Young adults came out in droves to support President Barack Obama in 2008. But early poll numbers show the youth vote is not as strong this time around. To help get young voters to the polls, the Obama re-election campaign hosted a national HBCU Student Summit last night at North Carolina Central University in Durham. The “Greater Together” initiative uses social media to try to get young voters to volunteer and register to vote.
Leoneda Inge: In order to attend the summit, students had to RSVP online. But then the gathering quickly turned “old school.” Hundreds of students at North Carolina Central University and several other historically black institutions stood in line for hours and then were asked to fill out a small form dedicating themselves to the Obama cause.
Inge: Have you ever signed any kind of pledge like this before?
Lavonza Holliman: No ma’am, this is my first one. I wanted to do it in ’08, but didn’t do it, maybe because I was lazy.
Lavonza Holliman was a freshman in 2008 during the first Obama campaign – but now he’s a 22-year-old senior. Holliman says he can personally relate to a lot of the top issues that concern young people.
Holliman: They’re talking about education, that’s a very important factor, especially with me going to graduate school. The way financial aid and the money is going to be spent from the government towards education is very big for me.
A lot of the students at the summit didn’t vote in the 2008 election, they were still in high school, like Dhia Farr.
Dhia Farr: I’m very-much legal and ready to vote, make a difference in the world!
The NCCU Drumline played and fraternities and sororities stepped to warm up the audience packed into BN Duke Auditorium. A true crowd pleaser was actress and political activist Gabrielle Union. She said stories of an apathetic youth vote have been exaggerated by the media.
Gabrielle Union: We were hoping for 500, we got 1,000. (cheers) So this being the first stop on the Greater Together Summit Tour, we showed them how it was done tonight. Fired up! (Ready to Go!) Eagle Pride! (amplified) Alright, alright, alright. They’re going to learn today!
Students around the country were able to watch a live stream of the HBCU Summit. Twenty-eight more are scheduled. No telling if President Obama will attend any of them in person. He was on video tape this time around. North Carolina Field Director Greg Jackson encouraged students to “Tweet” and “Text” from the event and to send questions to the panel via social media.
Greg Jackson: I need you to text Greater Together to 62262, hold on, and include your zip code. Ya’ll got that, Greater Together to 62262. And if you have an old phone, that’s Obama, if you do not have a smart phone, I’m sorry.
The panel included President Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, Campaign Manager Jim Messina and Congressman G-K Butterfield. They got an earful from students on topics like health care, education, and jobs. Here’s senior Brian Kennedy.
Brian Kennedy: And I can speak for a lot of my classmates, it’s scary to look and say, what am I gonna do. What jobs are out there, because it’s grim. The black unemployment rate last month did drop 2.2-percent, and it has been dropping, but it’s still scary out there.
There are already six field offices for the Obama re-election campaign across North Carolina. Political analysts say it will take a major on-the-ground presence, a large youth vote and more for Democrats to win North Carolina a second time.