By Reverend Paul Jakes, Jr.
This article is written specifically to anyone who is of the age to vote, regardless of the generation that you are born or even your race. But today, as an African American pastor and grassroot activist in Chicago, I hope to invoke a determination in my people, to exercise your right to vote in our upcoming 2018 gubernatorial election.
It doesn’t matter what age you are or the generation in which you were born. You may be a Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennial, or even a Centennial, but let me remind you that we live in a representative democracy. This means our governmental officials are voted in to represent us, the people, African American people. So, in every election, whether you want to or not, exercise your right to vote! You choose a candidate either by committing to your right to vote or omitting that privilege by not voting.
Listen intently as I set the record straight. Our Generation X’s up through the Centennials have not had many opportunities to see or hear the African American community in active protest for our voting privileges and other freedoms. African American history is not taught in our schools so they are not exposed to the cost for freedom so they often forego their voting privileges. And we, the Baby Boomers and Traditionalists have failed to successfully educate this generation well about “the struggle.” So, let me give us all a little history lesson about some who laid down their lives for our voting rights.
It was on a first Sunday, March 7, 1965. The Brown Chapel African American Episcopal Church congregation of Selma, Alabama, would have been kneeling at an altar rail to receive Holy Communion in remembrance that Christ died on Calvary for the remission of our sin whereby Believers now experience “spiritual freedom.” On this Sunday, 100 individuals (many were members of the church) decided to unite to fight for their civil rights and voting freedom. They banded together and marched across the Edmond Pettis Bridge. Just as Christ shed His blood and sacrificed his life for our spiritual freedom, on this “Bloody Sunday” these freedom fighters made the ultimate sacrifice and laid down their lives so that they and generations to come would receive the right to vote. These brave people had great determination and were tired of our people being mistreated and were willing to die for it! Over 50 people were injured out of the 100 that marched that day, as the now U.S. Congressman John Lewis and the late Reverend Hosea Williams courageously led them in protest. We thank God for their courage and sacrifice!
The efforts of the freedom riders and fighters were not in vain. Many victories have since been won. Most recently, in December 2017, Blacks and progressive Whites voted their conviction of having congressional officials who are fair and just in their judgement for all people, including African Americans. They elected the prosecutor, Democratic Doug Jones, of the Birmingham church bombing case over his opponent, Republican Roy S. Moore, as Senator for the State of Alabama. What a feat!
In 2008, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States and was elected for a second term because we actively voted for him and African Americans “committed” to the process. Because we didn’t commit to the process and “passively” voted in the 2015 election for governor, Bruce Rauner was elected. So where has that gotten us?
A unified and determined people can impact our government by exercising their right to vote. Cast your vote in March during the Illinois gubernatorial primary, because your vote carries power whether you exercise that power or not.
Rev. Paul Jakes Jr., who has been described as a “Warrior Minister,” for his activism is the senior pastor of New Tabernacle of Faith M.B. Church, located at 531 North Kedzie St. in Chicago.