Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Voting Rights

This past year I had the opportunity to work with Patricia L. Supplee and the League of Women Voters to bring interactive lessons to my remote classes. In addition, the League of Women Voters were able to bring their program remotely to Oiada International’s Project Ghana (Here is the link to that article: THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS MEET THE STUDENTS OF THE SOLID ROCK FOUNDATION SCHOOL IN GHANA AND MORE! | Unheard Voices Magazine).

The purpose of this remote session was to learn how to take multiple approaches into engaging students in their studies with history and civics.

Krysten Semerano and Allison Connolly, Ocean Township High School teachers, were the lead teachers who demonstrated these approaches during this remote meeting. Under the topic of study in which they were presenting these methods of teaching, “Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Voting Rights,” Semerano and Connolly had the audience engage in topics about how the south was set up after the time of the American Civil War. For instance, discussion on Jim Crow and Disenfranchisement, why segregation still existed after the passage of the 14th and 15th amendment, and Plessy vs. Ferguson took place. From there a critical thinking question was introduced to elicit response as a teacher would do in the classroom.

For example, in 1909, the NAACP decided on a legal strategy to fight segregation, why did they decide on this strategy and would you be optimistic or pessimistic about this strategy?

From there the remote lesson tackled Martin Luther King Jr.’s effort of deciding whether or not to march over Pettus Bridge. The presenters had a template which gave the opportunity to those joining remotely, as a teacher would do with students in the classroom, to take two directions of whether or not crossing the bridge could happen. Those who attended, students would do this method in the classroom, had to pretend that they were Dr. King and decide yes and why they would cross or go in the other direction of being Dr. King and decide no why they would not cross.

I felt this remote session that was sponsored by the League of Women voters to be very insightful as I gained knowledge of ways to present this important topic to my students in the upcoming school year.

by David Wronko, history teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School (formerly Asbury Park Middle School).

What is Energizing Young Voters all about?

Shortly after the Inauguration on January 20, 2021, Lisa Kay Solomon, the developer of one of our teaching modules (Vote by Design,) wrote an article in Solomon says,

Amanda Gorman is “a civic futurist.” Gorman says: “We lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us…” As Gorman declared at the inaugural: “Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
Simply unfinished. That’s the call. That’s our charge… a futurist says, “I will boldly imagine what can be.

THAT’s what Energizing Young Voters is all about. Boldly imagining what can be…
What we have seen when working with students are young people who are passionate about issues that face our nation, states, communities and schools. These students are far from apathetic about the world in which we live. What is lacking is not concern, passion, idealism, or willingness to work hard. What is lacking is an understanding of how to be engaged civically… the how-to’s, the nitty-gritty of being a lifelong voter and involved citizen.

What we have seen when working with students are young people who simply don’t yet realize how much impact they might have. They do not yet understand that if they exercise their collective right to vote and engage in civic action, they can bring about the change they want to see. It can happen – they can make it happen. There is individual and collective power to make a difference for the greater good.

Real, lasting change comes from more than just civic knowledge – from facts about things like the balance of powers or the branches of government. Granted, it is important to know those things, but textbook facts are not going to bring about real, lasting change. Change comes about from the application of knowledge — from civic engagement and agency — knowing what actions can be taken and how, when, and where to take those actions, and by developing the skills and confidence needed to make it so.

Energizing Young Voters believes this is a moment to reframe civics as a mindset, not an academic course. Experiences and opportunities for young people to become active citizens are needed now. Our commitment is to continue to engage students in moving us towards the “more perfect union” that was envisioned in our Constitution. As Lisa Kay Solomon says:

If we think of our nation as unfinished rather than broken, and actively teach our [upcoming] generation of citizens to imagine a finished nation, we embrace a growth mindset and open up a world of possibilities to collectively write the next chapter of the story.
THAT’s what Energizing Young Voters is all about.

Energizing Young Voters – Civics Education in Action

Energizing Young Voters –– Civics Education in Action
Voter Engagement Programing offered under the auspices of the League of Women Voters of Southern Monmouth County

Vision – Every 18-29 year old in the United States will become a life-long voter.

They will understand why it is important to vote, what the current turnout rate is among their age, ethnic, and education level cohorts, and develop the intention to vote. They will be equipped to overcome all barriers to casting a ballot. Back in 2018, visionary volunteers from the League of Women Voters of Southern Monmouth County initiated a pilot program to increase voter registration and turnout among young people (18-29). Called Fighting for The Vote (FFtV), this 3-part interactive classroom course advances the League’s core mission to defend democracy and empower voters and is the centerpiece of Energizing Young Voters, their highimpact voter engagement programming.

Until interrupted by Covid-19 school closures, trained League volunteers presented FFtV at 12 high schools and colleges reaching approximately 500 students, age 14 to 20, largely in underrepresented communities where voter turnout is consistently low. These students have added challenges:

  1. fewer role-models for voting and civic involvement;
  2. barriers getting to the polls (work schedules, transportation, etc.);
  3. a higher mobility rate requiring updates to registration information.

Based on recent scholarship about why the young don’t vote and incorporates the insights of seasoned educators, FFtV includes an interactive exercise where students role-play and offer “excuses” for not voting as well as encouraging, respectful counter-arguments. The program design invites students to join the FFtV team and be trained to present segments of the program to their peers alongside League volunteers. In addition to reinforcing the students’ sense of empowerment, this increased level of involvement has the added benefit of including presenters who look (in age and ethnicity) like the young people who are the target audience.

Undaunted by the lack of opportunity to work directly with students, the nimble program developers focused on different ways to fulfill their mandate. Offerings under the umbrella of Energizing Young Voters now include:

  • Fighting for the Vote – classroom lesson on the history of voting rights and
    voting trends (3 modules, in person and/or remote)
  • Voting Simulation Experience – real life simulation from registering to vote, to
    reading a sample ballot, to going to the polls, to pulling the lever or filling out
    a provisional ballot
  • Voting in the Time of Covid – how to vote by mail
  • Student Advocate Toolkit – how young people can help those in their
    households register and vote
  • #MyVoiceMyVoteNJ – voter registration events in person and remotely
  • Dedicated text number for information and reminders
  • Vote by Design (with permission: Stanford U.)