“Y’all telling me that I need to get out and vote, huh, why?

Ain’t nobody black running but crac-kers, so, why

I got to register? I’m thinking of better shit to do with my time”

– Andre 3000 ‘Git Up, Get Out’

It is not easy admitting that you were wrong and have a different opinion now than you did in years past. But, that is exactly what this post is about. Yesterday, I voted for the first time in my life. Me, as a 34-year old, Black, male, law school student, walked into a voting booth for the first time ever and exercised my right as a citizen of the United States of America. There were a number of reasons and beliefs I held for never voting before yesterday, however, as my experiences and understanding grew, I re-evaluated and challenged each of them before I chose to participate in this country’s election process.

My Reasons For Not Voting

My Reality Growing Up

I grew up in a single parent household in a working-class, predominantly all-Black, neighborhood in metropolitan Atlanta. My mother always voted, but we never had serious conversations about voting. In school, I learned about the importance of voting and how people that looked like me fought for this right while being subjected to physical beatings and discrimination. I heard it, but honestly, that imagery was so far from my realm of reality and what I had to deal with on a day-to-day basis that I filed it away in my memory bank and didn’t give it much thought. It simply wasn’t high on my priority list of navigating and surviving my Black reality in America. I was more worried about:

a) how do I not get my a** beat by crooked cops?

b) if I trade jeans with my homeboy and wear it tomorrow, will everybody in class notice?

c) how many more late days will the power company give us before they come and cut our service?

Even though my Black mother did her best, I believe that Black men have to navigate their realities in a different manner than our fellow women, so I held the weight of Black male thoughts and opinions as more beneficial to helping me understand and make it through life. My Black male influences came largely from rap/hip-hop – as I’m a part of this culture, and Black men who I could easily connect and relate to by them living nearby, or frequent interactions between us. These Black men in my life were a mixed bag of voters and non-voters, but again, the voters were quiet and little to no conversations were centered around voting and its importance.

Many of the Black men I encountered subscribed to the mindset of, “A real man doesn’t ask, plead, or wait for a politician to come down from their ‘house on the hill’ and save him. A real man finds a way to ‘make it happen’ for him and his family, regardless of what crooked politician is in office.” This male bravado is something that many of us share. We look at politicians, regardless of their race, as “elitist others”. We don’t see or interact with them on a regular basis besides election time when they come out to campaign and ask for our votes, so we don’t believe they are genuine and/or truly care about us. This mistrust was so deeply embedded in me that I didn’t even vote for Barack Obama in 2008.

Most rappers don’t talk about voting, and the ones that do have mixed feelings about it. I remember one of my favorite rappers of all time saying a rap lyric that has stuck with me throughout the years:

“Y’all telling me that I need to get out and vote, huh, why?

Ain’t nobody black running but crac-kers, so, why

I got to register? I’m thinking of better shit to do with my time”

– Andre 3000 ‘Git Up, Get Out’

I don’t know if Andre 3000 really believed that or if it was simply an entertaining line for the song. I also don’t know if he still feels the same way. I now acknowledge that the song came out in 1994, when Andre 3000 was the tender age of 19. Unfortunately, this was a song I heard older men in my neighborhood play when I was the impressionable age of 8 years old, so I internalized not only the lyrics but the message, “voting is a waste of time and doesn’t help Black people. Don’t even bother doing it.” As I got older, more theories about why voting was irrelevant reinforced these early beliefs. Theories such as elections are rigged, and “they” already know who “they” want to win. Learning about voter suppression and gerrymandering further reinforced these beliefs that voting was a waste of my time.

Losing My Right To Vote

At the age of 25, I was charged and convicted of a non-violent federal conspiracy and incarcerated. As a Georgia resident, I lost my right to vote by now having a felony and would have to wait until I was released from prison and completed my mandatory supervised release before this right was restored. By this time in my life, losing the right to vote was the last thing I cared about. My life felt as though I lived as an outcast on the margins of society. I was used to making money in the black market, so I never paid taxes or filed a tax return. I did not care about which president was going to give my household tax breaks or increase my taxes. I did not pay taxes. My first tax return I ever filed was at the age of 30.

When I was released from prison, losing the right to travel internationally without written permission, the right to possess a firearm, and the right to receive public assistance were all far more important to me than the right to vote. From my perspective, it was inconsequential; it was for other people to fight over and get emotional about. It had no bearing on my life. For a politician to give speeches and make promises to me during campaign time that they would not be responsible for honoring was so unlike the code of how I lived my life, I could care less about the elections. And, if they somehow surprised everyone and did do what they said they were going to do, it would be years before the effect could be felt by people at the bottom like me. Delayed gratification was still not a concept I could invest my hopes and dreams in. This led to me not being invested in the outcome of elections or caring about how they affected me or my community. The result would be the same for me; I would still be a Black man who had to struggle each and every day to find success in White America. Even if there was a Black president, I could not relax; life would be the same as it always has been, a struggle.

I’m Considering Voting

Re-Evaluating My Reality In Prison

In prison, I read a lot of books. I read Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk To Freedom, Hill Harper’s “Letters To An Incarcerated Brother”, Reginald F. Lewis’ “Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?”, and Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” along with others. I also read Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father”, where our first black president talked about his humble, working-class beginnings and trying cocaine in college. During this time, I also began seeing a Black man who I went to college with and saw daily, Bakari Sellers, on CNN as a thought leader in politics and represent his community to enact real, positive change. Reading these experiences from other Black men and seeing how their upbringings were not vastly different from my own unlocked something in me. I began to question why they succeeded, and I was currently stuck sitting on a bunk in prison.

Another thing happened to me while incarcerated, my taste in music changed. Sticking with my earlier example, I had to critically think about what a 19-year old Andre 3000 was saying on a song and how relevant this was to me at 26 years old. Also, I began to believe that a lot of the gangsta rap/hip-hop that I previously listened to was essentially rebel music meant for young listeners. Many of the songs that were anthems to me had been fuel to my fire of criminality. They glorified not caring about society or the details that law-abiding citizens needed to concern themselves with in order to remain in legal compliance. Moving forward, I could no longer solve my issues with physical violence or a firearm, and I needed to pay attention to who the local judges being elected were because they made the laws that could make the difference between me doing 2 years for a crime or doing 15 years for the exact same crime.

Re-Evaluating My Reality After Prison

Upon my release from prison, I got a legal job and began working. I was an hourly worker not making a lot of money, so now I began paying attention to all the deductions coming out of my earnings: medical, and state and federal taxes. When tax season came around, I filed taxes for the first time ever. As a law-abiding citizen, I now had a vested interest in paying attention to politics because it directly affected my money and thus, my reality and way of life. It still took more for me to finally vote, though. When I completed my sentence – the length of incarceration and supervised release, and was restored my right to vote in 2018, I still was not interested in voting.

Earlier this year, COVID-19 hit around the world. Like everyone else, it took me by complete surprise. I was now done with my sentence and had been restored the right to vote, but I was not exercising that right. I was concerned about coronavirus. I stayed inside on lockdown and was careful to do what I could to reduce the risk and exposure of contracting this deadly virus. At the beginning, our elected officials, more specifically, Georgia’s Governor Kemp was allowing all Georgia residents to shelter in place and remain indoors. Then, he changed his tune and wanted to open back up the state to conduct business. Our cases were not flattening, as was advised by health officials before a re-opening could occur, yet our elected official was not listening and putting the people he was elected to represent in danger. This was the last straw. I could no longer ignore and act like voting does not affect me or my community. By not exercising my right to vote, I was complicit in allowing Governor Kemp to win a competitive election race. I do not know if his opponent in that race, Stacey Abrams, would have done the same thing and opened up the state in my view prematurely, but I now felt responsible for not at least letting my voice be heard and having a say in who I placed my trust in to keep me and my loved ones safe.

I Am Now A Proud Voter!

Voting may not be cool when you’re young, but as an adult it is necessary. It is my right as an American citizen to have the right and to exercise my right to vote. I live in a country where all the policies that are enacted affect me. Whether I pay attention to it or not, the reality is it has a real effect on me. Whether it be national or local elections, all of these have ripple effects that shape my way of life. If you belong to a society, I believe you cannot complain and hold rebel beliefs that stop you from exercising your rights. You must have hope in the society and the way it is governed. You must hope that as a collective, we as a society can make it through anything together. We must also have hope that who we elect to lead us has our best interest and safety in mind. They and their family do not live in a bubble, so their actions and experiences are not as different from yours as you may think. If you vote and your candidate loses, at least you participated in the process and fought for your beliefs. And if your candidate wins and fulfills the promises he/she made while campaigning, then it was well worth it! After re-evaluating and challenging my old beliefs about voting, I am proud to say that I am now an active voter, and I never plan on missing another opportunity to exercise my right to vote. I left the voting location yesterday feeling proud to be an American citizen participating in the election process. If you have not tried it yet, I suggest you do. The power remains with the people.