By Tasha Ellis
Have you ever believed that you can change the world? Have you believed that you could help to eradicate injustice?
Growing up in a family that was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement, I learned that we win as we unite with a common purpose to support the evolution of humanity.
My grandfather, Thomas C. Chatmon Sr., was one of my greatest examples of someone who was an agent of change. In 1961, he and eight others founded the Albany Movement because they were weary of blatant injustices in Albany, Georgia.
When white-owned banks would not approve funding for his business, the Black community supported his endeavors by purchasing his products, and eventually he was able to franchise in three different states.
In December 1961, about 700 demonstrators were jailed for staging sit-ins and freedom rides. My family used money from their business, Chatmon’s Beauty Supply, to help finance the Albany Movement.
My grandfather often emphasized the importance of voter registration. And so voting, for me, became a sacred act.
In the meantime, my father Fred Ellis moved to Oakland and carried out another sort of civil rights effort. He started a successful program to help more African-Americans become teachers, and he used his own voting rights to campaign for candidates who supported this mission.
In 2014, I personally discovered, like those before me, that we still have to help people carry out the right to vote., and I became committed to voter registration. Personally, I found great inspiration in my pastor, Dr. Raphael Warnock of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. He passionately advocates against society’s injustices, and he was a spokesperson for the New Georgia Project.
The New Georgia Project works to decrease the number of unregistered voters in the state of Georgia. In 2014, Georgia had approximately 800,000 unregistered voters.
The group collected more than 87,000 voter registration forms. Other groups working in conjunction with the New Georgia Project collected as many as 20,000 more voter registration forms.
Challenges occurred and nearly 40,000 of the registered applicants did not show up on the registrar’s roll.
The New Georgia Project filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Date Brian Kemp in October 2014 alleging that the “missing” voters were being ignored.
The judge dismissed the case that the New Georgia Project filed. Kemp said that the case was “frivolous.”
Fifty years after my grandfather’s involvement in the struggle, voter suppression is still alive and well. In spite of this inequity, progress is essential.
The New Georgia Project will continue to build upon the work from 2014 and looks forward to registering and engaging even more Georgians in 2015.
For additional information about the New Georgia Project, visit www.newgeorgiaproject.org
Tasha Ellis is a voting rights activist and graduate student.