Monday, August 10, 2020

More Than A Vote: How Lebron James is leveraging star power to empower voters

By Alexandria Battle
NDG
Special Contributor

The man commonly known as “King James” is bringing his influence to a new arena: the voting one.

LeBron James, current Los Angeles Laker and one of the NBA’s most talented and well-known players, has created a new nonprofit voting initiative aimed at protecting the voting rights of Black Americans and other minorities. His new project, entitled “More Than A Vote,” involves him partnering with several other prominent figures inside and outside the world of sports to encourage underrepresented communities to bring their voices to the ballot box.

Throughout the country, concerns of voter suppression efforts are leading people to both action and protest. (Photo: Michael Fleshman / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Change doesn’t happen sitting on the sideline,” he said on Twitter while sharing the link to the organization’s website last month. The words are also front and center on the website itself.

But their goals aren’t limited to increasing turnout at the November presidential election—James, Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat, businessman Maverick Carter, sports analyst Jalen Rose, comedian Kevin Hart and other athletes and entertainers will also be using their considerable influence to combat the rising threat of voter suppression. A fair amount of time will be used to educate new and returning minorities on the history of voting, how to vote now, and what restrictions there are on voting.

Mr. James told the New York Times: “Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial.” He mentioned informing minorities of what efforts the “other side” is making to depress voter turnout, though he did not name specific people or organizations for the paper. This may be because the project is meant to be party-neutral. Ultimately, the goal of More Than A Vote is to protect the Black community and fight racial injustice, myths and misinformation with knowledge and activism.

The former Cleveland Cavalier has practiced what he preaches when it comes to social activism. Prior to this project, he previously helped low-income college students attend the University of Akron by assisting them with tuition, and started the I Promise School in Akron in 2018 to offer a STEM-based education to low-income students in grades one through eight. With these programs firmly entrenched in his home state, it appears that James is now ready to use his star power on a national level.

Unsurprisingly, this initiative is inspired by the recent murder of George Floyd in May by Officer Derek Chauvin and several other Minneapolis police officers. Like many others across the country, James was profoundly affected by Floyd’s death. The resulting protests stirred his desire to “get out and do a little bit more.” So far, that ‘little bit more’ has included donating $100,000 to the Florida Rights Restoration Commission (a group started to help ex-felons register to vote and combat rampant voter suppression in Florida), and partnering with Michigan election officials and NBA teams to identify and prepare large sites (such as basketball arenas) for in-person balloting while observing safety measures put into place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. And along with Michigan and Florida, More Than A Vote has set its sights on increasing voter turnout and interest in battleground states like Kentucky, Georgia and Wisconsin.

There has been little word so far on whether the organization’s efforts to break down minority voter suppression will extend to Texas, long considered a conservative bastion and known to struggle with maintaining equitable access to the ballot box for all its citizens. But there is no doubt that the interest is there for other prominent figures in sports. Chiney Ogwumike, star of the WNBA L.A. Sparks and commenter on ESPN, is a Houston native and excited to work in her home state to amplify women and minorities’ voices this November and beyond.

Speaking of James’ initiative, she said, “One thing I love about this is we’re all athletes who are focused on the same goal…. We want to better society through action, and we do that by voting.”

With any luck, More Than A Vote will provide plenty of opportunities for local celebrities and activists to improve voting access for Dallas Black communities in the lead up to the presidential election and in the years to come. More information can be found at www.morethanavote.org.

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