Dixon: We shouldn’t go backwards!

Published 10:50 am Friday, October 1, 2021

On Tuesday, Bogalusa AARP commemorated its fifth annual National Voters Registration Day as a local partner of Nonprofit VOTE. Nonprofit VOTE is a national nonprofit organization founded in 2005 and partners with America’s nonprofits to help the people they serve participate and vote. It is the leading source of nonpartisan resources to help nonprofits integrate voter engagement into their ongoing activities and services. The organization provides methods to find official voting information directly from your state’s election website. Some of its offerings include registering to vote online, learning about voter ID, checking your registration and becoming a poll worker. Information on local election offices and state election office is also provided. For more information, visit online at www.nonprofitvote.org.

Last month, the Dr. A.Z. Young Foundation assisted Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s office and staff in commemorating the historic marker for the anniversary of the 1967 Civil Rights March from Bogalusa to Baton Rouge at the A.Z. Young Park located in Baton Rouge. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals’ A.Z. Young Building was formerly in the location of the park. I, along with foundation president, Rickey Young, and Gary Magee, special advisor to the president, released a press release stating it is appropriate and of paramount importance as we commemorate National Voter Registration Day, as Dr. Young served as the dynamic and venerable leader and president of the Bogalusa Voters League. Most importantly, Dr. Young’s leadership on civil rights and voting rights has been lauded and notably recognized as the catalyst to improving and increasing voting rights in our city of Bogalusa and our state of Louisiana.

As we approach the fall election, the redistricting process and the 2022 elections, we must be acutely aware and informed on voting rights, educated and informed on redistricting and recognize the importance of an accurate and fair count, and its effect on garnering needed funding for our local community. Redistricting is just not the time to make errors which will affect the community for the next 10 years.
In a recent article in the New Yorker magazine, subtitled “How Derrick Bell’s pioneering work gave rise to Critical Race Theory (CRT),” the writer examined several issues including Brown vs. Board of Education and the Rosenwald schools and the challenge to eliminate segregated schools. Today in Bogalusa, we have segregated schools divided by race, class and wealth, as many affluent and upper-class members of the community choose and select to send their children to more white affluent high academically achieving schools in a neighboring parish to escape predominantly, racially integrated and deteriorating collapsing schools locally. Unfortunately, the tax base and school board leadership does not seem to be focused on curriculum improvement, capital fund development for new schools and more importantly student achievement.

One landmark 1964 court decision won in Mississippi by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Hudson vs. Leake County School Board, the case similar to 1954 Brown vs. Board, resulted in white flight from public schools and private segregation academies were created. In effect, black students were still segregated from their white counterparts.

Whether the issue may be defined as “white privilege” or not, the problem may be low self esteem, lack of achievement and short term goals leading to long term and systemic poverty for some students. After many years in academia, Harvard Law School and Dean of the University of Oregon Law School and NYU, Bell came to the conclusion that racism is deep rooted and prevalent in America. We see its ugly head rising more and more each day in our day-to-day lives. This “CRT” is the name coined for this dilemma and in 2021 the controversy is growing.

The 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder case impacted the Voting Rights Act with a sledgehammer, by removing Section 5 mandating jurisdictions provide and seek approval on racially sound and equitable redistricting plans.

Redistricting processes after the 2010 Census in some cities and towns were done unprofessionally and haphazardly. And after the Shelby vs. Holder case, some of the protections were removed — especially in the South, resulting in several lawsuits. In essence, some registered voters’ districts were changed 30 days before the election, causing dismay and distrust in the process. The practice of gerrymandering is considered biased and unfair. Nationally the hopeful chant is, “voters choose the candidates not the candidates choose the voters.”

The Dr. A.Z. Young Foundation supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 recently passed in the House, with proposed legislation that would restore and strengthen parts of Voting Rights Act of 1965. Certain portions of the Act, namely Section 5, were struck down by the two U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. The Lewis Act assures and protects voters and reaffirms and restores all the original protections to voters under the law guaranteed by our Constitution.

According to Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Justice Center, the Voting Rights Act was the most effective civil rights law our nation has ever had and vital to the drive for a vibrant multiracial democracy in our country. Protection under Section 5 and the Preclearance clause strongly prevents attacks, changes and voter purge rates, unfair and unknown changes in voting districts.

We need a strong Voting Rights Act. We applaud the efforts and dedication of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis and our local native son, Dr. A.Z. Young, on voting rights.

Emma Dixon is the vice president of operations and development for the Dr. A.Z. Young Foundation.