Between gun violence, the overturning of landmark case Roe v. Wade, and many other political issues circulating the nation, people’s basic human rights are in jeopardy.

Clark Atlanta University hosted a Student Town Hall conversation with House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries and CAU alum, U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson on Thursday, April 13 to talk with students and young people about how they can get involved in critical, public-policy decisions facing the U.S.

In his first visit to any college campus, Jeffries appeared at CAU to also discuss evening the playing field with students and making the landscape as equitable as possible in society.

“These are some challenging times that we find ourselves in. There’s a lot of hope and opportunity to make America the best version of herself and we must deal with some of the challenges, so that all of you can pursue the American Dream, which can be whatever you make it,” Jeffries said. “We want to create opportunity in every zip code so you can take your natural talent, brilliance, ability, and work ethic to be a part of our future here in America. As young people, you’ve always been the catalyst for change in society.”

Johnson said we are at a “critical moment” in the nation’s history.

“Our basic human rights, our voting rights, reproductive rights, the right to marry the person you love, the right to identify as your authentic self, and the right to attend public spaces without fear of gun violence; these rights are under attack in a major way,” Johnson said. “But what gives me hope is that every time I turn on the news, it’s students and young people like you of all ages, races, backgrounds, and identities who are saying, ‘enough’.”

CAU students and faculty with U.S. Congressman Johnson and Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries (center).
Photo by Isaiah Singleton/The Atlanta Voice

Johnson’s referring to the recent Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, which also has advocates worried about what the precedent’s reversal could mean for LGBTQ+ health and the community’s recently gained rights.

The younger generation, Johnson said, are “all on the frontlines of some of the fiercest battles to protect our democracy and our civil rights for generations”.

“I have faith you will be victorious in the end. It was young students who led the chance of ‘no justice, no peace’, which forced the triumphant returns of State Representatives Justin Pearson and Justin Jones,” he said. “So let this be a reminder that our rights and basic humanity can never be taken for granted, not even for a second, but they must be defended and expanded to welcome other historically marginalized communities with every incoming generation, including yours.”

There are various ways, Jeffries said, in which young people can get involved with public-policy decisions.

“Advocacy on the ground and Congressman Johnson referenced in the context of those young people in Nashville and Memphis and throughout Tennessee demanded that it be a just resolution to the unjust efforts to expel those two young Black legislatives; and that was public pushback and advocacy that was very important and consistent with what the first amendment promises, which is freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to get together as a part of the right that you also have to petition your government, and that’s very important to do,” he said.

Jeffries (above) told students there are many ways to get involved such as voting and finding out who your local representatives are.
Photo by Isaiah Singleton/The Atlanta Voice

Jeffries also encouraged students to identify their representatives at the city council, state legislative, county, and congressional levels, and petition them when there are issues that they believe are important to raise.

“It matters and does make a difference and it’s also important for us to vote. Not everyone votes, some people take that for granted and say, ‘Why vote? It doesn’t make a difference.’ Here in Georgia, it made a difference and the fact that on January 5, 2021, you sent two democratic senators to Washington,” he said. “This created an opportunity where we have an enlightened government where we could pass things like the American Rescue Plan to provide you all with the support to make it through COVID-19 and to have the opportunity to have the debt of some students wiped clean. Had both not prevailed, there wouldn’t have been no American Rescue Plan, etc.”

Furthermore, Jeffries said to “think about running for office”.

“That doesn’t mean that if you run, you’ll run and win the first time, I lost twice. If you look at a lot of people who managed to make it into higher office, most didn’t make it their first time,” he said. “            That great statesman Churchill from the 20th century from Great Britain once said that success is not final, failure is not fatal, all that matters is the courage to continue. A knockdown is different than a knockout.”

Johnson said it is the younger generation’s turn to “take up the space you deserve and demand a seat at the table.”

“If you see injustice against anyone, remember it is your duty to call it out. An injustice to one is an injustice to all. The public-policy decisions happening at the local, state, and federal level affect you, your friends, and family and it requires your attention,” he said. “That’s why we are here today, to share how you can influence these decisions and push for the changes that you want to see happen.”

“People can tell you all kinds of things, but it’s up to you to decide when to move. If you aren’t bold, lack courage, too timid, or don’t believe that you can, then you won’t.”