By ADINA YOUNG
Justin Ajose, 23, of Washington, D.C., is an African American graduate student at American University who has never voted in an election before. But there are plenty of issues that are important to him.
“I just registered when I got my license renewed on my birthday, July 19,” said Ajose who said he never felt compelled to vote. “However, being interrogated by my friends about becoming a registered voter and the importance of it would behoove me to at least become a registered voter and consider voting.”
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, there was a surge in overall youth voting in the 2004 election, in part because of the 11 percent increase in young black voters. During the 2004 elections, blacks overall had the greatest increase in voter turnout than any other ethnic minority group.
Still, less than half of young blacks view voting as important, according to a study conducted by the center.
According to Dr. David Boisitis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, young people in general do not feel that their issues are being addressed by political candidates. This is one of the reasons they do not vote, he said. The other two reasons are that young people may not be settled into a particular community where they have a job or are married, and they are at a stage in life where other things are more important to them than politics.
Graphic courtesy of Black Youth Vote
Boisitis said the economy, employment, healthcare and education are among the top issues for blacks, but that the war is the most important basic issue for this community.
“African Americans have been against the war more than anyone else in the country,” said Boisitis. “They saw some of it as a colonial war for Iraqi soil and African Americans are much more sensitive to that.”
Yaa Asantewaa Bandele, 26, a registered voter and Washington, D.C. native, said that it is time for a political candidate who brings change, like Mayor Adrian Fenty has done in the District.
“I would like to see some time and effort put into the rehabilitation and education systems,” Bandele said. “I am very proud of Fenty. [He] said that he was going to fix the schools and they are out there fixing the schools. You ain’t never seen [nothing] like that.”
Jordan Thierry, 24, interim coordinator of the Black Youth Vote movement, an organization that focuses on getting young blacks engaged in politics, said issues such as the prison population and education are important to him, but he has not heard many of the candidates talk about these issues.
Every candidate in the election has talked about education; however, of all the candidates for the 2008 election, only one, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, mentioned anything about the prison population. He said something needed to be done to decrease the number of that population.
“I have not really been following the Republican candidates,” said Thierry, a Howard University film student. “As far as the Democratic candidates, I have not seen much of a new discussion except for maybe the war in Iraq.”
According to Dr. Michael Fauntroy, professor of public policy at George Mason University, the country, across all races and ethnicities, has been united against the war in Iraq; however, young blacks and Caucasians do not find most of the same issues important because of economics.
“African Americans are not situated in terms of generational wealth like their counterparts are,” said Fauntroy, author of “Republicans and the Black Vote”, which outlines the history of blacks changing from Republican voters to Democratic voters.
Some politicians are taking steps to reach out to the black community.
According to Charles Allen, chief of staff to D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells, Wells recently endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for the Democratic primaries. Wells also went door-to-door to every neighborhood in Ward 6. According to Allen, Wells feels that by getting young people involved and engaged in politics, they are more likely to vote and continue to vote.
“Part of the way he got both young people and African American people was by inviting them to become part of his campaign; not just someone who comes out and votes,” said Allen.
Nyree Neil, 30, a convention services manager, is an African American woman from Boston who said that America is a great place to live but does not feel that African Americans are given the same opportunities as whites.
“Deep down inside, I am an American and I would love to see this country prosper and I love the freedoms that I have here,” Neil said enthusiastically. “But it’s just not being represented as far as I can see. This country was founded on freedom for all, justice for all. For some populations in the United States, that’s a reality, but not for my people.”