Pastor Galvanizes Community to Register Disenfranchised Voters
Baltimore Pastor Jamal Bryant has partnered with Rev. Jesse Jackson, John Conyers, Jr., and a host of others to present a three-day conference, Code Red that will mobilize and instruct everyday people in voter registration processes in preparation for the November Presidential elections. Participants will be taught critical training, strategizing and self-empowerment tools necessary to encourage disenfranchised voters to register, know the issues that impact their lives, and vote for the person who best addresses their needs. Washington Informer staff writer Stacey Palmer recently sat down with Pastor Bryant to discuss the importance of educating the African-American community in political and electoral responsibility.
Informer: You are an integral part of Code Red. Why did you decide to get involved with this project?
Bryant: My vision is to unite churches and engage voters during this election season because I really haven't heard of a unified voice about what is at stake with this election and what the impact of the election will mean to African Americans.
Informer: What constitutes a "code red"?
Bryant: This is the first time in Black church history that I am aware of, that Black pastors have encouraged their parishioners not to vote. At the heart of controversy are pastors who preach subjects of same-sex marriage, of which I am also an opponent. I am against the President's policy on the issue, but I am not against the President. There is a larger issue at stake facing the Black church and the Black community. I deal with the fact that we lead in foreclosure, we lead in unemployment, we lead in HIV and AIDS, we lead in the high school dropout rates, we lead in dying of incurable diseases. So there are a whole lot of other issues we have to discuss openly.
Informer: Why did you decide to combine training for voting with ministry?
Bryant: The Black Church has always been a part of the movement in our community. Something has happened where we have changed our philosophy from community advancement to personal attainment. So I hope to push it back into focus that we've got to do something for the community and I think that when churches become involved with a community they will experience church growth. So we are going to be dealing with voter registration as well as evangelism. How do we win people to Christ? How do we articulate our faith? How do we share what we believe without being offensive or spooky? We want to dramatically confront spiritual apathy and political apathy.
Informer: How do you reach the thousands of Americans who are disenchanted with the electoral process as a whole?
Bryant: When the NAACP was championing the Voting Rights Act they understood that three things had to happen – voter registration, voter education, and voting. We have enough African Americans registered now to vote to make a difference. The issue is that they are not educated on what other issues are interrelated. For instance, any young person need to make the connection between Mitt Romney's running mate and his desire to end funding of Pell Grant. This means if he passes the legislation he once endorsed, a million college students would not be able to go to school. We talk about the practicality that of Romney raising the age of eligibility for Medicaid, which means that a lot of people would die before they received the benefits they worked so hard to secure. So those kind of practical things just have to be taught and have to be shared and I think that once those are done I think the troops will have their marching orders on the ground.
Informer: Ultimately, Pastor Bryant, how would you like Code Red to impact participants?
Bryant: My hope and aim is to have Baltimore set the template and prototype for Code Red. I'm hoping that we'll have delegates come from all around the country. Hopefully, Code Red will be replicated the same way and travel from one city to another -- especially among the swing states.