Black student leaders and Long Beach City Councilmember Al Austin II held “Agents of Change” Monday evening to address the issues Black communities face when it comes to voting, political education and access to information.
“We are here to recognize the ongoing struggle for Black men and women on the right to vote,” said Pamela Lewis, director of the women’s and gender equity center.
Elected in 2012, Austin was the first Black man in his district to be elected into office, but recalled many said he would “never win.” He told students that political involvement is the most important thing they can do, even joking they should join his campaign team for reelection in March.
“Micro or macro, if you’re not involved, your voice is being suppressed,” Austin said.
Lisa Higgins-King, third-year human development and Africana studies major, said that local votes are more important than national votes.
“The most important voting is the voting in your community,” Higgins-King said. “You will see the direct result and impact on your community.”
Donirvin Dickerson, third-year computer science major, has done several projects on analyzing Facebook and Google analytics and explained how information is conglomerated for users based upon previous interactions. He warned against trusting single sources and advocated for going to other people for information and political opinions.
Austin asked about barriers Black students may be facing on campus or in the community that is getting in the way of them voting.
Higgins-King said that the language used in politics acts as a barrier, leading those who may not understand it fully to vote in ways they may not be aware of.
The councilmember asked how, as a Black community, they could help facilitate the importance of civic engagement.
“Starting education young and teaching the importance of being involved in your community will, in turn, generate more voters,” Higgins-King said.
The floor was opened for questions from the audience. Terri Armstrong, chair of the president’s commission on the status of women, posed both questions asked.
The first was about how voters should go about researching candidates.
“Be balanced in your research,” Austin answered. “The first hour I’m awake I read the news, looking at multiple sources.”
Armstrong’s second question was about how the students operated as agents of change in a time she called an “era of anti-Blackness”.
Maya Barnes, fourth-year industrial design major, noted that “anti-Blackness” isn’t new, but the resurgence of negative sentiments means the community is doing “something right”.
“You have to let people know ‘I am Black and I am proud,’” Dickerson said. “And we’re still going to be Black at the end of the day.”
This article previously misidentified two sources. Their titles has been corrected at of 12:39 p.m. on Feb. 19, 2020.