Living The Legacy at the Fifth Annual National Civic Leadership Training Summit
This year, almost 150 program participants, industry experts, and civil rights icons convened at The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s (AGF) fifth annual National Civic Leadership Training Summit (NCLTS) at Montclair State University. Representing 45 colleges and universities, 23 states, and Washington, D.C., the five-day conference armed the next generation of civic leaders with the fundamentals of voter advocacy, digital organizing, Get-Out-The-Vote campaign planning, and more. The event celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Foundation’s flagship Vote Everywhere program. It also coincided with the 55th anniversary of the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, the civil rights martyrs whom the foundation seeks to honor through its work. As an ode to both milestones, this year’s theme for the NCLTS was “Live the Legacy.”
On the opening night of what would later be described as, “the true embodiment of democracy” by Eowyn (Wyn) Plymesser, Ambassador at the University of Louisville, the AGF’s Managing Director Maxim Thorne facilitated a panel discussion on the need to carry forth the legacies of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. The conversation featured civil rights icons Clarence Jones, former counsel and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Bernice Sims, Author of Detour Before Midnight. Student Ambassadors Evan Malbrough (Georgia State University) and Makenzie Mercer (Miami University) also joined the discussion. Sims, who is credited as one of the last people to spend time with Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, recalled, ‘“After the murders, we were all numb but we knew the work we needed to do and we continued the work on their behalf.” Jones later added, “I want to be sure that you all understand what this work is all about. It’s about confronting power. Voting and voter registration is power.”
With the ongoing rise of attacks on American democracy, voter suppression and voting rights history remained a focus of the summit. The first day included two keynotes to build the framework for the remainder of the week: “The Evolution of Voting Rights and the 26th Amendment” by Yael Bromberg, AGF’s Chief Outside Counsel for Voting Rights, as well as “The State of Voting Rights in 2019” by Myrna Perez, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Bromberg implored student Ambassadors to continue championing the 26th Amendment, which enshrines the right to vote for citizens 18 and older. She stated, “Even some constitutional lawyers don’t know what the 26th Amendment is. This is a muscle that has yet to be [fully] flexed.” On a broader level, Perez’s keynote explored the systematic ways that states have disenfranchised voters across the nation. She detailed numerous policies in states such as Florida, Tennessee, and Texas that have created more barriers to voting. Both keynotes marked advocacy as a cornerstone of advancing access to the ballot.
Other sessions included a mixture of traditional lectures and panel discussions, as well as an innovative “un-conferencing” approach where attendees self-facilitated discussions. All of these ranged in topics such as Building Civic Culture Through Texting, Volunteer Mobilization, 2020 Census: What’s at Stake, Campus Action Planning 101 and 102, and Op-Eds that Influence. Moreover, there was a special film screening of Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook. The curriculum was designed for participants to understand the significance of fighting for youth voting rights through an intersectional lens. It also encouraged participants to think of their experience in the AGF’s Vote Everywhere program as a vehicle for personal and professional development.
The Summit concluded with the annual Hidden Heroes Award Ceremony. Stacey Abrams, 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate and founder of Fair Fight Action, delivered a video keynote address to open the ceremony. Additionally, a powerful panel discussion themed “Reimagining our Democracy,” featured Hon. Park Cannon, Representative of Georgia’s 58th District; Tarso Luis Ramos, Executive Director at Political Research Associates; and Dana Sweeney, one of the AGF’s esteemed Puffin Democracy Fellows. Each panelist shared their vision for an inclusive democracy and discussed the role of solidarity in movement building and creating sustainable change. Closing the evening, awards were presented to Jacqueline Beveridge (Georgetown University ’19), Yark Beyan (Stony Brook University ’19), Rebecca Diaz (Miami Dade College – Wolfson ’19), Ava Mazzye ( Bard College ’20), and Zoë Williamson (Louisiana State University ’19).
Christina Sanders, Regional Program Manager, says, “The NCLTS was a mini think tank filled with conversations about how to make traditional civic engagement work today. It was an honor to lead sessions, teach techniques I’ve garnered, and share space with young leaders from across the country who share a genuine passion for voting and civil rights.” This year’s summit was the largest to date and a key step in preparing for the 2020 Election. Sanders concludes, “This unforgettable experience strengthened my resolve in the future of our democracy. America is better for it.”
About the Author
Kevin Hurtado is the Development Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. He graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Human Rights and Genocide. Previously, Kevin worked as an Executive Assistant and Office Manager at Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity in the city of Newark.