A day after Hip-Hop star Drake and his “It’s All a Blur” tour filled State Farm Arena Monday night, another international superstar found her way to Atlanta for a tour stop.
The line outside of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Capel, located on the campus of Morehouse College, stretched around the building past the school store and into an adjacent section of the campus. Hundreds of students and faculty awaited the arrival of United States Vice President Kamala Harris, who returned to Atlanta Tuesday for her “Fight for our Freedoms” tour.
Having made several visits to Atlanta’s colleges and universities earlier this year, Harris made sure to spend some time in the Atlanta University Center (AUC) while on this particular tour.
Prior to Harris taking the stage, the Morehouse College marching band, “The House of Funk,” performed renditions of the Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, the Luther Vandross classic, “All My Love” and New Edition’s “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Can You Stand the Rain.” The latter bringing the packed chapel to its feet to sing along with the band. Both fraternities and sororities from the entire AUC also performed step routines that continued to keep the energy up as the crowd awaited Harris.
When the music stopped the sound that vibrated throughout the chapel when Harris finally came out from behind the curtains to the right of the stage was similar to a jet taking off or the demolition of the Georgia Dome some years ago. It was loud.
“Thank you to all of the young leaders that are here,” she said after the applause died down. “I wanted to be here to say thank you because your generation is a special one.”
“You all are not willing to sit passively by,” she added.
Harris spoke of the students, ages 17-22 having had to grow up with active shooter drills, Covid safety requirements and learning by Zoom as part of their education journeys. When she asked how many were in agreement with her statement, there were un-raised hands in the massive room.
Harris’ visit to Morehouse allowed her to speak to students from the other colleges that make up the AUC, including Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Morris Brown College and the Morehouse School of Medicine. The country’s only consortium of HBCUs, the Atlanta University Center and other HBCU campuses will also become important political touchpoints heading into the 2024 presidential election.
Among the topics she and moderators Gia Peppers and Cedric Richmond discussed were gun violence and gun safety measures, climate change and climate justice, voting rights and education.
On voting Harris said to the students, “I’m here to remind you of the power of your vote” and “We can never let the powerful forces that have always tried to silence us win.”
On book-banning, critical race theory and how some members of Congress are leading the way in their respective states on whitewashing slavery and its destructive impact on Black Americans, Harris, the first Black woman to hold her respective office said “Black history is American history, period. It’s not a debatable point.”
Harris pointed out that there was a record number of young voter turnout four years ago and there needs to be again next year. Moments earlier Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who made sure to compliment the energy in the room, threw out some statistics to the students in attendance that further solidified the need for HBCUs in this country and its graduates around the world. Cardona said 40% of Black engineers in the United States come from HBCUs, 50% of Black teachers come from HBCUs, 70% of Black doctors and 80% of Black judges as well. All of those respective professions are more likely to vote in not only presidential elections, but for local government, and in senatorial, congressional and gubernatorial elections.
“And 100% of Black vice presidents,” he added to massive applause.
The third stop on the nationwide tour of both Historically Black Colleges and Universities and predominantly white institutions (PWIs), Harris has already visited Hampton University and North Carolina A&T University, as well as Reading Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania, earlier this month. There are plans for Harris, a graduate of Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C., to visit PWIs in Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin during October, according to a schedule on the White House website. But this visit to the heart of HBCU education in the south is always unique.
Earlier in the afternoon Morehouse College President David A. Thomas welcomed the students and guests prior to Harris taking the stage. Thomas asked the students to pay close attention to what Harris was going to tell them because they were the future voters and leaders of the community.
“Students, you have the power to effect change on a local, state and national level,” Thomas said.
Senator Raphael Warnock and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens followed Thomas and also addressed the crowd before Harris took the stage. Warnock, a Morehouse College graduate, said he was proud to be back in the AUC and that ” change and progress in this country happens when young people stand up.”
He added, “Don’t let anyone roll our progress back.”
Dickens, who has seen his popularity wane a bit among younger Atlantans due to ongoing “Cop City” protests, told the crowd that Atlanta was a “group project” and one way they can contribute to that group project is “to vote in all elections.”
The student government presidents from Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College and Spelman College took turns rallying their fellow students to vote in the upcoming local elections or register to do so.
Bria Banks, the Spelman College SGA president called Harris a trailblazer and inspiration to young people of color adding, “I am grateful to have vice president Harris in the Atlanta University Center. It is our responsibility to lead the charge of addressing these pressing issues,” said Banks.
The fight for freedoms continues. “We are taught at HBCUs and in our communities that history is kind of a relay race,” said Harris. “We are carrying the baton for our part of the race.”