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Student leaders say students must make time for civic engagement

Voting, working with Black Lives Matter among suggestions

By Taiyler Mitchell, Editor-in-chief
On January 26, 2021

Mister Dillard Justin Mathews, a senior physics major from Atlanta, encouraging DU students to make time for civic engagement during a virtual round-table discussion Jan.18.

NEW ORLEANS (January 26, 2021) – Two student leaders encouraged DU students to use civic engagement as a way of honoring civil rights legend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while improving governance and the community, including voting and working with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Louisiana will hold two special elections for congressional seats on March 20.

Mr. Dillard Justin Matthews, a senior physics major from Atlanta, and Carlos Pollard Jr., a senior criminal justice major from New Orleans, spoke at a Jan. 18 virtual session on “Civic Engagement in the COVID Era” as a component of Dillard’s MLK Day celebration. The two also shared some of the ways they stay involved.

Pollard said, “I found more love for black people when I saw that black people in the middle of a pandemic were willing to risk their lives to fight for something.”

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparked civic unrest across the country. The New York Times reported officer Derek Chauvin, alongside three other police officers, killed Floyd, a black man, during an arrest by kneeling on his neck for approximately 8 minutes and 46 seconds. A video of the incident went viral and prompted weeks of national protests despite national stay-at-home orders despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pollard, who intends to pursue a career in politics, said being civically engaged not only supports a more perfect union but helps him personally with networking. Pollard works with Gary Chambers, a candidate for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., who resigned to become a senior advisor to President Biden and director of the Office of Public Liaison.

Pollard said he met Chambers at Dillard. Pollard also interned with Urban League of Louisiana, based in New Orleans, a civil rights organization with the stated goal of assisting underserved communities in securing economic self-reliance, parity and power.

Matthews discussed his role as ambassador of HBCU Heroes, an initiative that supports HBCU athletics; the group also worked to promote voting in the recent election. Matthews said he worked in about four initiatives making calls, canvassing neighborhoods and sending letters to senators.

Matthews said he understands the pressures of college life, yet encouraged students to make time for civic engagement. He suggested ways students can be active, including:

– Posting on social media

– Sending emails to officials

– Working towards running for office or assisting a candidate

– Working with voter registration

– Supporting black businesses

– Heading to law school

 “Saying ‘I don’t have a way to be impactful’ is not good enough,” said Matthews. “…I think that’s what college is really for – finding what you’re good at when it comes to civic engagement. We all have something we can contribute. Especially as black people, we have to work together.”

Pollard said King “showed us when we work for something and we’re intentional with it, we can get to where we need to go.”

 “We can’t really settle for less. We have to demand what we want. We have to demand what we need in order to climb up that ladder.”

Pollard referred to Vice President Kamala Harris’ phrase she coined in 2018 of being a “joyful warrior,” which he said Chambers also espouses.

 “We have to be joyful for what we want, but we have to keep fighting for it,” Pollard said.

Louisiana will hold two special congressional elections next month – in District 2 to fill Richmond’s vacancy and in District 5 to replace the late Luke Letlow, who died of COVID before he could take the oath of office.

Congressional District 2 includes most of New Orleans and expands west and north towards Baton Rouge, while Congressional District 5 contains parts of northeastern, central and southeast Louisiana.

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