We’re less than a year away from the presidential election and Nykidra Robinson, a lifelong Baltimore-area resident, wants her community’s vote to impact policy. Not just national policy, but local policy. And the 32-year-old founder of the newly formed organization Black Girls Vote thinks the most important way to do that is by encouraging women in her community to vote. I spoke to Robinson on the phone about the genesis of and plans for Black Girls Vote. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
CM: So, tell me, what’s the origin story for Black Girls Vote? How did it come to be?
NR: It began with a vision I had—the vision of bringing together dynamic women. There are a lot of issues taking place in our community. And I wanted to mobilize and get together with other women to address them.
Primary day in Baltimore is Tuesday, April 26. This is the first time that the primary has been held in April. People aren’t accustomed to voting in April, it’s the first year we’ve done it. [In 2012 The organization is a great opportunity to enlighten and educate.
CM: It’s relatively new, right?
NR: I purchased the domain name in early May. And I was sitting on it and sitting on it. Then I pulled women together in September. In September I made a move on it. We went public on November 8th because it’s one year away from presidential election and because that following Monday, November 30th, was Shirley Chisholm’s birthday. [Editor's note: Chisholm was the first black woman elected to U.S. Congress.]
CM: What is Black Girls Vote? What’s your platform?
NR: Education, economic advancement and ensuring quality health care. We are not necessarily partisan. We’re not going to say we’re for a specific candidate because they’re a woman. We are an organization made up of a diverse group and we welcome participation from all; independent of race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. We believe political participation should be inclusive of all groups of society. Our voice is our vote.
CM: What’s your plan of action? How are you going to be impactful?
NR: The first thing we want to do is to empower women. There is truth and power in your vote. And we want to equip them with knowledge and facts. We want to engage them. We know that the decisions we make will impact policy. So, first we’re concentrating on registering 1,000 women [in Baltimore] to vote. And we’re doing that by training 200 women to register them.
We’re figuring out creative ways to do that. We’re training our city’s hair salon owners, boutique owners, nail technicians. You know, when you do those jobs, you’re also a psychologist. You just come to the salon and you feel free. We talk about so many things in the salon. And there’s so much we talk around policy, some people might not know that.
We’re also going into the schools. Western High School, where we kicked off, is an all-girls school. Those young women are so fired up. We are going to do a school tour at high schools and colleges. We’re going to be working with our seniors at senior centers.
One idea we had that I don’t think anyone has ever done is an umbrella and poncho drive. Rain always decreases voter turnout so we want our community to be prepared. So for our primary election in Baltimore, in April, we’re going to collect a thousand ponchos and umbrellas, so if it rains we’re literally covered.
CM: According to the census bureau about 66 percent of black Americans voted in 2012. That’s high. Why do we need to encourage more?
NR: We do vote, it’s a fact. But this is a call to action. We need you to vote. And it’s our civic duty because black women fought for the right to vote.
CM: Do you have plans to expand the organization?
NR: Collier, if you think we can expand nationally then I believe it! Eventually, yes. But right now we’re making sure that the organization’s method’s are so robust that they can be duplicated elsewhere. We need folks from DC, Atlanta, and Philadelphia to come here first, then we’ll go help them.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.