Students Deepen Commitment to Voting Equality and Civil Rights at 2nd Annual National Training Institute
The 2016 election marks an important milestone for Millennials. It is the first time ever all eligible members of the generation will be old enough to cast a ballot in a presidential race. Surpassing Baby Boomers as the largest living generation and voting bloc earlier this year, young voters have the potential to become a truly powerful force in democracy. But will they turn out?
To ensure that they do, The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF) created Vote Everywhere (VE), a nonpartisan program which partners with 42 colleges and universities nationwide to register and educate voters, and tackle social justice issues on campus.
A cornerstone of the Vote Everywhere program is the National Training Institute. Held annually during the summer, the institute brings together VE Team Leaders from across the U.S. to learn, share best practices, and plan their work for the upcoming year.
The 2016 institute, generously sponsored by the Puffin Foundation, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that supports social justice projects and the arts, took place at the Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge, NY. The four-day retreat kicked off on August 10, just days after the 51st anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and brought together 35 VE Ambassadors and alumni, representing 30 colleges and universities from around the country.
Students participated in nearly 20 sessions, led by VE’s alumni, staff, and the Ambassadors themselves. Facilitators dove deeper into subjects like eliminating voting barriers, organizing, event planning, media and branding, public policy, as well as leadership, and teambuilding. In addition, VE’s national partners, TurboVote and Campus Vote Project, offered information and guidance on voter registration processes and procedures.
Having an opportunity to collaborate and learn from fellow VE Ambassadors was extremely important to many students, including Arizona State University VE Team Leader Victoria Grijalva Ochoa. “Attending the National Training Institute was an incredibly empowering and inspirational experience for me. Not only was I able to obtain in-depth knowledge about voting barriers on different campuses across the country and about how each of these barriers can be broken down, but I also learned this from my very own peers.”
A key element of this year’s conference was the participation of Dr. Clarence B. Jones, Civil Rights pioneer and Martin Luther King’s lawyer, chief strategist, and speechwriter. Jones spoke to the students about the Civil Rights movement and its many lessons. For University of Alabama VE Ambassador Dana Sweeney, learning from Jones was invaluable. “As someone from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, history is always on my mind when it comes to voter registration and mobilization. Our state is at the heart of the voting rights struggle–from Selma to Shelby County–and our work as Ambassadors is directly linked to a long tradition of brave activists, including Andrew Goodman, who believed in the power of the vote to remake the future.”
An important event at the institute that was made available to the public was a panel discussion on the intersection of the Civil Rights movement and the upcoming election. Moderated by AGF’s President David Goodman, the panel included Dr. Jones, author and senior contributing writer for The Nation Ari Berman, and Civil Rights activist Bernice Sims.
The evening included a live performance of freedom songs by Michael and Mary Mark, and concluded with the 2016 Hidden Heroes award ceremony. Six VE Ambassadors were recognized for their outstanding achievements on campus this year: Steven Adelson from Stony Brook University, Allen Coon from University of Mississippi, Nick Doran from Binghamton University, Maydee Martinez from Miami Dade College, Valencia Richardson from Louisiana State University, and Joanna Woodson from Western Carolina University.
“In giving the 2016 Hidden Heroes Awards to our most impactful Ambassadors, we are recognizing young civic leaders who embody the important tradition of the ordinary person taking extraordinary action on behalf of others–the same spark that motivated Andrew Goodman to travel to Mississippi in 1964,” said Sylvia Golbin Goodman, Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Executive Director.
As the institute wound down, many VE Ambassadors, including VE veteran and Hidden Hero Allen Coon, were excited about implementing what they learned. “The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s institute provided me with the resources, training, and support necessary to build on the progress we’ve made at the University of Mississippi and institutionalize voter engagement and education. Specifically, I was able to learn from the experiences and perspectives of my fellow Vote Everywhere Ambassadors, from their successes and missteps, to develop a plan of action to affect meaningful change on my campus.”
VE Program Director S. Nadia Hussain is optimistic about the future after executing her second National Training Institute. She hopes the four-day retreat will allow students to create meaningful impact on campus and beyond. “These young leaders came from all over the country to get trained on breaking down voting barriers, registering and turning out voters and creating policy changes that affirm and defend our civil rights. Quite simply, they are working relentlessly to deliver on the promise of the United States as it should have been and should be, a nation united in the name of equality and democracy for all.”
To view more pictures from the 2016 National Training Institute click here.