Black voters: Racial justice, health care access are the top issues in this election
Indya Smith-Johnson has been pushing for police reform ever since her father had a troubling "interaction" with a Naperville cop last November.
She sees voter involvement in the coming election as key to producing change.
"It was a very negative experience," said Smith-Johnson, 18, declining to share details of the incident that left her family "shaken."
Smith-Johnson said she also had her own brushes with racism at Naperville Central High School, from which she graduated last school year. They prompted her to join the DuPage County NAACP and the Unity Partnership, a coalition of community leaders, law enforcement agencies and cultural, ethnic and religious groups promoting dialogue about implicit bias.
She helped organize several Black Lives Matter marches after the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd sparked nationwide protests and riots.
"One of the biggest things that keeps me up at night is there (are) still more (shootings by police) happening, systemic legislative policies that need to be changed," said Smith-Johnson, who is working to get out the youth vote for Nov. 3.
Suburban Black voters like her say there is a lot at stake for people of color in this election. It's been a racially charged year in a variety of ways. The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged Black and Latino communities disproportionately. Police brutality cases against unarmed Blacks have drawn national attention. White supremacist groups have become more active and visible. And Blacks have felt a growing concern over voter suppression, intimidation and lack of access.
"Voting is a really easy way to express your beliefs and express the things that are going to benefit you, just like marching in a protest," Smith-Johnson said. "I anticipate the numbers for youth voting will increase from previous years."
Though not a monolith, Black voters traditionally have leaned Democratic, and their turnout rates have been among the highest in past presidential elections.
A record 30 million Black Americans are eligible to vote in this year's presidential election, making up 12.5% of the electorate, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. The survey also found 63% of Black registered voters are extremely motivated to vote.
Many Black voters will choose a candidate "who can dismantle systemic racism and call out white supremacy," said Timothy Franklin, 29, of Schaumburg, a counselor at Prospect High School in Mount Prospect.
Social media has amplified and fueled global outrage over the killings of unarmed Blacks, while the coronavirus pandemic has illuminated inequities in education, employment, housing, health and gender issues affecting Blacks.
"The crisis of the Black community, the things that we have been fighting for and struggling with for 400 years in this country, suddenly became a moment of awakening for the world," said Elaine Mosley of Woodridge, a member of the DuPage County NAACP's education committee.
Many Blacks fear losing access to health care protections provided by the Affordable Care Act if the law is repealed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court is a step closer to a 6-3 conservative majority with President Donald Trump's nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, on the verge of being confirmed.
" The leadership of today is ready to roll back the times, back to when we were not afforded the vote, not afforded education or health care," said Regina Brent, founder of Unity Partnership. "We cannot afford to lose the ACA. Our children are at stake here. Our health is at stake."
Michael Childress, 64, of Bloomingdale, president of the DuPage County NAACP, said Black voters should be more concerned about local and congressional races that have a greater impact on their lives.
"We need to send people back to Congress that understand our issues," he said. "We have to change the paradigm that our votes don't count. You've got to show up en masse at the polls."