October seems a bit special. You’re a senior in high school. SAT and ACT scores are in. And they’re great! Campus visits are done and applications have been mailed. The weather has cooled from the heat of the summer and you’re celebrating your 18th birthday. You and your family are very excited. Not because you’re finally considered “grown” as so many believe 18 signifies. Family and friends know you became an amazing young adult some time ago. The excitement is about your first opportunity to become a part of our democratic process. You were among the last young adults this year to become eligible to register and vote in the mid-terms.
My plan for October was a post related to all the people who cannot vote in the upcoming mid-term elections. I was lining up interviews with law enforcement officers, attorneys, parole and probation officials and some voters to make my case. I began studying the use of algorithms in the sentencing process. My plan also included highlighting the problems associated with policing neighborhoods of color to help paint the picture of the imbalance related to arrests, charging and sentencing decisions.
When the decisions made on the streets of black and brown neighborhoods result in large numbers of young people being aggressively charged, and subsequently severly punished, a number of things happen behind the scenes that most know nothing about. First, the makeup of those voting districts are negatively impacted. Then the incarcerated is counted in the census – where they’re jailed – but denied the right to vote. Many times, the location of the jails and prisons where they’re counted are nowhere near the locale that are most heavily policed and in need of a voice in politics. Meanwhile, the representation and voting power of those communities – usually rural – where the jails and prisons are built grows disproportionately on the back of the incarcerated.
Those plans changed in September. I turned a corner. I could no longer follow the path of negativity, even if the facts would bear out. My focus must be on those who can make a difference. Those we have guided and nurtured to take up the mantle and be better than us. Those we have lifted out of the fray. The young we’ve given the promise of intellectual and social wealth.
I believe all parents want to teach their children to become productive members of American society. Many children are afforded an excellent primary and secondary education. It fosters critical thinking. As early as age 15 young people are taught to drive. That develops a sense of independence. Some young people are taught fiscal responsibility with secured credit cards for limited entertainment, shopping and fuel for the car they almost always drive exclusively. Those lessons help build a good credit rating.
Savvy parents never miss the age 18 lesson – they ensure these young adults register to vote, understand who and what is on the ballot and show up on election day.
Like education, playing a role in deciding who represents our interests in the halls of state and national capitol buildings can mean the difference between intellectual wealth or poverty. Savvy parents know that a succession plan is a vital part of the master plan. Our children are the heirs of that plan. If America is to continue to be great we must prepare them and pass the torch.
Those celebrating an 18th birthday in time to vote in the mid-term elections next month have a special opportunity. As first-time voters they can create the ripple that becomes a wave of change in American politics. The key is to simply turn out and vote.