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Black youth, mid-term elections and Obama's age of hope

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Nov 1, 2010 - 10:41:16 AM

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WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) - While Black youth nationwide prepare to vote in the mid-term elections some say they have not been fooled into believing the outcomes will dramatically change their lives.

Black youth, responding to a national survey of 15-25 year olds, revealed that they were realistic about the meaning of the new age of hope President Obama promised.

“This group of young people, although exuberant over the first African-American president, realize that they cannot count on him or any other politician to singly change their condition,” Cathy Cohen, University of Chicago professor of political science and lead researcher of the study Black Youth Project, said.

In their conversations, Black youth repeatedly pointed to the need for community action, also part of Mr. Obama's message, as the vehicle for change.

They still expect to experience discrimination throughout their lives and only 42 percent felt “like a full and equal citizen of the country,” compared with 66 percent of White youth.

Similarly, after the election of President Obama, a wide gap in the perception of racism remained among Black and White youth. Sixty-nine percent of Black youth believe racism remains a major problem, compared to 32 percent of Whites and 51 percent of Latinos.

Focus group conversations showed many Black youth accepted the limited potential of Mr. Obama's election to change their lives. Mr. Obama campaigned as a candidate for all groups and did not position himself as aiming especially to improve the lot of Blacks, Professor Cohen pointed out.

The perspective offered by young Black people on political participation can enhance the nation's politics; she said “Black youth can help us to remix our democratic principles and practices, recognizing that full membership and the participation of all must be the basis for American politics in the 21st century.”

On the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., Students for Progressive Action are determined to inspire others to vote in this year's midterm elections. Members spend considerable time prepping students to complete absentee ballots.

“Voting is an important issue for everyone on campus, so that's why today we're trying to get people to vote,” explained student Ashley Reese to reporters. She founded the organization. “People don't realize how important the midterm elections are; they think that if it's not a presidential election then why vote?”

Black youth were instrumental in mobilizing and voting in the 2008 election of President Obama. This year with Black youth (16-19-years old) unemployment at nearly 50 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs at a premium and health care reform impacting the community, many think Black youth have good reasons to vote.

“I voted for Obama because I felt his message and wanted to be a part of a change in America. This year it's different. All the confusion with the Tea Party, all the negativity against the president and the Republicans who want to take back their country, all my hope is gone,” said Brian Henderson, a 22-year-old D.C. resident.

“But I'm still going to vote and encourage others to do so also. It's hard to get excited when you don't feel like the options are any better than the devil and Satan in some places.

While many youth are in college and are more likely to vote, 22 million (nearly half) of 18 to 29 year olds are not enrolled in higher education programs. Since 2000 voter turnout among college-educated youth has increased by 12 percentage points and non-college youth turnout has increased by nine percentage points. “It's hard to reach non-college youth since their membership in unions, religious congregations and even community groups has fallen drastically since the 1970s,” said Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement researcher Surbhi Godsay.

“For far too long non-college young people have been ignored and forgotten. There are initiatives that may prove to be effective in increasing voter turnout among this cohort.”

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