It was Rev. Jamal Bryant’s mission to register one million new black voters this Easter. He and a collection of other black ministers across the country set out to use one of the Church’s highest attended days to bring their congregations into the political process in an effort they call the Empowerment Movement. While all the results aren’t in, Bryant calls the Easter-day drive just the beginning. With the case of slain teen Trayvon Martin as a catalyst, he sees a future of increased political empowerment for young black Americans.
“I’m very excited about the momentum that the Empowerment Movement has built, said Bryant. “We’re barely over 40 days old and we’ve registered 110,000 people to vote.” While the number is just over a tenth of the organization’s original goal, Bryant said he can rest well with the results. “Most civil rights organizations haven’t done that in ayear,” he added.
Bryant stated in a March press release that there are an estimated 500,000 black churches in the United States and over five million unregistered black voters. The website for the Empowerment Movement states their official goal was registering one million voters on April 8, 2012, “making Guinness World Book history for democracy, by challenging every black church in the United States to register 20 people on that day.”
Bryant sees the Empowerment Movement as an ongoing initiative, however. Inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the organization has also put added emphasis on voter protection and the issues of jobs and education.
Since announcing the Easter effort in mid-March, the organization’s rolls of member churches have swelled and they have announced partnerships with the NAACP, the National Urban League and The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Bryant is the minister at The Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, Maryland. He said he preached three services Sunday — all with time set aside for voter registration. “There were two spectrums of response, he said.” My older member were excited to see young people engaged and the young people were excited to finally have the church, which they’ve seen be apathetic, doing something.”
While the results of the big push are not yet in, Bryant used his Facebook page to thank Frederick D. Haynes, pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, for registering 700 in his congregation alone. That church is one of many that produced such results on the holiday. One woman responded to the post saying that she picked up a registration form for her daughter, who is soon to be of legal voting age, at Friendship West Baptist. She also noted that the pastoral staff was dressed at the time in hooded sweatshirts as a sign of solidarity with the family of Trayvon Martin.
Martin, the young man killed nearly 40 days ago, has lit a fire among the black faith community and the effort to seek justice in his case, starting with an arrest of his shooter, has melded into the larger cause of activism and advocacy for the black community.
“I think the Tryavon Martin case reflects a local issue with national implications,” said Bryant. At a recent rally for an arrest in the Martin case, the preacher told a crowd of young people, “This is a critical moment in history because this is the hour and the defining moment when America will record that the hip hop generation took over the civil rights movement.”
He went on to make a case for continued participation among young people beyond seeking justice for Trayvon Martin, saying, “The base of any movement is understanding that something has to change, that something has to shift, something has to be better.” Bryant said the next initiative for the Empowerment Movement is to target students at historically black colleges. He plans to offer 300 jobs sending students to major urban areas to continue the process of getting people involved.
“This is the difference between an event and a movement,” said Bryant. “An event is for one day and a movement goes on until the mission is complete.”
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey on Twitter at @idxr