Yandy Smith-Harris talks voting, activism on Students for Biden’s ‘On The Yard’ series
The reality TV star is sharing her thoughts on the Biden-Harris campaign and the importance of HBCU involvement
Joe Biden has made historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) one of the hallmarks of his constituencies in an effort to win the 2020 presidential election. The Students for Biden initiative has rallied since August 2019 to make sure the former Vice President becomes the 46th President.
Part of that effort is On The Yard, a brand new webinar series led by the HBCU and Black Students for Biden that addresses the importance of voting for Biden/Harris. The guest of Tuesday’s inaugural episode was Love and Hip-Hop star, entertainment manager and entrepreneur Yandy Smith-Harris.
Although she’s gained most of her notoriety from the long running VH1 reality show, Smith-Harris was appropriately equipped to address the audience. She is an HBCU alum herself, having graduated from Howard University.
Aside from choosing California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, Biden has been relying heavily on Black women to jump ahead of President Donald Trump in the polls. One of his staffers, women’s vote director Carissa Smith, also graduated from an HBCU–Maryland’s Bowie State. She told theGrio that at least four other HBCUs are represented on his campaign staff.
One of the organizers for On The Yard was Students for Biden’s national director Lubna Sebastian. She helped open the webinar by giving the back story behind Students for Biden, its Black student splinter cells and why On The Yard is a crucial platform to “connect students and alumni from across the country who are interested in discussing the work of young Black students fighting for change.”
Smith-Harris was interviewed by student William Fairfax on the Zoom webinar, who asked both prepared questions and inquiries sent in the live chat. She was joined by Duke University senior and Black Students for Biden co-chair Adrianna Williams.
Smith-Harris was asked why she felt Black students need to engage themselves in politics. She answered by explaining how much young Black men and women are being disenfranchised in America.
“There’s no secret that Black youth are the most marginalized in our society,” she stated. “We are affected by everything that hits hard–structural racism, lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable education.”
As a result, Smith-Harris urged the young Black viewers on the importance of getting involved in politics by contributing to the national conversation, being aware of their power and demonstrating said power.
She revealed that while touring HBCUs in 2018, she informed and educated students that they not only vote at the presidential level, but also for senators, congressmen and women, and council members.
“So, why would we not need you to be part of the voting floor? Why would we not need your voices and your voices are among the most courageous,” she questioned.
As a Howard alum, Smith-Harris also brought up the issue of accessibility to higher education, stating “everyone should be able to afford” to attend college.
In April, theGrio reported that Biden issued his plan to forgive student loan debt, with HBCUs as specific targets. Loan forgiveness would be granted to low and middle income families. While current laws exclude private institutions, like some HBCUs, of such forgiveness, Biden’s play would make an exception.
Williams, who attended a predominantly white institution, Duke University, also spoke about how the implications of advocacy from Black students in a white world would pay dividends in politics.
“What I also recognize is something one of my role models, Shirley Chisolm, said, ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring one,’ just to paraphrase it,” Williams said. “Activism at a PWI is just that–us finding our own chairs and bringing them to the table, regardless of them saying no.”
Activism surely hits home for Smith-Harris. On August 25, she and fellow reality star Porsha Williams were among over 60 demonstrators arrested in Louisville, KY, protesting over the Breonna Taylor killing, as reported by theGrio. She was imperative that Black civil liberties are “under attack” due to the Trump administration’s normalization of racism and bigotry toward Black citizens.
“I feel like we are back in 1963,” Smith-Harris exclaimed. “And we are constantly traumatized by the fact we could walk outside, we could be sleeping in our homes and we can die. So many of us have not had to deal with that reality.”
One of the ways that Smith-Harris felt that Black students could decrease these traumatic occurrences was to increase their representation in politics, so that they would have a say on what affects people who look and live like them.
“I never grew up in Amish town. I would not be able to speak of the needs of the youth growing up in Amish town because that is not my world,” Smith-Harris explained. “So many people are making decisions over the lives of Black people who have no idea what your every day challenges are. They have no idea what you deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
Williams brought up the importance of Black women, in particular, being represented and having more of a say due to the fact that Black women are disproportionately affected by several issues, including maternal mortality.
“It scares me that we are in a country that has failed to recognize and really address the fact that Black women are dying at higher rates during childbirth than any other race,” the pre-med student stated. She went on to praise celebrities like Beyonce and Serena Williams for putting more eyeballs on the issue, but more needed to be done.
“This is an institutional issue. This is an issue of our public health system failing us. And it’s time for change,” she added.
Black Students for Biden contend that Black students are the key to achieving a Biden/Harris victory. Fairfax called the forthcoming White House race the “most consequential election of our lifetime,” and praised Biden’s campaign for being “committed to fixing issues in marginalized communities” and putting the Black agenda at the “forefront.”
Smith-Harris believes that demonstration of Black student power can extend beyond the voting booth and they have an opportunity provoke long-term changes.
“I believe that young Black people are the nucleus of our society and you are the nucleus of what democracy will look like,” Smith-Harris stated. “We cannot have a democratic nation without your voices mattering, your input, your vision, your views mattering at the forefront.”
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