GETTING BLACKS TO THE POLLS

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Equal Ground is behind many of the weekend events planned around the state to ensure that African Americans vote in overwhelming numbers.

An Equal Ground Park N Praise event was held on Aug. 16 in St. Petersburg.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF EQUAL GROUND

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
FLORIDA COURIER

Jasmine Burney-Clark said Equal Ground is teaming up with other organizations around the state to help get Blacks to the polls.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF EQUAL GROUND

Jasmine Burney-Clark has a passion for politics, community organizing and helping others.

She is the founder and consulting director of the Equal Ground Educational Fund, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that’s diligently working to get people educated about voting and to the polls.

Equal Ground is at the forefront of efforts to get African Americans in Florida out to vote.

Her strategy

Burney-Clark’s career in politics spans a decade.

She worked for the following political campaigns: Alex Sink for Florida governor; Senator Geraldine Thompson’s Florida Senate campaigns; with Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quinn; Tom Steyer’s Next Generation America; and she was a senior advisor for the national NAACP.

Those experiences inspired her to create Equal Ground.

“I saw many White-led organizations working in Black communities but not being led by Black people,” she told the Florida Courier. “I decided to create a face where Black folks led, created a strategy and found people in our own communities. We have our own experiences – not White people’s experiences and how they see the world.”

Orlando Vote Fest

Equal Ground is based in Eatonville, the historically African American town near Orlando and it has enclaves in Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Pinellas counties.

It has ongoing get-out-the vote events in Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Palm Beach County, Escambia County, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Gainesville and other cities.

Cookouts, vote parties

There are cookouts, fish fries, vote parties and more planned throughout the state.

“We have made huge strides in voter registration and voting. Since March, we have made over 200,000 phone calls. We have also helped with COVID-19 assistance. We have created voting plans,’’ Burney-Clark explained.

“We are teaming with other organizations to make sure voting rights are being protected. We have done webinars, candidate forums, fought social media misinformation. We also have a national voter suppression hot line.”

Tyler Perry partnership

Equal Ground also has partnered up with producer Tyler Perry for a series of “Park N Praise” events with a goal of getting 250,000 Black voters to vote in 25 counties in Florida.

More events are scheduled around the state this weekend. (Visit soulstothepollsfl.com)

“Tyler Perry is concerned about the Black vote in the entire nation, including Florida. He is providing support to make sure that we can have conversations with Black voters, and those who have been out of touch or in misrepresented communities, especially in smaller towns where they don’t have that organizational capacity and smaller frats, sororities and NAACP chapters,” Burney-Clark noted.

Strong coalitions

Equal Ground also is partnering with clergy, NAACP branches, Urban League chapters, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, chambers of commerce, sororities and fraternities and others.

Burney-Clark stressed, “These partnerships are critical. We have some of the same goals and missions in getting people out to vote and making sure they are informed.”

However, working together can often be the biggest challenge.

“I have run into problems with some organizations that feel like they own where they are, which is often the case in some of the smaller towns,” admitted BurneyClark.

On early voting

Equal Ground is also pushing early voting and vote-by-mail options. Across the nation, 35 million Americans have already cast their ballots, including about 3 million in Florida.

“We support early voting. Black folks aren’t completely confident in the system or an entire vote-by mail election. We don’t trust all the machines. We need to make sure we have voting opportunities, including drop boxes that are visible,” Burney-Clark emphasized.

“We should also push for extending voting times as long as possible so that people can cast their ballots.’’

Rev. Kenny Irby speaks at a Park N Praise event on Aug. 16 in St. Petersburg.
COURTESY OF EQUAL GROUND

Issues with signatures

There are other concerns with the upcoming general election.

“We are seeing issues with signatures on vote-by-mail ballots. Signatures aren’t matching and not being counted. It is still time to get those fixed and those votes counted. People can check their status online to see if that ballot was counted,” noted BurneyClark.

There are also concerns in areas with high Black populations and relating to former felons who can now vote.

“Any areas with large populations of Black people of color, you can expect to see issues. Miami Dade, Broward, Jacksonville, Orlando, etc., for example. Orlando is a college town and has a large tourism workforce. It is also one of the fastest growing cities in the nation,” she related.

“There are also 40,000 returning citizens whose vote is influx right now. They don’t know if they will be able to vote. They don’t know if they have been purged from the voter rolls. There are so many unanswered questions leading up towards Election Day.”

On voter suppression

Equal Ground is also watching for voter suppression.

“We haven’t’ seen anything yet but just because we haven’t doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened or isn’t happening,” Burney-Clark said.

Despite get-out-the vote efforts, Black turnout isn’t where it should be.

Burney-Clark stated, “When thinking about voting, you think about the popular ticket at the time. Candidates aren’t doing the best job connecting with voters.

“Voters are not connecting their issues. They don’t see health care, jobs, education and more on the ballot. They should see these candidates as being able to make decisions on these issues. They must hold those they vote for accountable.”

Grandmother’s influence

As long as she can remember, Burney-Clark said she has had an interest in politics.

She grew up in the Holden Heights community of Orlando and is a graduate of Boone High School in Orlando.

Burney-Clark earned her bachelor’s degree in political science at Bethune-Cookman University in 2009 and a master’s in public administration from Florida A&M University.

She is married to Dominic Clark; they reside in Orlando.

Burney-Clark is involved in her church, Experience Christian Center, and enjoys traveling and spending time with family.

“My grandmother instilled it in me,” she said about her interest in politics. “She was a neighborhood watch leader. She would have me write letters to local political leaders,” Burney-Clark related.

“I had no idea that she was grooming me to be a community organizer. She probably didn’t even know it,’’ she added.

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