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ASPiRE Students Work on Election Initiatives

DeJah Lee, a second year VCU ASPiRE student, stood behind a table in Mosby Court in the stifling August heat with a clipboard in her hand registering eligible voters. Next to her stood Anthony Jones, a student in VCU’s Honor College and an Andrew Goodman Fellow. He handed out information to those who needed to have their rights restored. Both Lee and Jones were participating in the annual Mosby Court Community Day event, which is designed to build pride and enthusiasm within the residents of Mosby. Mosby Court is a public housing development located less than a mile east of VCU’s medical campus.

“What we did in Mosby is help people prepare to do their civic duty,” said Lee. “Being registered to vote is the first step in the process.”  

As the residents enjoyed arts and crafts activities organized by the ASPiRE students and the fried fish provided by the Mosby Tenant Council, Jones canvassed the crowd to get people registered. Many of the residents said that they were already registered, but Jones was not deterred and kept canvassing. 

The first cohort of ASPiRE students partnered with the Mosby Tenant Council in 2012 to start a non-partisan Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) effort in Mosby. The number of Mosby residents already registered to vote may be partly due to the efforts started by the first ASPiRE class. The idea for the GOTV effort came directly from the leaders of the Mosby Tenant Council. Patricia Williford, president of the Mosby Tenant Council, approached VCU ASPiRE about partnering with the residents to mobilize voter turnout.

“It is critical that the Mosby residents understand that their vote is the most important way for their voice to be heard," she said. “We are very grateful for the support of the ASPiRE students because we cannot turn things around by ourselves.” 

For the past five years, the students have worked in Mosby to help conduct voter registration drives, organize voter education events and help residents exercise their right to vote on Election Day. This year the students worked with the residents to plan a voter education luncheon in mid-October. Representative Robert C. “Bobby” Scott was the featured speaker. Rep. Scott told the residents that voting is an important way to support the issues that they care about. 

“Vote to help choose lawmakers who will represent you,” he said.

As Election Day approached, both the students and the Mosby residents received surprises. The first sweet surprise came from a Ben & Jerry’s franchise owner from the Charlottesville area.  The owner showed up unannounced in Mosby to hand out ice cream to celebrate National Voter Registration Day. The residents were reminded to vote as they indulged in their free scoops of Empower Mint, a new ice cream flavor. 

The second surprise came when a group of British Journalists sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the International Center for Journalists requested a meeting with VCU students the first Saturday in November at the ASPiRE building. The journalists were traveling around the U.S. to learn how the presidential and local elections looked through the eyes of college students. Students Lilia Souri and Olivia Jennings, both representing the VCU Votes Campaign, and Cydni Gordon, representing the iPadJournos election reporting project, were interviewed by Journalist Jonathan Walker and included in the article he wrote for a British newspaper. 

The day before the election, ASPiRE student Wesley Huie walked door-to-door in Mosby passing out nearly 300 flyers to remind people to vote on Tuesday and to instruct them on where they could catch rides to the poll. On Election Day, Josh Ring, a former ASPiRE student, helped to provide free rides to the polls.

“The main goal of ASPiRE is to help those with the greatest need,” Ring said. “I am proud that I was able to drive people to the polls who may not have otherwise voted.”  

For more information, contact Nannette Bailey, ASPiRE community partnership coordinator, at nabailey@vcu.edu.