduced the number of early voting days this year from 14 to eight — while eliminating the Sunday before Election Day. Whether Sunday’s one-day rally will make up for the loss of early-days is yet to be seen. But there was an energy and enthusiasm that kept voters in long lines with little or no complaints.
As for numbers, the M-DC elections website said that 22,625 waited as much as six hours to vote in Miami-Dade County last Saturday — the first day for early voting.
Rally encourages voters
Johnson got things going at the rally, as marchers streamed into the Caleb Center and took their seats. The mood was set with gospel groups and soloists.
“This is a non-partisan event that is all about making sure all voices are heard,” he said. “This is our day!”
Rev. Gaston Smith, pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, reminded the audience of the struggles that Blacks endured just to guarantee their right to vote.
“We are here for adoration, affirmation and action,” he said. “But given our history, we cannot forget that we have both a right and a responsibility to vote. We are here to challenge the spirit of apathy that has taken over this country and the Black community. Our apathy is connected to our amnesia: four Black girls in a Birmingham church; the murder of Medgar Evers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rosa Parks refusing to stand up so we could sit down.’
State Representative Cynthia Stafford shared the story of a young Black man that had voted for his first time.
“One brother reminded me that we ‘are voting by ourselves but not for ourselves,’” she said. “When I saw the long lines yesterday of our people waiting to vote, my heart was full. And we have to vote the entire ballot and vote like our lives depend on it — because they do.”
Johnson thanked County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson for helping secure the Center for the rally and worship service. She said seeing she was glad she was part of “history.”
“I was happy and elated seeing so many people march, come to the rally/worship service or be part of both,” Edmonson said. “This will go down as one of the most historical moments in our City’s history. The people were so excited — so hyped. I was honored to be a part of it.”
Outside, the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., participated in a silent protest against Republican-dominated legislators that reduced the number of early voting days. Dressed in black suits, white gloves and pearls, pink corsages and pink tape over their mouths, holding signs that read “no vote — no voice.”
“We have to make sure we vote and then take someone to the polls who hasn’t voted,” said Vanessa Byers, one of the planners of the women’s protest.
By D. Kevin McNeir