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raceAhead: It’s Time To Vote

I live (now, part-time) in the same Harlem, USA neighborhood where I grew up. One of the fun parts of moving back here over a decade ago, I thought, was going to be voting in the same ancient school gym where my parents voted when I was a child.

Until recently, that polling place used the exact “technology” they did in the 1960’s and ‘70s. It was a huge machine that looked more like a carnival photo booth, you stepped in, pulled a huge lever and a curtain shut behind you. Then, my mother would pick me up and let me flip literal switches that were set next to the candidate names. It felt a little like operating a dashboard in a tank.

I grew up during the Civil Rights era. Discussions of racism, voting rights, and justice denied were our dinnertime conversation, in our classrooms, on the evening news. It imprinted on my young psyche. Stepping into the machine was like stepping into a big and dangerous world.

The first voting day after I moved back to my neighborhood, I went to that old school gym out of nostalgia and ancient habit. It was only then that I discovered that no, my actual polling place was several blocks over. By the time I found out, I was late to cover a magazine assignment and out of luck. As my face crumbled in shame, several black women, clearly the power-aunties of the polling place, surrounded me. They explained how provisional ballots worked; one grabbed my arms and pulled me close. “Young lady, your vote will be counted today.” Then, she handed me a tissue.

I think about those women a lot around election time. They were there, doing the work they’d clearly done for years, standing shoulder to shoulder with all the now-elders who had made sure that not only was I able to vote, but that I also had access to the type of education that could land me a job that kept me distracted enough to make that rookie mistake.

But not everyone made it to a ripe old age.

Reverend George Lee of Belzoni, Mississippi was gunned down by three men in May, 1955 for preaching about registering to vote from the pulpit. Voting rights activist Lamar Smith was gunned down on the steps of the Brookhaven, Mississippi courthouse. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner, were harassed, kidnapped, and assassinated for their work in Mississippi on voting registration and civil rights in 1964. In 1961, cotton-farmer and tireless NAACP volunteer Herbert Lee was murdered by a state legislator to stop his voter registration work. There are oh, so many more.

Those ghosts were in the room when I redeemed myself by filling out my provisional ballot. And they whisper in our ears when we pester young people to register and get themselves out to vote.

There is so much more work to do tomorrow—from getting people to the polls, fighting fresh voter suppression efforts, and combating hate speech online and on the trail. (Even Oprah, the campaign volunteer, isn’t immune from racist robo-calls.) And that work will be necessary in future elections and beyond.

It makes me feel very American to vote, particularly when I think about our disturbing legacy of voter intimidation, specifically toward people of color. For one thing, the history is very real and its erasure must stop. But it’s also personal. I deeply admire anyone who has worked toward a more inclusive voting system, because I know what it cost them.

I also know that in some type of way, they did it for me. Whenever I vote, I think about the elder-aunties of Amsterdam Avenue, the countless Southern (and Northern) cousins who gave their lives, and the next generation of voting rights activists who are fighting new fights every day. I am always grateful for them, and I pray they would think that their investment in me has paid off.


On Point

Making money off the poor in AlabamaThe Appeal has published a damning look at the Alabama court system, which preys on the poor by slapping them with onerous court fees for very minor crimes. The debt, and imprisonment that follows when it goes unpaid, is destroying the lives of people who are already hovering near the poverty line. According to a recent survey, the median amount owed the courts was $2,700—for things like driving with expired tags, a non-working seatbelt, fishing without a license—things that people do because they are poor. “It always ends up costing me, it gets me off track,” says Terrance Truitt who has been fined for fishing in private ponds to feed his family. He was jailed because he couldn’t pay the fines. “You hold a man … bills start to pile up. And they expect you to pay, I find that really difficult to deal with.”  The Appeal

A lack of ethics in tech is actually a diversity problem
It’s not a long walk from fake news, data breaches, hate speech, and gentrification to the lack of diversity in tech, says Bärí A. Williams, vice president of legal, policy, and business affairs at All Turtles. She begins by making the case that when people are the product, a homogeneous workforce will make serious mistakes when developing business strategies that can potentially hurt marginalized groups on their platforms. “This is due to a focus on speed and shipping product, and not identifying or thinking through consequences for users in general, and minorities in particular,” she says. And the problems extend to the investor community as well. She cites the controversial investments in Silicon Valley made by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. “It’s a moral conundrum to decide whether accepting blood money to fund a startup is worth the cost of doing business.” 
Fast Company

Do we need armed guards in yoga studios?
On Friday, a man shot and killed two women at a hot yoga studio before killing himself. You will not be surprised to learn that Scott Beierle was a frequent poster of disturbing misogynist and racist material online. You will not be surprised to learn that he had been investigated in the past for harassing women. You will not be surprised to learn that he admired Elliot Rodger, a hero of the “involuntary celibate” crowd, who killed six people and injured 14 in a shooting in Isla Vista, California. You will not be surprised to learn that the two women he killed were accomplished and wonderful people who did not anticipate any danger inside a yoga class.
Buzzfeed News

Halloween update: Idaho teachers dress up as the border wall and Mexicans for Halloween
Here’s the picture. Now picture these elementary school teachers sitting in the teacher’s lounge planning the costume. “We’ve got the cardboard, you bring the paint!” And, “I know, let’s some of us dress like a piñata!” They were excited. They thought it was funny. That the wall says, “Make America Great Again,” is really the best part. They’re on administrative leave now. Also, according to data from the U.S census, Middleton, Idaho has a Latinx population of 9.5 percent, while Middleton Heights Elementary is 12.9 percent Hispanic/Latinx. More than 7,000 people have signed a petition to have the teachers reinstated. The school serves 600 students. (Bonus: here’s a teacher in Iowa who wore blackface who is also now sorry/not sorry.)
Idaho Stateman


The Woke Leader

Check in with your colleagues. Really, do
EY has just released the findings from their Belonging Barometer Survey, a new survey of workers in a variety of sectors to get a sense of how working people describe their own sense of belonging at work, home, in their neighborhoods or where they worship. Second only to home, some 34% of respondents felt the greatest sense of belonging at work, but 40% said they feel the most welcome when colleagues “check-in” with them about how they’re doing at work and in their lives. “The most important factor in creating a sense of belonging within the workplace is developing and maintaining a personal connection,” says Karyn Twaronite, EY’s Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer. “This is even more so than getting exposure to senior leaders and being invited to out of office events.” Click through for more really key insights.

This is a terrific profile of gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum
You don’t have to be either a Florida voter or a Democrat to appreciate the unique elements of this unlikely candidate’s life. While “Gillum’s candidacy is a turning point for the state’s black and Latino populations, and his campaign hopes rest on expanding the electorate as much as possible,” explains Vann R. Newkirk, his extraordinary appeal is in part because he comes from the real Florida, not a sanitized political machine. He wouldn’t just be the first black governor, he’d be the first one who lived a real Florida life. “Born in Miami to a lower-working-class family, he has intimate experience with the safety-net, health-care, and criminal-justice systems that he has pledged to reform,” explains Newkirk. Speaking the language of Jim Crow reform, Gillum is engaging people who had previously felt ignored—offering a snapshot of the type of campaign that is changing the way formerly underrepresented groups think about their relationship to government.
The Atlantic

El dia despues de Dia de los Muertos
For those who are mourning the passing of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), you can dig deeper into the origins of the holiday, or help your kids learn some vocabulary words with this all-Spanish YouTube Kids app playlist, hosted by the characters of the popular animated series, La Leyenda del Chupacabras. There are 23 short videos, each one a gem. Then, check out this animated and utterly beautiful student film, when a little girl visits the land of the dead and discovers the true meaning of the Mexican holiday. Spoiler alert: It’s all about amor.


When I was a teacher, and farm worker children, which, by the way, were Anglo children . . . , I would [go] into the school rooms and . . . try to speak on their behalf to the principal, who, by the way, was also from Arkansas. [I would] . . . try to get some free milk, or vouchers for shoes, or lunches for the children. His response was, ‘Well, you know their parents don’t take care of their money. They just go out there and drink up all their money, and that’s why they don’t have money for food or clothes.’ And I knew that wasn’t the case because I was working with farm workers. I knew that they worked hard all day long, but they just weren’t paid anything, and I think that made me a little angry. And also to see that the other teachers were so disconnected from the children. The teachers were into their own personal lives . . . Then they had a stable salary so their conversations were about their vacations and new cars . . . They’re teaching all these children that are just in poverty, so I just felt that I didn’t fit there. I felt more comfortable being out with the children. I would volunteer to do yard duty every day so I wouldn’t have to sit there in the lunchroom with the teachers. 
Dolores Huerta