Black Votes Matter’s Cliff Albright delivered the keynote address at the 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observance at UMSL. (Photo by August Jennewein)
In his latest book, Where Do We Go From Here: Anarchy or Society? In his last book before his assassination in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote that “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is passionate and anemic. Power at its best is love that enforces the demands of justice, and justice at its best is strength.” that corrects all that stands against love.”
Cliff Albright drew inspiration from these words as he encouraged the audience to join the movement to build the power of Black voting in his keynote address, “The Power of Voting: End Voting Suppression Now,” during the annual MLK Holiday Celebration inside the Blanche M. Tohill Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Missouri-St. Louis on Monday.
Albright, a 2020 Soros University Equality Fellow, is the CEO and co-founder of Black Votes Matter, which seeks to increase power in marginalized, majority-Black communities through voter activation and exposing voter suppression. The organization conducts voter education across the United States and gained national attention in 2017 when it helped mobilize black voters during the US Senate race between Doug Jones and Roy Moore.
In Albright’s speech, he encouraged the audience to reflect on what can be learned from Dr. King’s words and teachings in the battle against what he referred to as the “three evils”: racism, poverty, and war. Polishing the topic around voting rights, Albright began by reminding the audience that black Americans gained the right to vote more than 150 years ago with 15 years to go.y Amendment of 1870, but these rights were stripped over time with the onset of the Jim Crow laws.
“For a while, as some of you may know, we elected officials all up and down all over the states,” he said. “We’ve had governors, we’ve had senators, we’ve had congressmen, we’ve had state legislatures, right? We’ve had all of that, but it’s been slowly removed with the advent of Jim Crow. If that kind of power is taken away We’re talking about rebellion. We just celebrated the second anniversary of the uprising. It wasn’t the first rebellion. Elections have been canceled in black communities before in this country.
“And so we had the right to vote in 1870, but with that comes Jim Crow and we have the grandfather clause, we have the jellybean test, we have the literacy test, and we have all these things that have been done to limit that right to vote. … what we see Today – a range of restrictions from a photo ID to making voting in person to removing it, making it illegal to distribute food and water at polling places – none of these have to have a “Whites Only” or “Blacks Only” above to be a Jim Crow 2.0. And these are the things we continue to fight today.”
Albright’s speech, “The Power of Voting: End Voter Suppression Now,” highlighted the importance of energizing and empowering black voters. (Photo by August Jennewein)
Albright went on to share five lessons for building the movement, starting with an acknowledgment of both love and strength, as inspired by Dr. King, who he said supports the work on Black Votes Matter.
“We must have these two things; we must be ready to talk about and seek power.” “We learned that force is a dirty word because for so long force has been used recklessly and abusively against us — the kind of force that makes you shoot a young man in the back. The kind of reckless and abusive force that makes you put your knee on someone’s neck for nine minutes. The kind of force that makes you It enslaves a group of people. But we have to realize that we can have a power built into love that allows us to be better than we are supposed to be, that allows us to have the things we deserve without having to pressure someone else to get it. That’s the kind of thing The power we need. We need and deserve the power to control our destinies—to control our homes, our schools, our communities and all that.”
Throughout the lecture, Albright continued to draw on King’s words to share lessons for the movement, including the importance of building coalitions across different demographics, the pitfalls of white moderates and “both sides,” and the continuing need for a nonviolent civic life. disobedience and finally the importance of understanding timing in movement. However, he said, the most important lesson to draw is not necessarily about the movement itself, but a question each person should ask themselves.
“What will be my role?” He said. “Am I going to be a drum major for justice the way Dr. King talked about? Now, not everyone has to have the same role. Not everyone needs to be a great speaker. Sometimes your role is that you might be the one cooking the food in a meeting.” The community, and you might be the person doing the artwork for the graphics, and you might be the person sending the phone call or the text. But what we say on Black Votes Matter, and what I believe in in my heart, is that everyone has a role to play.”
“The decisions we make, answering the question, ‘What will my role be?’ “It can eventually change this country,” he continued in his final remarks. “This is the strength you have. But this can only happen if we believe in our own strength.”
UMSL music student Arisa Ford-Jones opened the celebration, which was held in person for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a powerful performance of “I’m Here.” The Sheldon All-Star Choir, under the direction of Maria A. Ellis, with a performance of “Raise Every Voice and Sing”, “Beautiful Day” and “We Shall Overcome”.
Parks Brown, a writer, speaker, and educator from Maryland State University, served as the master of ceremonies at the event, which also included remarks from University Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tanesha Stevens and Chancellor Kristin Sobolek as well as recognition of the three Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship recipients from Missourina State University Beauty Cooper, Jeff Loffman, and Chris Turner.