African-Americans, voting discussion opens Black History Month

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A panel discusses student issues of housing, voting rights and tuition.

By Noah Alcala Bach

A panel titled “African Americans and the Vote” covered the need to vote and the history of discrimination in the U.S. Constitution.


Tommy Calvert, Bexar County Precinct 4 Commissioner, says voting is important because it holds officials accountable during the panel, “African Americans and the Vote” Feb. 5 in the nursing complex. He was joined by Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, District 120 state representative; Mario Salas, history professor at UTSA; and Gordon Benjamin, activist and public speaker. The panel was part of Black History Month. Calvert said cynicism in a democracy is dangerous because it reflects on communities. Sergio Medina

The four-member panel was composed of Bexar County Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert, UTSA political science professor and civil rights activist Mario Salas, District 120 Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins and political activist Gordon Benjamin.

The underlying message was to get out and vote, and a booth was set up to encourage students to register. The panel was Oct. 5 in the nursing and allied health complex.

Dr. Jothany Blackwood, college vice president, delivered opening remarks emphasizing that even though the theme was African Americans and the vote, it was important that all students understand the power of the vote.

Following Blackwood’s welcome, the panel launched into a wide range of topics.

Salas, asked about the electoral college, referenced the three-fifths rule, the Constitutional provision which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of taxation and representation. Salas said the design of the electoral college is heavily rooted in slavery and segregation.

Gervin-Hawkins emphasized the importance of participating in local and state elections, and encouraged voting for officials — especially judges — who share a similar agenda.

She illustrated her point by mentioning those who serve long sentences for “a joint or two. That’s now almost legal.”

When asked to elaborate on the topic, she stopped short of endorsing complete legalization.

“I’m for legalization with control,” Gervin-Hawkins said. “I don’t believe someone should be walking down the street smoking a blunt. I just don’t believe that. You have to respect others, too.”

The panel also delved into how voting can influence issues that affect college students – economic and housing opportunities in particular.

“The Tobin Lofts here, which are designed for San Antonio College students, aren’t full of San Antonio College students,” Calvert said. “Many of the students here don’t even have the income for even those apartments rents. We need to do something about it.”

Calvert also touted Alamo Promise, a policy he helped put into motion that allows graduating seniors in Bexar County to attend the Alamo Colleges with tuition waived.

Paramedic sophomore Jamilah Elliott, who attended the panel for a class grade, said she felt more informed by the discussion and plans to attend more of the college’s Black History Month events.

“It opened my eyes,” Elliott said, adding she needs to research candidates.

Asked her thoughts on an all-Democrat panel, Elliott added “It didn’t feel like there was any kind of bias. I felt like it was very straightforward.”

In an interview after the event, Calvert addressed why a partisan, Democratic panel was chosen for the event.

“Race has been a wedge of division and utilized that way since the founding of the country” he said. “You have to address racial inequities because they have been policy, they’ve been written into the constitution, they’ve been written into law.”


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