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'Every Vote Matters': Black Teens On Their First Presidential Election

Kirkwood native, Lauryn Miller, is one of many young Black voters preparing to vote in her first presidential election. "I don't want to be someone who just talks about things they hope for or even just signs petitions," she said, "but I know that voting is one of the only ways to get concrete change, and so I want to make sure that I'm a part of that."
Lauryn Miller
Kirkwood native Lauryn Miller is one of many young Black voters preparing to vote in a presidential election for the first time. "I don't want to be someone who just talks about things they hope for or even just signs petitions," she said, "but I know that voting is one of the only ways to get concrete change, and so I want to make sure that I'm a part of that."

The general election is a little more than a month away.

In the midst of the rhetoric, TV ads and distant rallies, some young Black people are preparing to vote in their very first presidential election.

St. Louis Public Radio asked Kirkwood native Lauryn Miller, 18, and Jermaine Lathen and Areanna Whittington from St. Louis, both also 18, about why they’re voting and what issues they want politicians to address.

Why are you voting in the general election?

Lauryn Miller: I'm voting this year in the general election, because I definitely understand the importance of voting and just the people who have come before me, especially as a Black woman, and they really have fought for me to have this right to vote, and I definitely understand for more change to happen, I have to use that right.

Jermaine Lathen: I am voting in the general election, because I believe that every vote matters. I have family and friends tell me all the time that they won't vote because it won't sway the election in their favor at all. But that is the farthest from the truth. As one vote is one of many just like yours, so your vote will always matter.

Areanna Whittington: I am voting in the general election, because it is my right to vote. And I know that my ancestors weren't allowed to vote before, and I feel like it'd be a waste if I didn't vote this upcoming election.

Jermaine Lathen, 18, will be voting in upcoming 2020 General Election.
Jermaine Lathen
Jermaine Lathen, 18, will be voting in the 2020 general election.

What do your friends and family think about you voting? Is it a big deal at home?

Miller: It's for sure a big deal at home. My mom, even for local elections, will text us the ballot and explain to us what we're voting on and just make sure me, my siblings, my dad, we're all ready to go when the time comes around. Both of my parents do vote. They have both been working my entire life, but they definitely make sure that it doesn't get in the way. And so whether that's voting before work or right after, they make sure that they go and exercise that right.

Lathen: Well, voting is a big deal in my household year in and year out. My parents vote every year, whether it be for the presidency, Congress, local alderman, etc. As my siblings and I get older, we all hope to follow in my parents' lead in terms of yearly voting. My friends have all just reached the voting age in the last couple of years or so. So I've yet to see where we all stand on the voting consensus, but for now, it looks like we're all ready to vote in the upcoming November election.

Whittington: For my family they really appreciate that I do vote. They're really happy. I remember the first time I voted. They were just so, they were proud. I saw smiles on their faces. I felt special.

What do you hope your vote accomplishes?

Miller: I hope my vote accomplishes, just bring a step towards some of the change that we want to see. I don't want to be someone who just talks about things they hope for or even just signs petitions. But I know that voting is one of the only ways to get concrete change, and so I want to make sure that I'm a part of that.

Lathen: I hope that my vote accomplishes change. Simple. Change in the social justice system, the health care system, federal loan system and many more. There are as many and maybe more corrupt policies and politicians than there are good ones in government, and that is unacceptable. So hopefully, my vote and the votes of millions of others can change that.

Whittington: I hope my vote accomplishes to get Trump out of office.

What are some issues that you would like to see the candidates that you vote for tackle during their time in office?

Miller: One of the really big issues that I hope to see being tackled would definitely be health care. I think it's so hard to see that in this nation that has so much good going on and there's just so much to offer. That health care and kind of just the right to live has become such a luxury item. And so I really hope we get to the point that we can emulate other nations in the way they have already accomplished universal health care.

Lathen: What I believe the biggest issues plaguing America today [are] social injustice and gun control. There has been next to nothing done about the countless police brutality stories and mass shootings, and it's getting uncomfortable at this point. No person in the United States should be living in fear in the most free country on Earth. The last 10 years have seen both of these issues skyrocket under the watch of men and women in government, who sit back and pretend like these issues don't exist, and it's disturbing.

St. Louis native Areanna Whittington is looking forward to voting in the upcoming general election.
Areanna Whittington
St. Louis native Areanna Whittington is looking forward to voting in the upcoming general election.

Whittington: Issues that I would like to see the candidates tackle when they get into office, [are] basically systemic racism, global warming, the ICE situation, corona and making sure people have jobs and people are safe.

What are some events that occurred in your life that made you want to pay attention to local and national politics?

Miller: One of the main events that has occurred in my life, I think would primarily be just be being a Black woman. And though I grew up with so many resources and access to different things, I've definitely been able to see the impact my skin color can have. And that with certain different candidates and with the wrong laws or even sheriff, when you're looking at local things, it can have a great impact on individuals. And though me and my immediate family have not been specifically impacted by this, I just want to make sure that those who look like me can have a safe space to grow up and to chase things and just to accomplish things in spite of what their skin color is, their socioeconomic status is, and anything else that might make their background different than someone else.

Lathen: The election of our current president made me pay attention to politics on the local, state and national levels. The hypocrisy, untrustworthiness and lack of morals that have been shown in the past four years by our president and his Cabinet have been embarrassing, to say the least. I believe this election woke up the beast in not only Blacks in America, but all the oppressed … and frowned-upon citizens and noncitizens of this country.

Whittington: It was in the summer of 2020 about the Black Lives Matter movement and when George Floyd died by that cop. And then just more and more people were unjustly murdered by police officers and how the protesters were treated [and how] they were portrayed [in the] media … it was just so messed up.

What are your fears about the upcoming election?

Miller: I think my fear about the upcoming election would be that people get frustrated with the shortcomings of certain candidates and that they decide to not vote at all. And I think honestly, with so much talk around what President Trump has or hasn't done in this nation, not voting honestly would just be voting for him again. And so, I think it's just super important that as much as people talk about the lesser of two evils, I just really hope people honestly weigh out the options [and] that they get to know all the candidates.

Lathen: Well, my biggest fear and probably the fear of a lot of other people in the upcoming election has to be the possibility of the majority voting for a second term of our current president. He has done nothing that proves he deserves a second term. Actually, he has done quite the opposite. And if people can't see that, then the future of our country is in fast trouble.

Whittington: [My] fear about the upcoming election is probably that Trump gets reelected. That is scary. That is terrifying to me. Terrifying. Like it makes me want to cry. He just lies so much. Well, there's more. There's a lot more. But one big thing, he lies so much to his supporters [and] to the whole world.

Are you doing anything to encourage your friends and classmates to register and vote?

Miller: I am actually leading the charge, especially on my basketball team, and making sure that all of my teammates are registered. That they've all signed up for absentee ballots since we’ll be here at school. And I'm just definitely making sure that everyone is aware and that they're ready to go come election time.

Lathen: I encourage my friends to vote all the time. Some may frown upon it. But I check up on them every once in a while to see if they've changed their minds. And I'm proud to say I've done my part to help my friends see that voting, and just not in the big election, is as important a thing that they will ever do.

Whittington: I don't have to. They want to. We already scheduled a time. And we're all going to be riding there together, making sure we all vote.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @marissanne2011

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.