By Briona Jenkins, Briona Jenkins Consulting
Last week, I watched every night of the Democratic National Convention and on Wednesday evening, Vice Presidential Candidate, Senator Kamala Harris said, “The litmus test for America is how it treats Black women.” That quote has been weighing heavy on my mind as we gear up for this year’s election in November.
I have been obsessed with politics since I was ten years old. It all began in my fifth grade class. My teacher asked us, “Who would you vote for if you were able to vote in the upcoming election, Bush or Gore?” Sitting in this class, I was convinced that everyone would vote for Gore. We were all friends, lived in a “blue” state, and were in the same school, so how could we possibly not all vote for Gore? He stood for climate change, tax cuts, protections for LGBTQIA+ folx, and a number of other progressive morals that I thought others would agree were necessary. You can imagine my surprise when I saw a number of my classmates raise their hands, voting for George W. Bush. That’s when everything changed for me. As a young Black girl, raised in a very liberal state, whose relatives had been involved in the Civil Rights Movements, I knew how important my voice, body, and ideas were. I had been raised to speak up for myself and fight when I saw injustices and sitting in that fifth grade classroom prepared me for the journey that awaited me.
Growing up, I knew that, historically, Black women had been the backbone of every major civil rights movement that had occurred in this country. Marsha P. Johnson, who is credited for starting the Stonewall Riots, was a Black trans woman. The suffragette movement, that led to the 19th Amendment being ratified, had a lot to do with the work of Black women who were not included when white women were given the right to vote. As a proud Black woman, I felt like it was my job to pay attention to things that were affecting my community and try to change them, if I could. I started collecting canned goods for soup kitchens when I was in elementary school. I started raising money for Hurricane Katrina when I was in high school. And I started paying attention to voter suppression when I was 18.
As I told you, I had been obsessed with politics for almost half of my life, so when the time came for me to cast my first vote in 2008, I was ready. I went to a school in my neighborhood. I waited in line for five minutes, showed my ID, cast my vote and was on my way. However, I did notice a line of people at a far right desk waiting to talk to a poll worker. These folks weren’t able to cast their votes and were waiting for assistance. It wouldn’t be until the 2016 election that I began to pay attention to how often votes are suppressed.
The history of voter suppression dates back to 1870, if not earlier. According to History.com, “The 15th Amendment granting African-American men the right to vote was adopted into the U.S. Constitution in 1870. Despite the amendment, by the late 1870’s, discriminatory practices were used to prevent blacks from exercising their right to vote, especially in the South. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that legal barriers were outlawed at the state and local levels if they denied African-Americans their right to vote under the 15th Amendment.” That means it wasn’t until forty-five years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment that Black Women and everyone in this country were able to vote.
Voter suppression has taken many different forms: poll taxes, literacy tests, purging of the voter rolls, limitation on early voting and absentee voting or vote by mail, not allowing incarcerated people to vote (even once they have finished serving time), and the closing of polling locations or providing faulty equipment to polling locations. After moving to Texas in 2016, I scrambled to get registered to vote since the November presidential election was approaching. Texas is one of the hardest states to get registered in, with voter registration practices straight out of the Jim Crow handbook. The Nation says it perfectly, “The state has no online registration, and anyone who registers voters must be deputized by the county at a training session that typically occurs once a month, sometimes less. The volunteer deputy registrars (VDRs), as they’re known, must be deputized on a county-by-county basis, which makes statewide drives practically impossible in a massive state like Texas, with its 254 counties.”
As we gear up for the elections that will take place on November 3, 2020, it is so important to make sure that we are registered to vote and that our registration is still on the books come October 5, 2020.
If you visit Register2Vote.org, you can check your registration status. If you are not registered, they will send you a registration form that you can sign, put in a pre-stamped envelope, and send off to the proper office. Be sure to check and make sure that your polling location is open, and if it isn’t, check where you can cast your vote. Vote early if you can! With COVID-19, it will be much safer and easier to vote early. If you are healthy and interested in being a (paid) poll worker, you can also help to make sure that every vote is counted.
The BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and women/female communities are often made to believe that they cannot make a difference, but we know differently. We must all use our voice and votes to help make change happen in this country.
Given the title, “The love child of Oprah, Beyonce, and Michelle Obama,” Briona Jenkins is a public speaker, activist for the LGBTQIA+, female, and people of color communities, and has years of experience using her platform to evoke change. Originally from Hamden, Connecticut, Bri attended Albertus Magnus College, a small Liberal Arts college rich in the Dominican Tradition, which is where she completed her undergrad as a Sociology major with a concentration in Social Work.
Bri has over eight years of experience in the nonprofit sector. She has worked for a variety of organizations where she was able to serve adults and children with developmental disabilities, single adults and families experiencing homelessness, and was in development and community engagement at an organization that serves LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults. She was, most recently, let go from her first tech job due to COVID-19. Briona decided that this was the best time to start her consulting business, Briona Jenkins Consulting.
When not at work, Bri is very involved in the Austin community. She is serving her second term as Co-Director of New Leaders Council’s Austin Chapter Board, is an Ad Hoc board member for Lone Star Victim Advocacy Project, and has served on the boards of Keep Austin Fed and Austin Black Pride. She also appears on panels and stages all over the city and has spoken at the 2020 Women’s March Rally in Austin, BossBabe’s Annual State of the Uterus event, Texas State Business Week, on a virtual SXSWEdu panel, and two GISH panels about Racial Equality & Justice.
She also hosts a podcast called “The Tea with Bri,” where she sits and chats with a different guest every week about whatever topic the guests chooses.
On December 4, 2019, she won the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce ‘Rising Star Award’. She will also be the subject for a documentary entitled, “Uncomfortable Spaces,” that will be released at the end of 2020.