I’ve always known my voice was powerful. I was born to an opera singer for a mom and spent my childhood in and out of local choirs and ensembles and now spend my days performing as a singer. Music has the power to make a difference in people’s lives, which is why every time I perform I make sure to be intentional about who I think I can help with my voice. But it wasn’t until recently that I understood that my vote could also make a difference in people’s lives. That my vote, like my voice, was powerful.
I’m glad I now know the power of my vote, which is why I’m sharing this story of how I learned my vote mattered as part of MoveOn’s Your Vote Is Power campaign. My journey to understanding the power of my vote started in high school, all because I was part of the National Honors Society. We took a trip to Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black university near where I grew up in Texas. Prairie View’s history is interstitched with the history ofAfrican Americans, the history of slavery, and the history of representation. After the Civil War, two former enslaved people became state legislators during the Reconstruction era. Leading state legislators, even. Their names were Matthew Gaines and William Holland—names I had never heard of growing up just minutes away. Together, they wrote a bill. That bill would create the first-ever state-supported institution of higher learning for African Americans in Texas: Prairie View A&M University. They built the school on the site of a former slave plantation.
Many decades later, it was the school my mom attended. A few more years after that, it was the school where I was now carefully digging into the ground. We were tasked with excavating an area that hadn’t been explored yet to see if we could find any remnants of the school’s past as a plantation. And we did. I found a doll and a broken sink. The doll was old and torn up, but in it I could see the dolls I had grown up with. While we had learned about slavery in school, this was my first time undertstanding just how close it was. With a few quick pulls of a shovel, I could literally dig up some of slavery’s history.
And then, a few years later, I enrolled at Prairie View myself. A lot had stayed the same since my mom was an undergraduate there, but one thing was new: Sandra Bland Parkway. Sandra Bland, who died in custody in Waller County after being pulled over by police for a traffic stop, was a 2009 graduate of Prairie View. Prairie View was also where she was when she was pulled over that day. The former slave plantation, the site where I dug up old artifacts, the school my mom went to, the school I graduated from: That was where Sandra Bland’s traffic stop occurred. My history, I learned, was tied up in this history. This history of oppression, and racism, and bigotry. A history that, unfortunately, continues to this day.
It took me learning more about this history—and how it connects to the present—before I truly understood that my vote had power. Not because I think that my vote is my only source of power, but because I know it is one of the many ways in which I can exercise my power.
Voting is one way that I can honor the memories of Sandra Bland and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor: by voting out people who think Black lives don’t matter and voting in the Matthew Gaines’ and William Holland’s of today who will proactively work towards racial justice. Voting is what brought Gaines and Holland into power. Those votes created Prairie View A&M University, where I learned more about my history and who I am than anywhere else. Those votes made a difference in my life. And your vote can too.
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People like Gloria are committed to ensuring that injustice is no longer the norm. We must elect officials who won’t stall and who won’t put the lives and livelihoods of millions in danger. Make sure you are registered to vote. Make sure you know how to vote by mail. And make sure you mobilize others to vote as well. Together, we’ll create a better tomorrow.