Hip Hop Caucus unveils innovative tool that informs returning citizens of their right to vote

By way of its Respect My Vote campaign, the tool will reveal if formerly incarcerated individuals are eligible to vote.

Among the chief tenets of American democracy, the right to vote remains one of the most viable ways citizens are able to become civically engaged.

The Hip Hop Caucus and its Respect My Vote! campaign has long understood this and has introduced a new tool that will aid returning citizens and those on parole on this path by informing them if they are eligible to vote via the laws in their respective cities and states. The Caucus first launched its Respect My Vote! campaign in 2008 as means of voter mobilization, most specifically among young people of color, HBCU students, and individuals who did not attend college among other groups.

The tool is an extension of that groundwork and aimed specifically at those who were formerly incarcerated and entering back into society. 

Hip Hop Caucus Yearwood thegrio.com
(Credit: Rev. Yearwood/Facebook)

Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., the president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, spoke with TheGrio regarding the tool and what it aims to achieve. Before Rev. Yearwood dove into the finer points of the tool, he first made certain to demonstrate the reason why it exists and how access to the ballot is a priority for the Caucus and the campaign.

“First and foremost, democracy is everything, and we must do all that we can to ensure that we have a say,” Rev. Yearwood began. “It is important that people of African descent, no matter how we got here, are certain to know that they have a voice and that their vote counts.”

Rev. Yearwood added, “While many of us didn’t arrive here under the best circumstances, we’re here now and we’ve taken hold of the ballot box. But there are those who are trying to stop us. Access to the ballot, more specifically, equal access to the ballot for all people is key to what we do, but also key as it relates to American democracy.”

Hip Hop Caucus Yearwood thegrio.com
Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. is the President & Founder of Hip Hop Caucus (Credit: Rev. Yearwood/Facebook)

The tool stands out as none before like it has existed, and what it does is provide returning citizens information about the laws in their states by entering their personal but not traceable or recorded information to determine their eligibility. The tool can be used across all U.S. states and territories.

As previously mentioned, and confirmed by Rev. Yearwood, the Respect My Vote campaign was formed largely in part around returning citizens and their right to vote. Given that voting rights laws can be a tall and complicated order, especially since the machinations of the early 2000s, the Caucus recognized these barriers for those returning to society and began laying the foundation that informs the tool’s purpose today.

“When we first started doing this work in 2008, and this is when Barack Obama was running for office, everyone was extremely excited but there was a huge segment of our population that was not engaged,” Yearwood said. “We realized then that those returning citizens needed to be engaged, and not just those who attended Ivy League schools, we needed everybody to get involved.”

Yearwood explained that the Caucus began working alongside Keyshia Cole and Clifford “T.I.” Harris for the “Respect My Vote!” campaign, making certain to center the Atlanta rapper because of his legal woes at the time but also that it was important to T.I. that every eligible voter was included in the process.

Hip Hop Caucus Yearwood thegrio.com
(Credit: Rev. Yearwood/Facebook)

“Even when T.I. was preparing to head back to prison, we learned that under Georgia law that he was indeed eligible to vote. There were so many layers to this, so we needed to figure out how to create a tool that would help others who are soon to be free from prison learn how they can get involved in the democratic process,” Yearwood shared.

On Sept. 28, the tool was officially launched, and Rev. Yearwood emphasized that the tool not only provides users with their eligibility status, but it also breaks down the law to the grittiest detail. It has been commonly thought that incarcerated individuals, and even former felons, do not have the right the vote but the tool exists to provide all the information in one fell swoop.

When asked how the tool can be used to bolster civic participation across the board, Yearwood tells the TheGrio that the barriers to voting rights can be mostly eradicated by meeting people where they are.

“Culture is everything, and you have to use one’s cultural expressions to shape one’s political experience,” Yearwood firmly stated. “Culture is critical in this conversation, from the barbershop to the beauty salons and to the corners, it is important for all of our communities to have space to relate to one another and this tool and the work that the Caucus does is just one part of that.”

The tool will be offered not only at the Respect My Vote digital arm but can also be found in hubs provided by the following organizations: U.S. Vote Foundation, Rock the Vote, National Black Justice Coalition, and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

By way of its Respect My Vote campaign, the tool will reveal if formerly incarcerated individuals are eligible to vote.

To learn more about the tool, please follow this link.
To learn more about the Hip Hop Caucus, click here.

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