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Covid Hinders Vital Get-Out-the-Vote Events: Black Family Reunions

  • October 19, 2020

Suzanne Vargus Holloman, a director of the Family Reunion Institute at Temple University, said that civic issues were top of mind in Black and Latino communities — particularly as Election Day nears — after the wave of protests this year over police killings.

“Our expectation was that families would utilize their national reunions as well as regional family events to emphasize voting registration and voting,” Ms. Holloman said. “There is a built-in audience that is receptive to information from family leaders they know and trust.”

An alternative to the traditional family reunion happens every year in Cincinnati: the Black Family Reunion, a celebration started 32 years ago by the activist Dorothy Height. Her legacy of stirring voter awareness is upheld by the event’s executive director, Tracey Artis.

Most years, the Black Family Reunion would be a four-day, in-person event, including a speaker series, a “heritage breakfast,” a parade, a concert and a Sunday morning worship session. This year, that happened virtually instead.

Ms. Artis and volunteers teamed up with the N.A.A.C.P. to facilitate voter registration in the city’s Sawyer Park, but they also gave away hand sanitizer, masks, school supplies and food boxes, and offered free coronavirus testing. Nearly 600 people registered to vote, took a registration form to complete at home or left with a voting pamphlet, Ms. Artis said.

She said that both virus testing and voter registration could save lives.

“When we register people to vote and they go to the polls, and they go out and we see change in America, that can also save lives,” she said. “Because our lives are in jeopardy daily when you have people in office who do not care about us — who don’t understand the plight of Black America.”

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