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To Get Young Black Adults to the Polls, Talk About Politics at the Dinner Table

Scott Morgan
Members of Texas A&M University-Commerce's student NAACP chapter say black families need to talk politics. L-R Sarayah Talley, vice president; Tamiah Jones, secretary; Zireanna Love, treasurer; Danyelle Harrell and Crystal West, members.

Black voters really are less likely to vote in most elections. Young black adults are less likely still. Danyelle Harrell has a theory as to why that is.

“I feel like, growing up in a black household, it wasn’t something that we were necessarily always encouraged to do,” says Harrell, a general member of NAACP Unit No. 6809. That’s the student NAACP chapter at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Chapter Treasurer Zireanna Love  adds that she feels encouragement to be more political in black households should start with the parents.

“When we’re growing up, whenever we have Sunday dinners,” Love says, “we’re not sitting at the table talking about political stuff.”

Chapter Secretary Tamiah Jones doesn’t see among her white friends. She says white friends and classmates tell her they grow up knowing who they are politically. Politically, she says, “already know how their whole life is planned, and we’re still learning in this sort of way.”

Love says black teenagers often step into adulthood with little more political grounding than “go vote when you're 18.” Which hardly lends itself to vigorous discussion, much less the forming of a political identity.

But if 18 is a little late to start getting your political legs, when exactly should black parents start the conversation with their kids?

“Maybe the summer of, maybe, before entering high school is when I can bring the conversation about,” says chapter member Crystal West.

None of these young women say they would tell their children what to think. But they would want them to think hard. That means researching all the options with an open mind.

“If they are in the on the opposite party I’m going to ask them why,” West says. “You may see something that you agree on, so maybe we can talk about it and see.”

Chapter Vice President Sarayah Talley says she wouldn’t want to get in her kids’ heads, politically, but she does hope she can guide them to make informed choices.

“When my children get old enough to know what a political system is and they have the right mind to feel like they’re ready to decide, hopefuilly they’re comfortable with me enough to, like, ‘What do you think?’”

All of this is academic, of course, if no one still shows up at the polls. And that's an idea that gets under Zireanna Love's skin.

“Everybody registers to vote,” she says, “but not everybody votes, and that’s where the issue lies. And so I think if we can not just get our foot in the door but step all the way in the door, then everything will kinda balance out.”

Scott Morgan has been an award-winning journalist since 2001. His work has appeared in several newspapers and magazines as well as online. He has also been an editor, freelancer, speaker, writing teacher, author, and podcaster.