50 years ago yesterday, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. If, for some reason, you are not familiar with this Act, it enforced the voting rights granted by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Act prohibited racial discrimination in voting, and gave Black people the explicit right to vote for the first time in history.
Fast forward 50 years to today where I, a 19-year-old black, naturalized citizen, have the ability to vote in my first presidential election. Next year I will be one of many who decide on the next leader of the free world. It seems crazy to me that a mere 50 years ago I wouldn’t have had a political voice in the country in which I live. Even though I am fortunate enough to have been born in a time where people who look like me can vote without issue, it is important to learn about and take time to remember those who fought for those rights.
I know that issues regarding race have not disappeared in today’s world. All one has to do is watch, read or listen to the news. It still does shock me, however, to realize that if I had been born just a few decades earlier, I could be denied outright the chance to participate in my own country’s democratic system, and that there would be actual laws supporting that blatant segregationist and racist stand.
Six years ago, late in the month of January, while still in 7th grade, I traveled to Washington D.C. with my family. Even though at the time I was fairly young and most of my excitement was due to the fact that I was missing a few days of classes, I still vividly remember telling my parents how amazing it was that I was going to witness a huge moment in American history. I can tell my children, my grandchildren, and really anyone I met that I was there. That Tuesday, January 20, 2009, was the inauguration of Barrack Obama, our first African-American president.
Fifty years ago, citizens of all races were officially enfranchised, and I don’t believe that even then they predicted we would ever have a Black president. Yet, here we are, two terms later, continuing to make history and progress. I have the ability to vote, and next year I might even vote for a woman, kicking down another barrier of inequality. The right to vote is an amazing and powerful thing, because we all have a voice in our democratic system. Today, and everyday, I am thankful for those who fought for those rights for all.