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Voting initiatives focus on Black voters: ‘We know more than anyone that voting has consequences’

Shaynah Barnes-Munro encouraged people at the Nubian Square bus station to get out to vote.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

With days to go before the election, groups across the country are working in overdrive, making their final pitch to Black voters that too much is at stake to sit this election out.

In Boston, a group that calls itself the 1619 Project is hoping that history — along with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the rancor stifling Washington, and the coronavirus’s toll in the Black community — will be enough to persuade Black people to vote in droves.

“We know more than anyone that voting has consequences‚” said William Watkins, who is leading the 1619 Project for the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, whose office is in Roxbury. “We have some real stakes in this game. . . . This is not one of those elections that we can leave to chance.”


Enthusiasm among Black people in particular is especially high in this year’s contest between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger.

Already, more than 80 million people have cast their ballots with days still left before Election Day on Nov. 3. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 63 percent of Black registered voters are extremely motivated to cast their ballots, and that 35 percent of those Black voters who support Biden said that they plan to vote or have already cast their vote by absentee or mail-in ballot.

Another recent survey showed Trump making slight gains with Black voters, with 9 percent support compared to 8 percent in 2016.

Across the country, nonpartisan groups such as Black Voters Matter and Black Male Voter Project are working to quash disinformation in the Black community and increase voter participation. Partisan groups such as Black Bikers for Biden and Black Conservative Federation, which backs Trump, are also working to turn out the vote.


The Black Voices for Trump Coalition, which launched last November, and Republican Party officials said they have invested in more than a dozen Black Voices for Trump Community Centers in target states and launched get-out-the-vote ads in Black media, among other initiatives, said Paris Dennard, senior communications adviser for Black media affairs for the Republican National Committee.

Kristen Halbert selected a 1619 Project T-shirt. Members of the project, organized by the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, work to get Black voters to the polls. The Urban League is partnering with Lyft to give a $25 credit for rides to early voting and Election Day polling locations. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

“Historically, we have seen the Democrat party [take] Black voters for granted, which has led to failed policies and poorly run Democrat controlled cities,” Dennard said in a e-mail. “This year, too much good has been done by the Trump Administration to allow Joe Biden to come in and totally undo the positive record of achievement and ruin every aspect of Black American lives.”

He said the campaign is confident that there are millions of Trump voters in the early voter total, “because like 2016 there is a silent group of voters that are not talking to pollsters, that are not posting on social media but they are quiet supporters of the president from all walks of life, especially [in] the Black community.”

Chryl N. Laird, a politics professor at Bowdoin College, said the Black community, steeped in its churches and social justice activism, has a long history of voter participation, and this year is no different.

“There’s a lot of energy,” she said. “They are a [key] base in the Democratic Party, so they are trying to really put their collective weight behind Biden.”

Nationally, the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, an organization of predominantly Black men, has made education and mobilization part of its Project Vote 2020 initiative, and set a goal of registering 1 million Black men to vote this year, said Chris V. Rey, the organization’s international first vice president. The initiative has set its sights on more than a dozen key states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and New Hampshire.


Rey said the brothers of Phi Beta Sigma are aware of the history of racism and restricting access to the polls in this country, adding that Black people are now fighting against “blatant racism” and police brutality, including the killings of unarmed Black men by police — issues that will motivate them to show up at the polls.

“We are making sure that people recognize that we are human beings and that our voice matters,” said Rey, who served as mayor of Spring Lake, N.C., from 2011 to 2017. “And that’s why I believe our brothers are so engaged because they see what’s at stake.”

Organizer William Watkins, left, led other members of the 1619 Project out of the offices of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. Working to get Black voters to the polls, the league is partnering with Lyft to give a $25 credit for rides to early voting and Election Day polling locations.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Boston’s 1619 Project — a nod to the year historians say the first enslaved Africans arrived in the colony of Virginia — was launched in September, with a flier that depicted a clenched Black fist and a famous quote from the late congressman John Lewis, who called voting “precious” and “sacred.”

The Boston voting initiative, part of a national movement to drive up the Black vote and protect the polls, was formed partly in response to calls for more police accountability and reforms after the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and partly due to incendiary rhetoric by the president, who called anti-bias training for federal workers “racist” and “absolutely insane” in last month’s presidential debate, Watkins said.


The group includes roughly three dozen organizations, such as Concerned Black Men of Massachusetts, Dunk the Vote 2020, Center for Teen Empowerment, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which includes the predominantly Black Greek fraternities and sororities. Its main objective is to recruit more than 400 volunteers to cover the polls in Boston, Brockton, and Randolph to ensure that everyone votes unhindered.

Harrison Clark, left, and his brother Warren Clark live in Mattapan but are registered to vote in Pembroke, where their family is from. Both are voting for the first time this year. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The group is especially targeting Black people who skipped the 2016 presidential elections and those who have never voted, including Harrison Clark and his younger brother Warren Clark, both of whom are voting for the first time this year.

Harrison Clark, 21, said he’s not enthused about either presidential candidate and contends that both major political parties have taken the Black vote for granted. He said he will likely vote on Election Day, noting his concerns about the impact of COVID, systemic racism, and racial inequalities.

“The United States has to do a massive overhaul in the way that we live our day-to-day lives,” said Harrison, who declined to say which candidate he will choose.

Warren Clark, 19, said he voted early at the town hall in his family’s hometown of Pembroke, and called his first experience casting a ballot “nerve wracking” but “good.”

He said he voted for Biden, motivated by what he described as Trump’s inclination to “promote and incite racism” on multiple occasions.


“My grandmother used to talk to us about Jim Crow and everything, but it is still blatant," he said. “People my age, we are a lot more vigilant when it comes to things like this.”

Members of the 1619 Project were out on Wednesday encouraging the Black community to vote.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.