This past Easter Sunday, Black pastors across the country delivered more than sermons. They also delivered voter registration forms. It was part of the Empowerment Movement, a faith-based campaign to register 1 million voters on Easter Sunday. Heading up the campaign is the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, Maryland.
MR. MARTIN: This past Easter Sunday, Black pastors across the country delivered more than sermons. They also delivered voter registration forms. It was part of the Empowerment Movement, a faith-based campaign to register 1 million voters on Easter Sunday. Heading up the campaign is the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, Maryland.
Now, Pastor Bryant, the Black Church has always been that focal point, if you will, in terms of driving a message for African-Americans in terms of the activism. And so how did this voter registration campaign go? And I’m also curious, though, to also [know] the feedback in terms of how they’re dealing with these voter suppression laws that have been passed in so many states.
REV. BRYANT: Well, “always” is relative. The Black Church has almost been on a 25-year hiatus. We’ve been historically the voice of the community, but somewhere between ’75 and 2011, contracted acute laryngitis. You couldn’t hear anything about community advancement. It was all about personal attainment and achievement.
MR. MARTIN: Um-hum.
REV. BRYANT: And I called together 30 denominational leaders from around the country from AME, the Church of God in Christ, the Pentecostal assemblies saying, “We’ve got to move from the sideline to the frontline, because there’re too many issues impacting our community.” And we said the very first thing we’ve got to do is get these people from the pews to the polls. We[’ve] got to register them.
And so we’ve partnered. We developed a piece of technology whereby people can register online through their smart phone, iPad, laptops. And Easter Sunday morning, 110,000 people responded to that call. That means we’ve got another 900,000 to go –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
REV. BRYANT: — but, Roland, here’s the reality. We were able to register 110,000 in one day. Most civil rights organizations haven’t done that all year. So, to do that in one day really means that we’re stepping in the right direction.
MR. MARTIN: How do you, though, deal with pastors today – and, look, I – I know a number of them – who say, “Look, I’m not really trying to do” – “get involved politically”? And so they want to be hands-off, if you will, but the reality is this is not saying “endorse a candidate” –
REV. BRYANT: Right.
MR. MARTIN: — but there’re issues that are impacting your congregation that I think you have to be saying something after you’ve dealt with salvation.
REV. BRYANT: 2008, all of African-Americans were enthralled and enamored by the first African-American being elected. Here’s where we are – is that the honeymoon is over. We now have to consummate the marriage. We’ve got to get past personalities and vote on the principles. The principles are universal healthcare, the endangerment of lack of funding for historically Black colleges, the escalating number of prison population by African-American males, dealing with unemployment. We lead in unemployment across the board.
MR. MARTIN: The face of HIV/AIDS is that –
REV. BRYANT: [Crosstalk] –
MR. MARTIN: — of a Black, heterosexual woman.
REV. BRYANT: — we lead the top ten, curable diseases in this country. Black people have ’em. So, just based off of the issue, if you register people to vote, people will know who to vote for. So, once we get to that point – the three prongs is voter registration, but the second one is voter education. And so many times, we’ve short-gapped, ’cause we had them register, but they weren’t educated on the issues to be mobilized to go to the polls.
MR. MARTIN: Because I think people forgot that churches created what – what was called “freedom schools” –
REV. BRYANT: Absolutely.
MR. MARTIN: — and that was about literally educating people on – here’s the deal. When I was in Sanford, Florida, for the event in Eatonville, Florida, at the church there, the whole purpose of that community forum wasn’t to say, “Make sure he gets arrested,” but we literally walked people through the statutes of the law. “This is what is in the law.” [We] had attorneys there, prosecutors, defense attorneys. People went, “Man! I never heard this before!.”
REV. BRYANT: Well, what happened through the Trayvon Martin ordeal has given America – Black America – a civics class. The “stand your ground” has been on the books in Florida for seven years. It’s been undebated, uncontested –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
REV. BRYANT: — unacknowledged. Now we realize, through a national issue, the power of being organized locally. And so the “stand your ground” law is in 31 states, and so it’s got to be addressed in those 31 states as we go to the polls on November the 6th.
MR. MARTIN: The whole point is voting is one thing –
REV. BRYANT: Yes.
MR. MARTIN: — but you[’ve] got to do something after you vote.
REV. BRYANT: Yeah, give us them church vans on that Tuesday to get those members to the polls.
MR. MARTIN: There ya go. Jamal, we appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
REV. BRYANT: Thank you, sir.