Lawyers’ coalition provides new messengers for Black voter engagement – Metro US

Lawyers’ coalition provides new messengers for Black voter engagement

Young Black Lawyers-Voter Engagement
Awa Nyambi, 25, left, Alyssa Whitaker, 25, and Kenadi Mitchell, 24, law students at Howard University School of Law, pose for a portrait, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Washington. The students are part of a group of young Black lawyers working to protect voting rights during the 2024 election. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Young Black lawyers and law students are taking on a new role ahead of the general election: Meeting with Black voters in battleground states to increase turnout and serve as watchdogs against voter disenfranchisement.

The Young Black Lawyers’ Organizing Coalition has recruited lawyers and law students and is sending them to Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas to meet with Black voters, aiming to better understand the barriers that the historically disadvantaged voting bloc faces when registering to vote and accessing the ballot.

The recruits are leading educational focus groups with an ambitious goal: restoring fatigued Black voters’ faith in American democracy.

“I think what makes us unique is that we’re new messengers,” said Abdul Dosunmu, a civil rights lawyer who founded YBLOC. “We have never thought about the Black lawyer as someone who is uniquely empowered to be messengers for civic empowerment.”

Dosunmu, who shared the coalition’s plans exclusively with The Associated Press, said recruits will combat apathy among Black voters by listening, rather than telling them why their participation is crucial. The focus groups will inform “a blueprint for how to make democracy work for our communities,” he said.

According to a Pew Research Center report, in 2023, just 21% of Black adults said they trust the federal government to do the right thing at least most of the time. That’s up from a low of 9% during the Trump administration. For white adults, the numbers were reversed: 26% of white adults expressed such trust in 2020, dropping to 13% during the Biden administration.

The first stop on the four-state focus group tour was Michigan in February. This month, YBLOC plans to stop in Texas and then North Carolina. Venues for the focus groups have included barbershops, churches and union halls.

Alyssa Whitaker, a third-year student at Howard University School of Law, said she got involved because she is dissatisfied with the relationship Black communities have with their democracy.

“Attorneys, we know the law,” Whitaker said. “We’ve been studying this stuff and we’re deep in the weeds. So, having that type of knowledge and expertise, I do believe there is some level of a responsibility to get involved.”

In Detroit, Grand Rapids and Pontiac, Michigan, the recruits heard about a wide variety of challenges and grievances. Black voters said they don’t feel heard or validated and are exasperated over the lack of options on the ballot.

Despite their fatigue, the voters said they remain invested in the political process.

“It was great to see that, even if people were a bit more pessimistic in their views, people were very engaged and very knowledgeable about what they were voting for,” said another recruit, Awa Nyambi, a third-year student at Howard University School of Law.

It’s a shame that ever since Black people were guaranteed the right to vote, they’ve had to pick “the lesser of two evils” on their ballots, said Tameka Ramsey, interim executive director of the Michigan Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

“But that’s so old,” said Ramsey, whose group was inspired by the February event and has begun holding its own listening sessions.

These young lawyers are proving the importance of actually listening to varying opinions in the Black community, said Felicia Davis, founder of the HBCU Green Fund, a non-profit organization aimed at driving social justice and supporting sustainable infrastructure for historically Black colleges and universities.

YBLOC is “teaching and reawakening the elements of organizing 101,” she said.

The experience also is informing how the lawyers navigate their careers, said Tyra Beck, a second-year student at The New York University School of Law.

“It’s personal to me because I’m currently in a constitutional law class,” Beck said.

Kahaari Kenyatta, a first-year student also at The New York University School of Law, said the experience has reminded him why he got into law.

“You care about this democracy and civil engagement,” Kenyatta said. “I’m excited to work with YBLOC again, whatever that looks like.”

The Associated Press’ coverage of race and voting receives support from the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation. See more about AP’s democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.