Lasting Impact: An Andrew Goodman Alumni Q&A With Valencia Richardson, Louisiana State University
Valencia Richardson, Esq., was an Andrew Goodman Ambassador at Louisiana State University (LSU) and continued after graduation as part of the inaugural Cohort of Andrew Goodman Puffin Democracy Fellows. She later served on The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Board of Directors. Today, Valencia is Legal Counsel for Voting Rights at CLC, where her work focuses on addressing local-level election compliance under the Voting Rights Act in the Deep South. Prior to joining CLC and graduating from Georgetown University Law Center, Valencia was a voting rights organizer, activist, and Fulbright grantee to Mexico. She is also the author of a nonfiction book, “Young and Disaffected,” and published “Voting While Poor: Reviving the Twenty-Fourth Amendment and Eliminating the Modern-Day Poll Tax” in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy. Valencia has litigated various voting rights cases in state and federal court, including Aguilar v. Yakima County, the first case litigated under the Washington Voting Rights Act.
Tell us about your experience as an Andrew Goodman Ambassador. Was there a campaign you championed as an Ambassador that you are particularly proud of?
I was an Ambassador from 2014 to 2017, and a member of The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Board of Directors from 2018 to 2021. As an Ambassador, I worked at Louisiana State University to help students register to vote and vote, and advocated for better student voting and higher education policies on behalf of students. I am proud to say we did a lot of good work, including creating an infrastructure for voter registration within the university through the creation of Geaux Vote LSU, which has grown to be one of the most robust on-campus student voting organizations in the country. But the campaign I am most proud of is the successful campaign to change state law so that university identification could be used as voter ID in the state of Louisiana.
What legacy did you leave on campus for future generations of Ambassadors to continue?
The legacy I am most proud of is the ongoing success of Geaux Vote LSU. We started that organization with two students, and it has blossomed into such a robust organization that I am super proud to watch register voters and engage students every school year from the sidelines. We built an organization on which students can trust and rely to provide them with nonpartisan information, and which Ambassadors can grow in their leadership skills and build their expertise as voting rights champions. I am extremely proud of Geaux Vote LSU and the students and Ambassadors that continue to champion it!
As an Ambassador, how did you contribute to creating lasting change and a more democratic culture on your campus?
I believe that I contributed to helping bring the importance of the student vote to LSU, specifically by raising awareness to the barriers that student voters face in accessing the ballot box. From voter ID and voter registration, to accessing polling places and absentee voting, there are so many logistical hurdles that can be disenfranchising for student voters, who are usually new voters as well. By advocating for better student voting access on campus, and creating an infrastructure for that advocacy through Geaux Vote LSU, I believe that we made it hard to ignore the power and importance of building a democratic culture among college students and helping them become active participants in our democracy.
How did your time in the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program impact your development as a leader and community member?
My time as an Ambassador taught me how to organize, taught me about the importance of working with a team and building relationships, and gave me room to make mistakes as a leader so that I could learn and grow to become a better one. In becoming an organizer and advocate through the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program, I grew in my confidence as a leader.
Tell us about what you’re doing today. How did your time as an Ambassador inform your continuing education, work, or volunteerism?
Today I am a voting rights lawyer who primarily works on enforcing voting rights through litigation and policy in the South, and promoting better voting laws across the country. My time as an Ambassador fomented my passion for voting rights specifically, and set me on my career path. I accredit my time as an Ambassador for my becoming a civil rights attorney who specializes in voting rights.
As an Alumni of our program, how are you continuing to reflect on our story and to carry forward the Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner legacy today?
I think about the legacy of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner every time I reflect upon how far we have come as a multiracial democracy, and how much farther we have to go. Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerer were assassinated for simply attempting to help this country live up to the values that it purports to have. Their deaths had a direct impact on the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is the most transformative piece of legislation that this country has ever passed. When folks make sacrifices to force us to live our values, we have to honor that by continuing the work and ensuring that their lives were not lost in vain, even on the hard days. For this reason, I think about them on the hard days in this work.
What advice would you give to our current Ambassadors?
We are currently living at a tipping point in our democracy. Opponents of the project of a truly multiracial democracy are taking steps to retrench our collective progress and reinforce white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, and other anti-democratic values. But the good news is that as Ambassadors, you are in a position to hold the line and reinforce the democratic values that will make this country safe and accessible for all. It’s a huge and humble responsibility to take on, so take care of yourselves and never question the rightness of your work. Learn from your mistakes, lead with empathy, and orient yourselves around community. You’re an Ambassador because you care, so you’ve already taken a huge step.
Stay tuned as we continue our Lasting Impact series, featuring alumni of our Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program, what they’re doing today, and how they are still living the legacy.