Press Conference on Plight of Returning Citizens Kicks off NewFM’s Emancipation Week Activities
Miami, FL — Members of New Florida Majority (NewFM), the ACLU, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRCC) on Monday kicked off weeklong commemoration of Florida’s Emancipation Day with a press conference by focusing on how the unjust automatic denial of voting rights to nearly 10 percent of the state’s citizens who have a past criminal record.
“Florida’s lifetime ban on voting by persons with past felonies was conceived of in the years after emancipation to limit the political power of the states emancipated black citizens,” said ACLU Florida Deputy Director Melba Pearson. “We are only one of three states, with a lifetime voting ban. And since it was put into our State’s constitution, the lifetime voting ban has functioned hand in hand with racial inequities in the criminal justice system to serve as the largest voter suppression policy in the nation.”
Rod Kemp & Luis Garcia of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) talked about the what voting means to them and the obstacles that they have overcome and continue to face despite having served their time in jail and rebuilt their life for the better.
“Essentially [this policy], affects everyone from every walk of life,” said Kemp. “This is something that affects all of us. It’s a part of our citizenship to be able to have the right to vote.”
“I’m a productive member of society, I pay taxes and I have two businesses… [but] I’ve had to accept the fact that I’ll probably never be able to vote again,” said Garcia. “It’s already hard enough psychologically to spend a lot of time in prison and then come out and readjust to society. But then to have these other barriers; social barriers and economic barriers and just try to get a job. It’s almost impossible.”
An initiative supported by a growing bipartisan and multiracial coalition of groups, led by FRCC, is currently collecting signatures to place the issue before Florida voters in 2018. It’s an important effort that could make a difference in helping individuals and communities improve their lives and our nation.
“The right to vote and to have a voice in the process… I can’t think of anything more important to a sense of identity and to a sense of dignity,” said David Tucker, Vice President at Transition, Inc., a social service agency that has been helping returning citizens in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood for nearly 40 years.
Reflecting on Past & Current Struggles
The press conference kicked off a week of reflection and education ahead of the state’s annual commemoration of the official Emancipation of African American slaves, which occurred 11 days after the end of the Civil War on May 20, 1865.
“Freedom isn’t guaranteed, it is often times fought for on many different fronts. “said NewFM Political Director Dwight Bullard. “We believe and understand that far too often, people who are left out of the conversation end up the most victimized and violated by policies.”
From President Trump’s Voter Integrity Commission to Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission, the role of the state in determining and institutionalizing the rights and responsibilities of freedom is as relevant as ever. For NewFM leaders, the events from May 15 – May 20 will help focus a discussion on the freedom struggle that is occurring, not just in the African American community, but in all communities that have been pushed to the outside of social, economic and political participation.
“Emancipation Week is necessary to shed light on the continuing challenges America faces in combatting racism, inequity and inequality,” said Bullard. “We hope to start a practical conversation about the meaning of freedom and what still needs to be done to make that a reality for more people. Hopefully, it’s a discussion that will continue beyond the week and towards some very important elections starting this summer.”
Other NewFM 2017 Emancipation Week Activities
Tuesday, May 16th
1:30 PM Freedom and Rights Restoration Conversation on Everyday Praise 1080 AM with Bishop James Adams.
Wednesday, May 17th
4 p.m. Dwight Bullard joins Papa Keith and other guests (including Octavia Yearwood and Fl State Senator Oscar Braynon) to Discussing Black Freedom and Power on 103.5 The Beat interview.
6:30 p.m. – Community Meeting with Park Officials to Discuss Concerns Surrounding Future Plans for Morningside Park (750 NE 55 Terrace, Miami, Fl 33137)
Thursday, May 18
7 p.m. Freedom Flicks: Nate Parkers Birth of a Nation viewing (NewFM Office: 8330 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33138)
Friday, May 19
Twitter Storm using #FreedomAintFree
Saturday, May 20th
Occupy The Park with 103.5 The Beat and Papa Keith at Alonzo Kelly Park (1455 NW 67th St, Miami, FL 33147) – NewFM and the Liberty City community began the Occupy The Park movement as a way to reclaim Alonzo Kelly Park as a safe haven for the community without the heavy hand of the criminal justice system. Join us on Emancipation Day at our fifth gathering, as we celebrate this community-led restoration effort and reflect on what freedom looks like for black and brown communities in 2017.