Desmond Meade, the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, once stood by a set of train tracks, waiting for the train to come. He intended to step in front of the train when it came. It was only by virtue of the train not coming that day that he didn’t. Instead, he walked over the tracks to the other side and began his life again. Meade, a one-time drug addict and convict, graduated law school in 2014. In his role with the FRRC, he’s devoted his energy to helping felons get the right to vote in Florida, which they currently do not have. He attempted to get a ballot initiative, the Florida Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, on the 2016 ballot to allow felons to vote, but was unable to get the required number of signatures in time. On Friday, Meade traveled to Washington D.C. to deliver a speech for the Black Youth Vote! event put on by the Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation, in which he hoped to inspire young people to vote.
The root cause of voter apathy among young black men, he said, is because many of them have close family members or friends who can’t vote due to felony convictions at some point in the past. Meade said that tends to create a disenfranchisement with the entire process of voting that ultimately ends up counterproductive.
“When you take away the right to vote from a significant segment of the community, you can create an environment where voting is not important, where some in the community don’t see the importance,” he said. “Back in the day voting was a family tradition in the African-American community. Mom and dad would take the whole family down to the voting booths. But when you strip the right to vote away, you kind of kill that culture that environment. You’ve stripped the heads of the household of the ability to vote.”