Vice President Harris Urges A&T Students to Realize Their Voting Power

By Jackie Torok / 09/15/2023 Student Affairs

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Sept. 15, 2023) – Vice President Kamala Harris, who made history as the first woman and first historically Black college or university (HBCU) graduate to hold that role, paid a visit Friday, Sept. 15, to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, America’s largest HBCU.

Two N.C. A&T alumni – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and Oscar-winning producer, actor and entertainment reporter Terrence Jenkins, better known as Terrence J – accompanied Harris on the stop as part of her “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour.

Members of the nationally recognized Blue and Gold Marching Machine and cheerleading team, along with Student Government Association (SGA) leaders, joined thousands of their fellow Aggies in Corbett Sports Center to greet the trio of distinguished HBCU alumni when they took the stage.

“North Carolina A&T has a rich history in the ongoing fight for our freedoms,” said Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. before a standing room only crowd of 4,000. “From our establishment in 1891 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race to the four A&T freshmen who led a 1960 sit-in that electrified the civil rights movement, we have always understood that freedom requires our enduring commitment to equality and justice for all.”

Among the dignitaries on hand for the visit were Congresswomen Alma Adams and Kathy Manning, Gov. Roy Cooper and Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous.

“If you can’t change policy, then you need to change the policymakers. The way to do that is to vote,” said Adams, a two-time A&T alumna. “Every vote you cast is a seed you plant for the future.”

SGA President Jasmine Amaniampong introduced Jenkins, Regan and Harris, calling their visit “a call to action to fight for our freedoms,” before the trio began their discussion on issues ranging from climate change, reproductive freedom and student loans to gun violence and voting rights.

“Madame Vice President, in the height of the pandemic, in 2020, we saw record voter turnout. In 2022, we saw near record voter turnout for young people,” said Regan. “Here today, we have the very students who voted in those elections. And we have students here who will vote for the first time in the 2024 elections.”

“I voted for the first time right here in this room,” said Jenkins. “I remember how proud I felt casting that ballot.”

“I do believe there is a national agenda which is about a full-on attack on 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 peoples’ 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.”

On the topic of climate change, Harris applauded Regan’s leadership of the EPA “because you’ve been extraordinary, Michael Regan, and bold, because when you get to Washington, D.C., you find that people are really happy with status quo. They’re happy with the way things are and have always been. And it takes a lot of willpower and determination and courage to change things, and that’s what you’ve been doing.”

Extreme climate changes affect everybody, said Harris, but they do not impact everyone equally. That is another reason why the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) remain so important.

Regan, who formerly served as secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, asked Harris about attacks that go beyond DEI and into efforts to rewrite history, erasing the legacy that made HBCUs necessary.

“Black history is American history. Period,” said Harris. “And America’s full history must be taught.”

To conclude the discussion, Honors College students Brandon Daye, Kylie Rice and Charles-Anthony Woodfork, asked the three panelists 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 said it all starts with using the power of the vote.

“I have to tell you, all the young leaders who are here: we are counting on you. We need you. We need your ambition, your aspirations for the future of yourself and your country.

“I strongly believe that you have already decided to be leaders,” said Harris. “That is why you are here at this school.”

As America’s largest HBCU for the past decade, A&T's record-setting enrollment of 13,883 this year is the largest student body ever enrolled at a historically Black campus. Its growth in enrollment has been accompanied by A&T's rapid ascent as a doctoral, research, land-grant university. 

“When I look at the number, the excellence, the beauty, the brilliance of everyone who is here, I know the future of our country is bright,” said Harris. “What I want for you is that you have the freedom to live your best life. And you are going to play an active role in making that happen.”

“Get out there, own your power, tell your truth right now because your country needs you,” she said. “And I say that as vice president of the United States.”

Media Contact Information: jtorok@ncat.du

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