In this op-ed, non-profit leader Crystal Hayling writes a letter to her two sons about the impact of voting and the legacy that motivates their family.
Dear Roman and Avery:
A year from now, you’ll cast your first presidential vote – something you’ve seen your dad and I do throughout the years. In the days to come before this important milestone in your life, people will court you for your vote. And in that time, others will work to silence your vote. This is a burden that I have tried to lighten through my activism, but as a mother, especially as a Black mother, I know the best thing I can do is to prepare you.
I’ve watched you move through other big, joyous milestones – first steps, first day at school, first prom, and now your first years at college. This one is different, and it carries a special kind of weight. It involves the world beyond you, and the future that will unfold long after your Dad and I are gone.
A past U.S. president has been indicted on charges of obstructing our democratic process to hold onto power after losing the election. Undaunted, he is seeking power again and promising retribution if he achieves it. But the crisis of American democracy is greater than one person or election. He is a manifestation of the underlying and overt threats to our democracy and our future. Majorities in both parties acknowledge that democracy is “in danger of collapse.” There are multiple cracks in the Constitution, and the landscape is tumultuous.
Major setbacks to democracy – both recent ones and those perpetrated throughout our nation’s history – are the culmination of persistent, quiet and meticulous attacks to hoard power. Voter suppression has been the strategy that communities of color have had to fight, out maneuver and stay ahead of since our country was born. Whether it’s through violent intimidation, literacy tests, gerrymandering, purging voter rolls, poll taxes, fanning disinformation or fear mongering, the intention is always the same. They want to undermine your value, silence your voice and restrain your power.
This story and struggle are not new. Remember your grandfather, my dad, an Air Force veteran and prominent civil rights leader Dr. Robert Hayling. He marched with Dr. King and celebrated the triumphs of the civil rights movement. He also endured violence. He was severely beaten while monitoring a Ku Klux Klan rally. Months later, Klansmen shot into our home. I was in your grandmother’s belly. We narrowly survived.
Today, after many years of being the only Black woman in the room, I fight for social and economic justice. While you shoulder a legacy riddled with burden, you also carry the strength, resilience and hope of generations. You can honor this legacy with your own story as you pave your path.
While the mother in me wishes you only ease, I also know that these struggles will ground you in your purpose. The fight for democracy is a fight taking place on many frontlines. Whether you become a doctor, a bricklayer, an artist or a coder, the virtues of democracy will be a throughline. They are essential to thriving societies and you must continuously strive to defend them.
Fighting for democracy means working for racial justice – ending mass incarceration and racist policing, and uplifting community safety.
Fighting for democracy means making sure that LGBTQ people are free, safe, and able to claim their full rights.
Fighting for democracy means dreaming into reality a feminist future where our genders may not all be the same, but all of us are free.
Roman and Avery, my bright lights. It is your turn to start guiding the way. Now, let me be clear: you don’t have to carry this mantle every minute and you don’t have to carry it alone. All those who have paved the way are with you. Embrace this responsibility with pride knowing that we trust and believe in you to take us further and shape our legacy.
As poet Amanda Gorman has said: “We will not march back to what was. We move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”
Crystal Hayling is the Executive Director of the Libra Foundation and founder of the Democracy Frontlines Fund. Founded in 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent racial justice uprisings, Democracy Frontlines Fund is a national aligned giving strategy providing multi-year core support to Black-led organizations building sustainable local power.
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