Welcome to the first edition of Young, Southern and Black, a series by Reckon that lends the microphone to Black southerners under 30 who are crafting the futures they want to see in the region they call home.
First up to have the mic, University of Alabama graduate student Alexus Cumbie. A daughter of Birmingham’s Roebuck neighborhood, Cumbie grew up watching people overlook her community, which was predominately Black and low-income. And she wants to reverse the trend as she studies political communications. Not only did she work with Woke Vote as a digital lead for Alabama, she also organized other UA students to increase voter awareness on her campus.
“I come from a generation recognizing that we can’t leave folks in the hood behind – that we can’t just leave anyone behind,” Cumbie said.
So there was a lot of movement this election season and a lot of it was down South. A lot of that movement was Black-women led. How do you feel about your future here?
I’m seeing that the South is starting to progress and listen to Black women a lot more. People are starting to see that the ideas Black women have work and they are starting to initiate those ideas in their own communities as well. I’m hoping more Black women will feel empowered to speak because Black women and Black people in the south deserve liberation.
Because we are in a political season that is all-consuming and politics underlines any other effort that other communities are trying to get when it comes to liberation, Black women are mobilizing not just voters, but people who are interested in mutual aid. We’re mobilizing students.
So, I think Black women are doing a great job of mobilizing and gathering communities to the point that other communities are trying to adopt the same strategies Black women are doing.
What does progress look like to you in the South?
An issue that is important to me is education reform. I think that underlines a lot of the issues we’re seeing in other problems. If people have low-literacy rates, it prevents them from filling out a ballot correctly. It adds to the issue of lower health because people can’t read prescriptions.
I think when we increase our educational infrastructure to compete with the other states it will give southerners an opportunity to understand the injustices around them and form protests and demand the changes they want to see.
Who from the South inspires you?
I’m going to start with DeJuana Thompson, the founder of Woke Vote. I was the digital lead for the state of Alabama for Woke Vote during this election. I think the work she is doing is extraordinary and she will get her flowers in due time. The second person is LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund. A third, Stacey Abrams the founder of Fair Fight, for sure.
Someone that I consider to be the ultimate roles models is definitely Congresswoman Terri Sewell. I had the opportunity to intern at her office twice. She has taught me everything she knows about politics.
I will never forget one day when I walked into this meeting and it’s John Lewis. It’s Cory Booker and a lot of other prominent figures from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. So I sat on the outskirts and they are sitting at the table. Then she tells one of the congress members, “Hey, do you mind if you scoot over so my interns can sit next to me.”
I tell that story because she redefined what it means not only to invite someone into the room, but to also to give them a seat at the table and include them in the conversation. A lot of people have their interns sitting on the side, but she was like, “Nope.”
What I learned from working with Woke Vote is that Alabama, and a lot of southern states, have the opportunity to lean more democratic and be more progressive. The issue isn’t that people aren’t voting. The issue is that we have so many immobilized voters and so much voter suppression that it makes the process hard and complicated and people just don’t have the time to figure it out.
So, I think we should start shifting the narrative from blame to empathy. What is the issue? How do we break down these complicated areas to voting? Also, how can we relate to all of these voter bases who aren’t getting the message.
Speaking of voting, I know you and a couple of other UA students came together to increase voter registration on your campus. Since you were listening to students as you were registering people to vote, tell me what are they looking for in the South?
I think the common denominator is tackling the student loan debt that so many of us are going to be in. When we ask students the question, “What’s one thing that will make you cross the (political) aisle?” They say, “Well, if they waive student loans then I will vote for whoever.”
I think that tells the story of the South in a much different picture. We have so many financial inequalities that prevent people from living their fullest lives. People want to live the lives that they envision for themselves and I think a lot of people right now are looking for a president who addresses those issues.
If you’re Black, under 30 and have something to say about the future of the South, email Reckon reporter Starr Dunigan at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach her via Twitter and Facebook. While you’re at it, consider joining the Black Magic Project Facebook group, where we talk about topics concerning Black, southern community and culture.