The power to improve a community lies in the hands of the educated voter. That was the message delivered to Fordham students and faculty by Dennis M. Walcott (GSS '80), New York City’s deputy mayor for policy, who spoke recently during a daylong conference titled "New York State of Mind—A Black Perspective.” The conference, held on Feb. 7 in the McGinley Center, featured a series of speakers and seminars sponsored by two student clubs in honor of Black History Month.
With election season in high gear, Walcott focused his remarks on the empowerment that comes with active participation in the political process.
"Malcolm [X] and Martin [Luther King Jr.]—we are the dividend of their investments," Walcott said. “You’ve got to hold candidates responsible and hear exactly where they stand. We're talking about true empowerment."
New York City deputy mayor for policy Dennis M. Walcott encouraged students to make their voices heard by voting.
Photo: Ken Levinson
Those who do not educate themselves and fail to vote wield little power in drawing attention to issues of concern in their communities, from Pell Grants for college students to child care for the working poor. It’s a message that is lost on many, according to Walcott. Consider the recent South Carolina primary, in which thousands of registered African-American voters stayed home.
"If you don't vote, politicians will ignore you and not hear your needs," said Walcott, the former chief executive officer of the New York Urban League.
When asked if New York City does enough to increase voter turnout, Walcott said the city could do more by considering expanded voting hours—perhaps 24-hour poll stations—or weekend elections.
Walcott was also asked whether the California gubernatorial election, which provided endless material to comedians and late night talk show hosts, had turned politics into a joke.
"The media chooses to focus on the glossy people," Walcott said. "But politics is not a joke. Every candidate has the right to be heard. You as the voter have to sort through the issues."
The day's other topics included an examination of the Bronx's recent past by Mark Naison, Ph.D., professor of African American Studies and director of the Urban Studies Program at Fordham; a lecture by Craig Marberry about his book, Spirit of Harlem: A Portrait of America's Most Exciting Neighborhood; and advice from financial planner Nicole B. Simpson on how students can lay the foundation for a sound financial future.
The conference was sponsored by the Asili and African Diaspora student clubs at Fordham. Asili, which takes its name from the Swahili word for root or foundation, seeks to provide a positive intellectual, cultural and social atmosphere for minority students. African Diaspora sponsors lectures and discussions dedicated to exploring the academic and intellectual pursuits of African-American society.
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