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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti-area residents invited to learn about voting and civic engagement

Survivors Speak founder Trische' Duckworth.
Doug Coombe
Concentrate Media
Survivors Speak founder Trische' Duckworth.


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsi-area residents invited to learn about voting and civic engagement during April education series

Survivors Speak

Survivors Speak on Facebook

Civic Duty Education Nights


Cathy Shafran: You are listening to 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is On The Ground Ypsi. It is a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community and we bring you On The Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, our focus is on an interesting educational opportunity for the Ypsilanti community. It's personal, face-to-face lessons on how they can get involved in making a difference in their lives through the political system. And today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on a series of civic duty education events that are actually civic duty education coupled with nights of family food and a lot of fun. Rylee, thanks so much for joining us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks for having me.

Cathy Shafran: So, what can you tell us about the article written by Sarah Rigg and this week's Concentrate Media edition?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, the article goes over these events that are being hosted by the nonprofit group Survivors Speak, and all of their work is geared toward making a difference within the community through action as opposed to just words. And one staple in their work is focusing on how systemic racism plays a huge role within our society and sort of combating that. And something that we've noticed in the past couple of years, especially, is how systemic racism plays a huge role in how possible it is for individuals to participate in their civic duty. And when we think of civic duty, we typically think of voting. But it also goes a lot farther than that, including running for local office, as well as just contacting your state representatives when you disagree with something.

Cathy Shafran: And so, as a result of that, the group Survivors Speak is speaking out in the upcoming months about how to get involved. Is that accurate?

Rylee Barnsdale: That's right. The idea here is to go beyond the sentiment of saying get registered to vote and then go and vote, because there can be a lot of barriers for folks.

Cathy Shafran: And so, a series of events are scheduled to deal with that and help people open their minds to those type of things.

Rylee Barnsdale: Exactly.

Cathy Shafran: So, in the reporting in Concentrate Media this week, Sarah Rigg talked extensively with Trische' Duckworth, the founder of Survivors Speak. And as you said, it's an organization that aims to give voice to various kinds of survivors. Trische' is joining us now on the line. Thank you so much for joining us.

Trische' Duckworth: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Cathy Shafran: I'm curious about what led you to create this educational opportunity on the topic of becoming civically engaged.

Trische' Duckworth: Sure. So, last year, we did a series called Pull Up, Turn Up, and we did a tour. We went in three different areas, which we like to call our disenfranchised, low-income areas, right, where folks are often forgotten about and their voices are left out of the conversation. And we pulled up into the area and we had a party, right? But we also had voter registration. We also had voting access for all. We had the health department out. We at Survivors Speak put a community vision survey in the mix of that day, and we wanted to assess the community's concerns around racial justice and what that looked like. But also, we wanted to know have their legislators reached out to them? And have they reached out to their legislators? Those are two questions that were on the survey. Of course, we know those answers were no. So, we understood that there was an engagement problem. And so, we can't sit around and wait for our legislators to engage us. We understand that we must learn how to engage them. So, that is where this might have come from, understanding that, in our civic duty, a lot of people think you register to vote, you go and vote, and then you've done your civic duty, but you've left something out. When is the last time that you've been hired on the job and your boss just walked away and left you to do what you want to do? That doesn't happen. When you think of the voters, we are the boss, right? Because without our vote, they wouldn't get the seat. So, we have to actually engage the process: going to city council meetings, going to the township meetings, engaging our politicians to let them know what our needs are. Not necessarily when we don't like something, but proactively engaging them to let them know what our needs are, so that we can bring them to the forefront and make that a realization in our community.

Cathy Shafran: Our On the Ground Ypsi conversation with Trische' Duckworth from Survivors Speak in Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale continues on 89 one WEMU. Are there any specific examples of people that you've met who you feel really missed that step, that they have something to say, and they have an opinion to share and a need to be heard and that people are simply not hearing them?

Trische' Duckworth: Well, that's very interesting because there are parts of the community that understand that they've been ignored and that they've been forgotten about, and they just build resilience in that place. And sometimes they don't even reach out. So, that's what we were finding that there was no reach. It's like, "Oh, you're not reaching to us. We're not going to reach to you. Our votes don't matter. We don't think you care."

Cathy Shafran: Can you share an example of what voice is not being heard? What issues are not being heard?

Trische' Duckworth: It's any issue. For example, there was a survey that went out in the county, and the county was asking about what to do with the ARPA funding and things of that nature. Well, we asked a lot of the folks at the Pull Up Turn Up, "Did you do the survey?" No, they didn't do the survey. Now, it was online, right? And they could have gotten it online, but it's not on their radar because they're not into political scenes. And they're just because they have been forgotten about, because they have been pushed aside and ignored. They don't even engage, right? And honestly, I didn't before either. There's been times in my life where I felt that my voice didn't matter and my vote that matter and I didn't vote. And I had to awaken myself to realize that I can't let life happen without me. I have to have a say in what goes on in my life. So, that's what we're trying to encourage that. Yes, we understand that you've been pushed aside, but now it's time for us all to awaken and get to these tables, so that our voices can be heard.

Cathy Shafran: So, you have coordinated, if I understand it correctly, three evenings where there will be education about civic duty?

Trische' Duckworth: Correct. Yes.

Cathy Shafran: And we'll talk in just a second about the details of when those events are coming up. But what do you hope people will be hearing when they show up to these events? What do you want them to be educated about?

Trische' Duckworth: Well, we hope that folks are gaining realization on what the process look like. Say, for instance, we're going to--at the Parkridge Community stop--we're going to have Councilperson Roland Tooson out to talk to the community about how easy it is to speak to council members to be able to introduce something in on the city council's agenda, right, or we have silent cry out talking about how we as community members can write legislation ourselves, either find legislators to sponsor it, or we can put it on a petition signatures and get it on the ballot ourselves. We're not powerless in this legislative arena. We have so much power, we just have to use it. We also have voting access for all coalitions that's coming to talk about the myth of folks not being able to vote if they have a felony. This is something that people were told when they left prison: that you can't vote because you have a felony. But that's not true. We have created an operation accountability guy, which will show people who their legislators are, what their numbers are, what that looks like, to reach out to them. And then, at the end of the night, each individual will have to reach out to their legislator in order to be entered into a drawing for some of the giveaways that we have. This will begin the process of folks being able to learn how easy it is to reach out to their legislators. And then, if their legislator doesn't reach back, we have a means of holding folks accountable for not paying attention to the community.

Cathy Shafran: So, now give us the details about when people can show up and have a night of entertainment and a night of education at the same time.

Trische' Duckworth: Our first stop on the tour is Parkridge Community Center, and that's going to be on April the 14th. That is going to be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Next stop is going to be Men Like Us on Michigan Avenue. That's 3011 East Michigan Avenue. And, same thing there, 5 to 8. And then, our last stop is going to be at Christian Love Fellowship Church International, and that is going to be on Sanford in Ypsilanti from 5 to 8 as well. The blueprint for each of these are the same. We have Coco, the comedian and radio personality, coming from out of Detroit. We have another radio personality: The Real Black Coffee No Sugar No Cream. And we also have Dahlia Dollz, which is a motorcycle club that is in the area as well. That's going to be joining us and hosting. We're going to eat together as a family. We're going to get the education. But there's going to be a deejay. It's going to be a night of fun with things for the kids to do as well. We want all hands on deck and everybody out, so we can get this night of education that have a celebration as well.

Cathy Shafran: So, the dates for all three of those, again are?

Trische' Duckworth: April the 14th, April the 19th and April the 25th.

Cathy Shafran: And the way that you framed it is a night of fun for the kids and adults. Is that your way of drawing in more community members who otherwise maybe couldn't have shown up because they have other responsibilities?

Trische' Duckworth: Yes. You see, we tried this with the Pull Up Turn Up. We pulled up in the area with a video game truck, the face painting, and the kids came running. And we said, "Oh, go get your mom! Go get your dad!" And they brought their parents out, and their parents were able to do the survey and do the things that were necessary for the kids to be a part. So, it's kind of a pool. And we believe that when you have these things, you have to pull up something for the community. We call them the bells and whistles. They're extremely important, and it kind of motivates the community to be a part of the event.

Cathy Shafran: And, finally, if you are successful in across these three evenings of education and entertainment, what will be different?

Trische' Duckworth: You know, for me, success looks like if we reach one person that gets it that didn't get it, that success for us. Here's the thing. You can never really gauge outcome because you don't really know until that voting process comes along or until someone goes and engages in some meetings. What we're doing is planting a seed. And then, we will walk through this with them because we also have where folks can sign up to go to city council meetings and we have teams of people that will meet them there. These are extensions that are coming after the civic duty nights. This isn't just a one-and-done thing. We understand that once you disengage folks for so long, you have to continue to show up for them to let them know and build that rapport with the community in hopes that we can all stand together and fight for change legislatively.

Cathy Shafran: Trische' Duckworth, founder of Survivors Speak and organizer of the upcoming civic duty educational series in Ypsilanti and Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnesdale, I want to thank both of you so much for joining us for On the Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Cathy.

Trische' Duckworth Thank you.

Cathy Shafran: I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. It's public radio from Eastern Michigan University, and online at WEMU dot org.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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