Watch Party Dispatch: At Howard University, Mentors Challenge Young Activists' Ideas of Victory


Ayanna Alexander

Signs decorate the Howard University meeting room where the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation and the Black Women's Roundtable gathered students for a midterm election results watch party on November 4, 2014

As the midterm results rolled in, what was projected by the oddsmakers came to pass. Some mixed emotions, but mostly utter disappointment over the GOP takeover, filled all of my social media feeds.

I took my solace in the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation's Unity Election Night and its "What Say You" political conversation on the campus of Howard University, the historically black institution where I attend college. Attendees ranged in age from 18 to 50-something, and each person in the room seemed determined to stay positive in her comments, despite any qualms about what the new political landscape could mean for America, and especially for the lives of African Americans.

At the beginning of the evening, most of those gathered assumed that the Republicans would win the House, but the fight for the Senate would be a close one. By the end of the evening our notions of victory would be challenged.

First, the older women from the NCBCP and the Black Women's Roundtable, discussed the importance of strategic voting, as well as being able to define what victory looks like—on our terms. (The Black Women’s Roundtable is an intergenerational group that fosters mentoring of young black women who want to run for political office.) "It's very important to look at what's happening and think critically,” René Redwood, CEO of the consultancy group, Redwood Enterprise, explained to the novices in the room as we tracked election results. She urged us to keep a close eye on the percentages of the vote from various constituencies when trying to assess the results of a given election.

Journalist Linda Paris had a warning: "You don't know how it's all going to actually end until the very end," she said. Paris also mentioned how imperative it is to research and be mindful of votes and voter turnout, because the media will run a completely different story.

Voter turnout was a hot topic, especially after all the media buzz about how the minority vote tends to fall off during midterm elections. "Having our community show face and vote is a victory in a sense,” said participant Barbara Lee. “This is why our definition of a victory differs” from that put forth in the media, she said.

"Tomorrow's story will make you believe that you lost," she said. But for the African-American community, an uptick in turnout can be a victory in and of itself. "That's why our research has to be on point. It's our responsibility to share with the public what's right. Never give up on the story you want to tell, no matter what circumstance," Paris said.

Together we created something organizers called the "Black List,” which consisted of black men and women who ran for a position in Congress. Although we may not all agree on their different platforms, it's heartwarming to see someone who looks like me and is standing for something in the political realm, and with president Obama leaving office soon, who knows when we'll see ourselves so reflected again?

Then Allyson Carpenter, the youngest elected official in the history of the District of Columbia, entered the room. Though only a sophomore, Carpenter ran for office to become an advisory neighborhood commissioner, and won. More inspiration.

"I got involved because there was a void in the District of Columbia and a void in Howard University and I was complaining about it", Carpenter, a political science and community development major at Howard, explained. "I decided that I can't just stay on the sidelines, I have to get involved. I have to step up and represent my people."

Things began to feel a little lighter. I was surrounded by peers and mentors, discussing positive ways to make a brighter future, beginning now.


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