When I was a kid, my grandmother would drag my sister, cousin, and me down the street to the local recreation center during the last week of October. My grandmother was an avid believer in early voting. We would stand in line for an hour if not longer, sometimes in the brutal Texas sun. Despite our pleas to stay in the car and play our Nintendo Game Boy consoles, she insisted we stand right next to her every step of the way without any distractions. She would tell us how honored she felt to be able to vote, reminding us that when she was a child this was not a privilege her parents or grandparents enjoyed. 

As a child, you don’t really understand the weight of those words. As a twenty-seven year old African American man who grew up in the south, I can say I understand the true meaning of her words today. After all, we live in a world where fewer than one hundred years ago, many Jim Crow laws were still in effect.

Our democracy relies on the simple principle that all eligible citizens make their voices heard at ballot boxes around the country. In doing so, we help ensure that we elect leaders who will put our country first and continue to fight for a more inclusive America. one where all people feel valued, heard, and seen. Put simply: voting is a political determinant of health. Voters are who elect individual policy makers into government, and therefore give those people the power to shape policy. In turn, those policies can impact overall well-being –  positively or negatively.

But let’s be clear, the fight for the right to vote in this country has been a struggle for decades. Whether it be gerrymandering or voter suppression, the fight has stood the test of time. In part, it is because we don’t educate ourselves enough on our nation’s history as it relates to voting rights. Those who are not aware of our past are doomed to allow history to repeat itself. It’s our duty to keep the mistakes of history front of mind to ensure we never go back to a time when people were disenfranchised from their civic duty. 

“Voting is not only our right-it is our power.” — Loung Ung

The power of your vote does not just lift you up, it also supports those who cannot participate in our democratic process. For example, at the onset of the pandemic, millions of children across the country depended on the universal school meals made available through waivers put in place by the USDA. Students who otherwise would have gone hungry were able to gain access to healthy, nutritious food. Now, there are children who face slipping back into hunger because of partisan disagreements on how to continue the program. But with less than a day left until Election Day, you have the possibility to cast your ballot and make sure programs like this one and others continue - by voting for legislators who support them.

For me, I’m reminded of my great grandfather, Ray. He was able to vote before he passed away, but spent many years of his adult life without that right. This election day is not just about making my voice heard; it’s about honoring all those who came before me and fought for my right to do so. Democracy is sacred, without active participation, we risk losing all that we as citizens have spent years building. I know it’s difficult to focus on this election cycle, especially when we have so much going on in our day-to-day lives, but our leaders help elevate those burdens, tackle tough issues, and keep us safe. 

I will leave you with this reminder: just fifty-seven years ago Dr. Martin Luther King and thousands of nonviolent protesters marched from Selma to Montgomery. One of the most horrific events in our nation’s history was  “Bloody Sunday” – where those protesters were beaten, hosed down, and jailed. All because they wanted the right to vote, a right guaranteed to all Americans. 

The late John Lewis, who was badly beaten in the march, once said “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society.” This Election Day, remember that you’re not voting just for yourself, but for the type of world you want those who come after you to live in. Perhaps most importantly, remember that your voice matters.