Democracy DOES Start Here:
The Work of the EOF Club at Middlesex County College
The word "activism" involves decision making and taking action to accomplish a social, cultural or political goal. Becoming an activist means taking on several roles that include being an advocate, protester, campaigner, radical, militant, promoter, revolutionary or confrontational. Individuals who take on these roles have decided to make a contribution to society. Their decision to contribute means that they will engage others in important, and challenging goals that will strengthen knowledge and improve the human condition.
The Educational Opportunity Fund program of Middlesex County College is a program that is underscored by the activist spirit. Since the late 1960's the program?s acronym, EOF, has implied access, retention and scholastic achievement. Of major importance to the on-going success of these three areas is the participation of students in the co-curricular agenda. This area is very important to the EOF mission. Co-curricular activity calls on students to reflect an activist spirit. The activity is a platform for the creation of organizational leaders, peer mentors and student success. The EOF club leaders strive to bring thought provoking programs that introduce a range of intellectual and diverse topics to the college community and general public. The EOF clubs contributions can be noted in the development of college lectures, cultural symposiums, educational tours, fund raising, service learning, and participation in college affairs.
One of the EOF clubs main contributions is the voter registration drives and informing the college community of the significance of the democratic process. The etymology of the term democracy can be found in the Greek word demokratia. Demos means the people and kratia /kratein means to rule. Hence the word can be interpreted to mean the power or rule of the people. In US history the notion and chant of power to the people was very prevalent during the 1960's civil rights movements. It could be heard throughout the United States during the struggles to establish voter registration drives in places where African American descendants and people from different ethnic cultures were denied this legal opportunity.
It was in 1870 that the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution stipulated that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."1 Moreover, the democratic process and the rule of the people helped to institute further voter rights opportunities in 1920, with the 19th Amendment and in 1971, with the 26th Amendment. Respectively, each stipulated that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex"2 and that "The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age."3
A democracy permits people an opportunity to voice their choice for who will represent them in a political system. A democracy allows people to actively vote and give direction to the exercise of power in different forms of government. It is the vote that impacts on the direction of social policies critical to education and the development of citizens.
The voter registration process in students became a major concern throughout the United States and prompted government, public and business officials to create a systematic procedure to support students in the democratic process. In the Spring of 2004 the former New Jersey Attorney General, Peter C. Harvey,and his office sponsored outreach initiatives in support of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA).4 One of the initiatives was called the "Be Powerful, Be Heard"5 program designed to educate students on the significance of voting and the need for proactive voter registration.
In the Spring of 2005 the Office of the Attorney General put into action the "Be Powerful, Be Heard" program by doing an online student voter education from Perth Amboy high school. The city of Perth Amboy was selected by the Attorney General*s office because of a significant historical moment. Thomas Mundy Peterson, an African American who was employed by the Perth Amboy school system, was the first person of African descent to vote in a municipal election after the instituting of the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution.6 Today, the city of Perth Amboy continues to be a significant recruitment area for African American, Latinos and different cultures who want to pursue studies at Middlesex County College and become proactive citizens.
The Educational Opportunity Fund efforts in the voter registration drives started at Middlesex County College in the Spring 2004 semester. The EOF club executive board assisted the college and the Office of Student Activities with the HAVA mandate. That year the leadership efforts of executive members Rhonda Taylor, President, Donato Rojas, Vice President and Lisa Bailey, Secretary began what was to total 18 days of active voter registration drives in the College Center and at the Student Activities Fairs. The drives have continued to the present time with the help of executive club members, Tyrone Sharpe, Richard Pryce, Dennis Williams, Cynthia Moradel, Claritza Pena, Jose Rodriguez, Wendell Bryant, Hilda Segura, Ana Bella Nunez, and Joely Lisay.
Their outstanding leadership has maintained the voter registration process in many critical areas. They have sought the assistance of the college webmaster in advertising the voter drives to the college campus on the internet and on campus cruiser. The leadership has posted the voter drives at various billboards on campus, passed out voter information at College Center Planning Board meetings, contacted students by mail, set up a voter material and information table at the EOF office, assisted students with the completion of voter registration forms and followed up with the Commissioner of Voter Registration at the Division of Elections in Trenton, New Jersey.
With each registration drive the club attached several activities to attract and disseminate information to students. These activities included campus bake sales, service to feed the homeless at Elijah*s Promise, Katrina relief drives for families relocated to Perth Amboy from Louisiana, service to single parents and their children at Amandla Crossing, lecture celebrations for Latino heritage month, lecture participation in African history month, study tours to the Arturo Schomburg center of the New York Public Library, the Schomburg heritage symposium in Philadelphia, and the northeast U.S. Hispanic Student Leadership Institute (USHLI) conference in Philadelphia.
All their voter registration efforts culminated with an all day trip to the 2005 HIP HOP SUMMIT II Youth Vote Conference in Trenton, New Jersey. At the summit students were able to hear former Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, HIP HOP mogul Russell Simmons and HIP HOP ACTION SUMMIT CEO Benjamin Chavis speak on the importance of the electoral history. What stood out at the summit were poetic presentations by high school and college student artists,, poets and speakers on the importance of the youth vote.
The slogan on the 2006 New Jersey Voter Registration information packet reads ?Democracy Starts Here!? This slogan is very appropriate for the role that EOF student leaders play at Middlesex County College. Their co-curricular experience is significant to their personal development and scholarly roles. The leadership preparation is crucial to their academic, personal and career goals. The lessons taught by the co-curricular experience will continue to serve student leaders in their professional and civic relationships. In the end, the student success mission is best served when student leaders are advanced intellectually and provide professional service to their communities, support their families and advance their life conditions.
Lastly, the EOF student leadership and co-curricular process is underscored by a team effort that includes Dr. Fannie Gordon, Dr. Trudi Harris-Johnson, Mr. Louis Marius, Jr., Evarista Plasencia and Olivia Maxwell in the EOF office and John Dunning, Lori Johnson, Bernadette Roa in the Office of Minority Student Affairs. They played important parts as co-advisors, trip leaders, mentors and van-drivers to many events. And thanks to the leaders of Club Adelante for being collectively proactive in the EOF co-curricular efforts.
Victor Vega, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Counseling
Educational Opportunity Fund
Middlesex County College
1. 2. 3. http://www.fec.gov/votregis/constitutionalprovisio.htm