Author and activist Shaun King offered unfiltered commentary on the state of voting rights and redistricting during the 7thannual President’s Breakfast hosted by Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU).
Dr. David Carlisle, CDU chief executive officer, moderated the virtual event on March 22 and scores of people tuned in to the university’s YouTube channel for the enlightening conversation entitled “Voting Rights and Redistricting: What’s at Stake.”
King has gained national stature for expertise in using social media to promote social justice causes. A notable player in the Black Lives Matter movement, he is also the host of two podcasts, creator of popular “The North Star” website and writer-in-residence at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project.
Introducing the gathering as “an opportunity to discuss topics of great importance,” Carlisle said a focus on voting rights and redistricting was “both timely and essential with so much on the line in our society. Every great change you can see starts with an election. It’s how democracy is supposed to work.”
But considering the divisiveness gripping the nation, Carlisle asked, “Is redistricting a tool or a threat? What happens when instead of the voters choosing their representatives, the representatives choose their voters?”
Following that question, the president and activist delved into the topic, providing historical perspectives, current strategies of determining electoral boundaries and potential impacts on African American and communities of color.
King explained how growing up in a small town in Kentucky inspired his attraction to social justice causes. “Had I not experienced so much discrimination firsthand from not just from racist students but also administrators, I don’t know if I would have ended up on this path. In a lot of ways, it was forced on me to fight for myself and those around me,” said the Morehouse College graduate.
“Morehouse was an incubator and hospital for me. We got there with our own issues, but became a part of fighting for human and civil rights. I knew it would be a part of me for the rest of my life,” he said.
Responding to Carlisle’s inquiry about whether any change has occurred since King’s exposure to bigotry as a youth, the author replied, “We like to think of history as a cyclical trajectory were things are getting better and better and better – not just in the South, but in this country. But, it depends on what you’re measuring it by.
“If we’re measuring [progress] by mass incarceration, we know that there are many more incarcerated in 2022 than in 1952. If we’re measuring by the number of people killed by police, in 1962 it was 150 and last year, it was 1200,” King noted.
“There are no doubt amazing victories, but it depends on our measurement. Some things are significantly better and some things are painfully worse. But, we have to ask ourselves what our metrics are and how do we measure the progress that we’re fighting for,” he said.
“If we’re not constantly evaluating those metrics, we can sometimes assume that we’re better off than we’re actually are. So, we have to constantly gauge are we getting better and how do we measure that,” concluded King.
More reflections on the subject were shared by the panelists, who consisted of Crystal Crawford, executive director of the Western Center on Law and Poverty; John Yang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice; Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel for Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Shakari Byerly, partner and principal researcher at Evitarus.
The entire event can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdBN-86JtlI.