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VP Harris to A&T audience: ‘Your vote is your voice’

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to students inside Corbett Spots Center on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University during the second stop of her “Fight for Our Freedoms” College. Harris was accompanied by A&T alumni Terrence J and U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan. Photo by Joe Daniels/Carolina Peacemaker.

Amidst a wave of excitement, Vice President Kamala Harris arrived at the campus of North Carolina A&T State University last Friday (Sept. 15). The Corbett Sports Center was a vibrant sea of blue and gold, teeming with students, faculty, administrators and enlivened by spectacular performances by the North Carolina A&T Blue & Gold Marching Machine, the North Carolina A&T Golden Delight, and Liquid Gold Majorette Teams, all set to the backdrop of an upbeat DJ keeping the crowd entertained.

Harris’s trip to Greensboro was her second stop on her nationwide “Fight for Our Freedoms” College Tour with a stop at North Carolina A&T State University where she participated in a moderated conversation with EPA Administrator Michael Regan and actor and media personality, Terrence J – both alumni of the university.

The energy remained high as various leaders: U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous, and U.S. Rep. Alma Adams came to the stage, one by one, to greet the audience.

“If you can’t change policy, you have to change policymakers. The way you do that in this country is with the vote,” said U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, who is also an alumna of the university.

Vice President Harris’s “Fight for Our Freedoms” College Tour officially kicked off September 14 at Hampton University in Virginia. It is a month-long national swing to mobilize thousands of young people to vote. The vice president is set to visit around a dozen more campuses including Hispanic-serving institutions, community colleges, apprenticeship programs, state schools and additional HBCUs. Other stops mentioned on her tour are Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pa., Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. on September 26, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison on October 4.

During the event, the Vice President focused on key issues that disproportionately impact young people across America – from reproductive freedom and gun safety to climate action, voting rights, LGBTQ+ equality, mental health and book bans.

“You elected the first HBCU grad to vice president. Each of you will make a difference by seeing and knowing that your vote is your voice,” said Harris.

The talk started with voter turnout and how 2020 and 2022 saw some of the highest young voter turnout numbers.

Terrence J. said, “When you talk about voting and access, I voted for the first time right here in this room. I remember how proud I felt casting that ballot.”

Harris briefly mentioned new voter laws that restrict college students’ access to vote, as well as restrictions on allowing food and water to be given to people standing in line to vote.

“I do believe there is a national agenda which is about a full-on attack against hard-won, hard-fought freedoms,” said Harris. “But when you vote, you have the ability to determine the future of our country in a way that might challenge a lot of people’s notions about what is possible and who can possibly do it. And so, when we look at these attacks on voting, let’s understand that there is an effort to make it more difficult for you to vote so that you don’t vote.”

She also highlighted how the Biden-Harris Administration has been able to put more than $7 billion into HBCUs, outlined the work ahead to protect fundamental freedoms, and urged attendees to register to vote.

“When you vote, it scares some folks,” Harris said. “There are those who suggest your votes aren’t going to count. They want to suppress our vote and make us feel small.”

Gun safety has been a high priority of the Biden-Harris Administration. Harris noted that not only do students now have to learn about fire drills and natural disaster drills, but they are also learning how to be safe from an active shooter in their schools.

“Gun violence is now the number one cause of death in America for young people,” Harris said, citing a statistic that one in five Americans has a family member who has died from gun violence. “We need an assault weapons ban. We need red flag laws and universal background checks.”

Reagan pointed out the administration’s dedication to addressing climate change, which has helped dedicate $3 billion to addressing environmental justice.

In addressing climate change, Harris noted that communities of color are hit the hardest in terms of poor air and water quality. Harris also applauded Reagan’s efforts toward environmental justice.

“First let me acknowledge your leadership as the administrator of the EPA, because you have been extraordinary, and bold.”

She went on to say, “It should be the right of every child and every person to drink clean water and breathe clean air,” she said adding that, “these extreme climate occurrences, they effect everybody, but they don’t impact everyone equally.”

Harris explained further, linking environmental justice disparities to the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies. She discussed the removal of teaching Black history from schools in Florida, a recent move made by Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Black history is American history, and America’s full history must be taught. Elected extremist so-called leaders are suggesting enslaved people benefited from slavery,” Harris said. “That is not a debatable point, and we’re not falling for the okey-doke’. They’re attempting to distract us from what they are not doing. Do not try to gaslight us – as you insult us,” said Harris.

At the end of the discussion, Harris took preapproved questions from Honors College students Brandon Daye, Kylie Rice and Charles-Anthony Woodfork, who posed questions about what they can do as young citizens to combat environmental racism, restore women’s reproductive rights and end the nation’s gun violence epidemic.

Harris’ main response to each question was to vote.

“We are counting on you. We need your ambition and aspirations for yourself and your country,” said Harris. “You must have the freedom to live your best life. To have access to the ballot, to make decisions about your own body, to love who you want to love, to have freedom from violence. All that, I want for you.”

After the discussion, Harris took a few selfies with students before heading out to a fanfare of applause.