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House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Terri Sewell Warn Against ‘Voter Apathy’ During Miles College Visit

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From left: Miles College President Bobbie Knight; House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and U.S. Rep Terri Sewell during a Black History Month Fireside Chat at Miles College. (Barnett Wright, The Birmingham Times)

By Sym Posey | The Birmingham Times

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08) spoke before a packed auditorium at Miles College on Monday as part of a Black History Month fireside chat with U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) and moderator Bobbie Knight, Miles College President.

In a wide-ranging discussion before students and a press conference afterwards Sewell and Jeffries, who became the first African American to lead a party in Congress after he was unanimously elected the House Democratic Leader by his colleagues in November 2022, spoke about the importance of voting.

“At the foundation of our representative democracy, is the notion that we are striving for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” said Jeffries, who is serving in his sixth term representing the 8th Congressional District of New York which encompasses large parts of Brooklyn. “The only way to achieve that, is to make sure that the people are showing up and participating and exercising their right to vote.”

There is still a long way to go to achieve the society “we would like to achieve but … the only way that will happen is if people of goodwill show up, exercise that right to vote that people fought and died for here in Alabama, and allow us to make the progress we need to make here in the United States,” he said.

Sewell said she and Jeffries spoke to the students about “voter apathy, the fear that people won’t go to the polls, that they will stay at home, that they don’t feel like their vote matters or counts,” she said. “We set the record straight, I thought, by looking at the evidence. The evidence is that when we show up to vote, we do make a difference. Look at Atlanta, would you have ever thought that Atlanta would have two senators, one Jewish, and one Black … the vote matters.”

Sewell, who is running for reelection in the 7th Congressional District against one Democratic candidate and two Republican candidates, said students don’t have to be elected to make a difference.

“We know that change rarely occurs in Congress, it bubbles up from grass roots activism, and so today during Black History Month, we talked about not just being history makers, but understanding everyone’s place in American History. Black history is indeed American history, and we all have a role to play,” she said.

Jeffries also commended the students who showed up on a holiday (President’s Day) “in the middle of the afternoon,” he said.

“Nothing speaks louder than someone’s presence …  I was so impressed by the fact that this auditorium was filled with students from this campus and neighboring universities … when I know these students have a lot of other things that they could be doing.

“They are interested, not only in their future but the future of this great state and this great country. They care about the issues of criminal justice reform, economic opportunity, voting, and making sure that the future here in this community can be brighter than the past.”

He added, “We spoke briefly about imagination. The most important word, in my view, in the American lexicon is ‘imagination.’ The ability to imagine that the future can be better. That is at the heart of the American Dream [and] it was clear to me that these are students who have captured the power of it.”