From Selma to Atlanta, Continuing the Fight for Freedom

When I rolled out of bed, cleared the crust out of my eyes, and threw on a Morehouse t-shirt yesterday morning, I had no idea what was awaiting me at the Nelson Street Bridge. Due to prior planning the night before, I knew I wanted to wear a Morehouse t-shirt to represent my institution as I participated in a March to the Polls led by Congressman John Lewis.

When I woke up that morning, my only expectation was to march with other citizens who want to ensure their voices are heard in this general election and to make sure those who are registered actually turn out to the polls and vote instead of sitting down on their voice. John Lewis left his own blood on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama on Bloody Sunday 51 years ago, and to have the privilege of marching alongside him was a humbling experience. Being given this opportunity while participating in my first election season as an eligible voter was empowering and uplifting. It was inspiring to hear participants’ voices, and my own, ring out through the streets of Atlanta chanting, “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like,” and “V-O-T-E. Vote, vote, vote!”

Constituents from across the Atlanta area joined Lewis in a March to the Polls in order to encourage registered voters to get out and participate in the voting process. The march took place on the day early voting began in the state of Georgia. Prior to the march, Fulton County Chairman John Eaves delivered the news that Fulton County has made significant strides as 140,000 citizens are newly registered voters increasing the total number of registered voters to 740,000. Thusly, 93% of Fulton County’s eligible voters are registered to vote.

The African American community has marched for civil rights thousands of times before. Our ancestors marched to end the institution of Jim Crow and gain the right to vote for themselves and those who would come after them. Thousands of marches were held across the country in remembrance of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown who were victims of police brutality, racial profiling, and senseless gun violence. The March to the Polls, however, had a different objective in mind.

“Our purpose for the March to the Polls is to dramatize the need for people to turn out,” Lewis said. “And today, to see so many young people turning out [will] hopefully inspire other young people, and people not so young, to turn out because their vote is precious. It is powerful, and if we don’t use it, we can lose it.”

Jake Orvis, a 20-year-old student majoring in public policy at Georgia Tech, serves as the President of the College Democrats of Georgia Tech and the College Democrats of Georgia. He had the following to say about millennials and this year’s election:

“I think this election is really important because … we’ve seen unprecedented hate coming out of Donald Trump’s campaign,” Orvis said. “And so it’s really important that as millennials we stand up and say, ‘Our country, this is not what we’re about.’ Donald Trump does not stand for our values and his values are no where close to how America should be.’ And so it’s more important … than ever, that millennials do turn out and vote, and as millennials we send a really strong message to the group perpetuating hate in this country that have found a home in Donald Trump’s campaign that that’s not okay and we’re breaking from that tradition.”

Lewis charged millennials to do more than just vote in elections, but to take a genuine interest in politics by seeking public office. “It’s my hope that young people, young leaders will see young leaders emerging in government, and more and more millennials will be attracted to serve, to work in government, and to run for office, and get elected, to be appointed to very important positions in national government as well as state and local government. And I think with Hillary Clinton, you will see a lot of fresh and new faces at the very highest level of our government.”

Those who came before us marched peacefully to ensure their voices were heard and to create a better future for those who would come after them. They paved the way for us to exercise our right to vote, and now we march in order to protect that sacred right and carry on the legacy so many before us were beaten for and died for. American voters not only have a legacy to uphold in this election, but to uphold the values of the United States. The first step in doing so is going to the polls, voting, and ensuring the American population elects someone who is representative of those values.

Ayron M. Lewallen is a junior sociology major with a minor in journalism from Wichita, Kansas. He currently attends Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.