The blessing of Black men: Our lives, our voices, and our votes matter

The blessing of Black men: Our lives, our voices, and our votes matter
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My father is the man I hope to be one day, my hero. He grew up in the South with no prospects, and no indoor plumbing. He picked cotton and was forced to attend integrated schools — forced because, like many young men of his generation, he saw only the risk and danger and none of the reward. He reminds me often that there were times when he was treated like a second-class citizen. Sadly, many in my generation say they’re still experiencing some of the same.

He graduated high school and went on to serve his country in the military. He provided for me and my three siblings by working two jobs for most of my life. And he’s a quintessential gentleman.

Yet right now, being Black in America means:

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  • Black men are half as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than white men.
  • Blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed than whites and, when Black men are employed, get paid about 70 cents on the dollar.
  • Black students are three times more likely to be suspended and expelled than their white classmates, and make up 31 percent of all school-related arrests but only 16 percent of enrollment.
  • One in three black men born today can expect to spend part of their lives in prison.
  • The leading cause of death for black men ages 18 to 34 is homicide.

On top of that, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports that “Black men have the highest age-adjusted, all-cause mortality rate and arguably the worst health status of any race-gender group in the U.S.”

So, when I look at my father and my brothers, when I think about my grandfathers, who passed away before I came along, I have to recognize their examples as exceptions rather than the rule. It could have been very different for them.

You see, for a Black man in America, it doesn’t take much. It’s as easy as one argument that gets too heated. That can be the difference between life and death. It’s one teacher who looks at you with frustration instead of understanding, one principal who sees you as just another troublemaker instead of a smart kid who isn’t being challenged, and that can be the difference between a set of handcuffs and a cap and gown.  

So I look at my brothers and my father, and I think about those stories about my grandfathers, and it reminds me that our lives, our voices, and our votes matter.

In October, I wrote an opinion piece for the New York Daily News predicting that Black men will be key to winning not just the Democratic presidential nomination but the White House. Now I can tell you, without a doubt, that we will be a swing vote in November, maybe the swing vote.

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Roughly 13 percent of the Black men who voted in 2016 cast their ballots for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE. For whatever reason, it happened — but it cannot happen again. As George Santayana famously said, and Majority Whip Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnJaime Harrison seeks to convince Democrats he can take down Lindsey Graham Biden and BLM must set aside differences, focus on beating Trump The blessing of Black men: Our lives, our voices, and our votes matter MORE (D-S.C.) often reminds us: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” 

There’s reason to believe that Democrats have learned from 2016’s mistakes — as evidenced by former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Tammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream Mexico's president uses US visit to tout ties with Trump MORE’s “Lift Every Voice” plan and the “Chop it Up” initiative of the Democratic National Committee and the DNC Black Caucus, designed to engage Black men on the issues most important in their communities and empower them to take on greater roles in politics and government.

But that’s only part of the equation. It’s going to take all of us to win this election — every Black man and woman eligible to vote, and even those who don’t look like us, who lack our shared experiences and can’t always see things from our perspective.  

Our message must always be: Our lives matter. Our voices matter. Our votes matter.

Yes, criminal justice reform matters, but so do health care, infrastructure, education and wages. Environmental justice matters to us, too. Voting rights matter. Gun safety matters.

And let’s not be fooled: Republicans see our political net worth as well. Look at the ads. Look at the polls. Look at the heightened racial rhetoric and their continued voter suppression efforts. 

Odds are, if you live in South Carolina, you’ve heard the story about how my grandmother’s grandfather, the Rev. Moses Butler, spent his life working other men’s fields while also serving his calling as a traveling preacher. He saved every penny he could until he was able to purchase a piece of land, which he donated to a community of southern Black sharecroppers to build a church they could call their own. When the church was burned to the ground, they rebuilt it and named it after him: Butler Chapel AME Church. 

I took a drive the other day because I needed to see it again, this building that I can never forget, to remind myself that even when they come with gas and torches and leave you nothing but ash and memory, a people united will rebuild upon strong foundations — not just for themselves, but for the generations to come. 

I needed to remind myself of not just who we are, but who we can be.

The election four years ago left the Democratic Party reeling. But our foundations remain strong and we can rebuild in 2020. No, we must rebuild because the stakes are too high. Generations of Black boys should be able to reach for our fathers’ examples without counting on a lucky roll of the dice. We must rebuild, not just for ourselves but for the generations to come, because our lives, our voices and our votes matter.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.