Dr. LaVon Bracy has fought for over 50 years to advance voting rights in the state of Florida. She is an incredible speaker, author and friend who has made it her life’s work to advocate for those who feel as if they do not have a voice. In honor of this midterm election season, Faith in Action spoke with Dr. Bracy on her experience with voting and how it has impacted her life.Dr. LaVon Bracy has fought for over 50 years to advance voting rights in the state of Florida. She is an incredible speaker, author and friend who has made it her life’s work to advocate for those who feel as if they do not have a voice. In honor of this midterm election season, Faith in Action spoke with Dr. Bracy on her experience with voting and how it has impacted her life.Dr. LaVon Bracy has fought for over 50 years to advance voting rights in the state of Florida. She is an incredible speaker, author and friend who has made it her life’s work to advocate for those who feel as if they do not have a voice. In honor of this midterm election season, Faith in Action spoke with Dr. Bracy on her experience with voting and how it has impacted her life.
Hello Dr. Bracy, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Could you start us off by sharing your story?
I’m a native Floridian, my mom was a schoolteacher and my dad was a minister. I grew up in St. Augustine, Florida. My dad was the president of the NAACP. I grew up in the 50s and the 60s and he felt that since St. Augustine was the oldest place in America, it should be a role model for the country. He sought for things to change, everything was segregated during those times and he really worked hard to make a difference in that city. Things really were worst when my mother lost her job because of my dad’s advocacy. Things got even worse in St. Augustine when the Ku Klux Klan decided to burn a cross in front of our house. And before we left the city, my dad sent a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to see if in fact they could make some changes. He did and things didn’t get any better. So we had to leave St. Augustine by night. My dad found a church that he could pastor in Gainesville, Florida and my mom got another teaching job, and we began to think that life would really be normal for us. Dad became president of the NAACP in Gainesville. This was 1964, and Brown v. Board of Education was in 1954. Schools were still segregated, 10 years had passed. So my dad said let’s integrate the school system. The school board said that they were not going to integrate, they weren’t going to do anything to change what they already were doing. He sued the school board and won the suit, and they had to integrate the school system. Now he has to find who he can get to go to the all white school. What he did was knock on about 500 doors, found a 10th, 11th and me, a 12th grader, to go. I went to the all white school my last year of high school. I can say that year is still the worst year of my life. I was not welcome — I was spit on, I was called the n-word every day, snakes were put in my seat. However, I endured and I graduated. I survived that year by being silent. I graduated and promised myself I would never be silent again.
What issues do you currently work on?
In the state of Florida, we have about 21 million residents. 14 of them are registered, around two million are children who are not at the age of registering. But we have five million who are eligible to vote and are not registered. So I’m working now to try and find as many of that number and that five million and empower them and let them know how strong their voice is and that they need to be heard. I have been doing this work for over 50 years. The more I do the work, the more challenging it becomes, because there is real voter suppression going on in the state of Florida.
What motivates you to keep going?
I believe that it is the right thing to do. And I just believe that one day that all people who really want to have the opportunity will have that opportunity. We have to protect democracy at all costs and I just believe that even though I may get tired and I may get weary as they continue to put roadblocks, we cannot afford to let the roadblocks deter us. We go over, under or around the roadblocks. We must let America know that we are all created equal and that we all have the same right to express ourselves and make their voices heard. I just refuse to give up. When I hear people say there’s no use for them to register and vote, I let them know there is a reason for you to be able to have a voice. And you need to make sure that you have a voice to protect the generations that will come after you.
Why is voting important to you?
I understand now what it is when people don’t vote. Because they have decided that they are going to be silent and somebody else is going to make the decisions for them, and that is what happened when I was in high school. I had to be silent to survive, and everyone else made the decisions for me. I promised myself I would never be silent again and that I would always speak for those who could not speak for themselves because I know how it is when you are in the minority, when you are not treated fairly, when you do not have a voice.
Why should everyone vote?
What is important to you? What keeps you up at night? And when I hear from people the things that are important to them, I then begin to ask them how they think decisions are being made on those things that are important to you. Who makes those decisions? And when people begin to say “the government,” I ask how they get in their positions. They get there because people vote.
Is there a piece of inspiration or encouragement that you would like to share?
I have always been a person of faith and one that believes that you’re put here for such a time as this. I believe that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. I believe that in this work I will always have the strength to accomplish what it is that needs to happen. It does not mean that it’s not going to be challenging. It will be challenging, but you have to believe that you can accomplish it and you can be successful. I believed that when I finished high school, regardless of the obstacles I could be successful and I could graduate when nobody wanted me to do so.
Thank you for having such an important conversation. Finally, what is some advice you would give to people that want to get involved?
You can begin to do this by voting and making sure that you express your voice every time that there is an opportunity. And then you find the organizations where you live that do this kind of work. They’re always looking for volunteers to do things like phone-banking, canvassing, to educate others on why this work is so important. So find out in your communities those places, the organizations that are doing the kind of work that you want to get involved with. They will readily and with open arms welcome you.
If you want to get involved, click here to sign the Rise + Vote pledge and don’t forget to share with your friends and family! If you’re ready to get connected with a federation near you, click here to find one now.