Note: This blog was published in February 2021. While some staff members interviewed no longer work for LWV, all are beloved members of our community!
This Black History Month, LWVUS is celebrating some of our own team members who are at the forefront of the movement for voting rights and justice. Our talented colleagues bring passion and expertise to their jobs every single day. We asked them to share their thoughts on Black History Month, as well as what matters most to them in our quest to Make Democracy Work. Here’s what they shared!
LWVUS Staff featured are: Autumn Banner, former executive assistant; Demetrius Fisher, campaign manager (now southeast regional organizer); LaQuita Howard, communications specialist (now marketing manager), Morgan Murray, program coordinator, and Celina Stewart, chief counsel, senior director of advocacy and litigation
What brought you to work for the League? Why is it important to you to advance voting rights?
Autumn: When looking for nonprofit opportunities, it’s the organizations making a direct impact on systemic issues that I am drawn to. The massive network of volunteer members paired with a long history of fighting the good fight drew me to the League. Moving to DC was a wake-up call for me in regard to the importance of local government. Change starts on the ground in our cities and towns, and educating potential voters and protecting their right to be heard in these arenas is quintessential! It can be pretty exhilarating to think of a day when redistricting maps are fair and public officials get no chance to limit the rights of voters.
Demetrius: I’ve worked with the LWV of Georgia in my previous position with the Georgia NAACP. I’ve always had a passion for advocacy and so this opportunity to join the team at LWVUS is an entry point to reengage. Voting Rights is particularly important to me, because so many people sweated, died, advocated for access to the ballot box and I wanted to do my part to help push back against these attacks. Voting is a fundamental right and is our vehicle to make real change in the communities in which we live.
LaQuita: Having recently moved back to DC in search of meaningful work, I started with the League as a temp and I became connected to the work and fell in love with the League. Advancing voting rights is important to me because voting is a tool that gives us much power. I think about the constant attempts to keep some voices from being heard by those who create the laws. Voter suppression has been an issue since the start of this country, but the more we push for protections against it with legislation like HR1 and HR4, we get closer to a place where all voices are heard and politicians will hold themselves accountable to their constituents.
Morgan: I was introduced to the League in college when I attended a film screening. I connected with the event organizers and soon became a member. I was impressed by the civic education, advocacy, and community engagement. I had such a great experience that when I moved to D.C., I knew I wanted to continue to be involved. As a Black woman, I have seen and experienced how detrimental it can be for communities that are often marginalized to be left out of the conversation. There are many barriers that keep people from participating, gaining access, and having equitable representation. Advancing voting rights is important to me because having a healthy democracy is not only important for myself and my community, but for all.
Celina: Working at the League presented me with the ideal opportunity to leverage my policy chops and my legal training into a single role. I had exposure to the League in college and as a volunteer, because of the joint voter registration work I did with other organizations. The League’s mission to empower voters and defend democracy was really the reason that I applied. As a voting rights and civil rights attorney and advocate, it was just so clear that this was the best next career move for me!
What's one work accomplishment you're really proud of?
LaQuita: My first rally with the League was against gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford, which challenged partisan redistricting in Wisconsin at the Supreme Court. After attending this rally and learning more about the impact of gerrymandering, I became attached to the fight for fair redistricting practices. When I was hired to be the communications specialist for People Powered Fairs Maps, I was excited to be doing creative work for an issue I am passionate about. This was an amazing accomplishment for me!
Morgan: I am proud to have worked with hundreds of our volunteer teams around the country to register, educate, and inform voters and improve voting access.
Celina: I’m most proud of two things: first, spearheading the People Powered Maps redistricting project which has been so rewarding. The Rucho decision, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering was a political question that did not belong in front of federal courts, was such a tough blow to our long-standing work. But I was so inspired that instead of just accepting the decision that the League offered an opportunity to do something about it! Second, is the 2020 election work we did and how that enhanced our litigation portfolio. We, [League leaders around the country and our partners] protected more than 25 million voters nationwide(!) during the general election. While it was so tiring, the feeling of joy when you know you made an impact is priceless.
Autumn: This summer, my manager and I developed new onboarding training for our newly elected Board of Directors. Like many events this year, it was the first time that a Board was trained virtually. It was challenging in this new virtual world of ours; but the Board is up and running now, making great strides as a group, and directing the organization.
Demetrius: I am really proud of the People Powered Fair Maps project and what will have been able to accomplish collectively in Year 1 and Year 2 -- and to be young, Black, and gifted leading this work as the League pushes for more diversity, equity, and inclusion.
When thinking about your own Black history, what brings you the most joy?
Morgan: A quote from James Baldwin comes to mind, “I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.” I am, as well as all Black people, multifaceted. There is both a collective and an individual experience that I do not think often gets recognized. It brings me joy to see Black people humanized and participating in an array of activities, careers, hobbies, and interests.
Demetrius: The tremendous impact on various social justice issues that I’ve been able to accomplish, but also being a role model for other young Black kids showing that we as a people have the knowledge and skillset to make real change in our communities and in the world. I’ve been fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to showcase my work with other organizations and help lay the framework for others to follow. I’ve also been one to get involved in issues that are not only important to me but the communities in which I have served.
LaQuita: I am paving the way for those to come after me and inspiring those who came before me. Yes, my life is my own but every time I dare to go further and do something outside of the norm, I expand the possibilities for my nieces, nephew, little cousins, and hopefully my own children someday.
Autumn: The fact that it even exists. I am so grateful for my family and ancestors that gave me life. We know that erasure of history is an effective way to kill a culture. But I am so proud of and humbled by the endurance and perseverance of my family in the face of evil for centuries and the preservation of our history. They continued to laugh, create stories and traditions, and establish supportive communities. That brings me joy.
Celina: For me, Black history is a celebration of what we as African-Americans have accomplished and the lessons learned from our collective and individual experience. In thinking about how I fit into that, I realize that I have overcome a lot in my life and I am grateful to my parents, family, and friends who served as inspiration along the way. People have said that I have done things like, “breaking glass ceilings” and “inspire generations to come,” but what they don’t say is the ‘chile, it takes A LOT of work to get there and that role can be a heavy weight to carry on your shoulders!’ Quite frankly, I don’t really think about what I do as breaking ceilings, but more as my personal mission which is to liberate as many Black and brown people as I can through my talents, works, and words. I hope we all can take a moment this month, and every month, to just celebrate the beautiful contributions of African Americans around us.
Anything else you want to add as you think about the importance of Black History Month?
LaQuita: Black History Month is a time for celebration, remembrance, and reflection on the greatness of our ancestors, living legends, and those whose names we may not know but have impacted the lives of those in their communities. We celebrate how far we come, acknowledging how far we have to go, while continuously finding joy in what it means to be a part of Black history in the making.
Autumn: This time of year is a great time to learn and teach others about the painful, wonderful, awe-inspiring history of Black people in the United States. But uncovering and sharing the real truth of our history doesn’t begin and end in February. And it didn’t begin and end this summer either. Continue to push for truth and continue to amplify all Black voices!
Demetrius: Black History Month for me is year-round and our accomplishments can’t be just celebrated in one month of the year. So, I don’t box myself in the whole concept of February being Black History Month but take comfort in knowing that WE have made a tremendous impact on the whole ecosystem that we sometimes find ourselves boxed into.
Celina: I am forever inspired by Gandhi who said, be the change you want to see in the world. To that timeless expression I would add “…and accept that anything worth changing won’t be easy but in the end, it will likely be totally worthwhile.” I look forward to all of the moments to celebrate African American culture, discourse, history, and accomplishments. Happy Black History Month!
Morgan: I hope that one day, in addition to Black history being celebrated in February, the vast and expansive history and contributions of Black people are integrated year-round.