A midterms draw near, Faith in Action and our federations are focusing in on the voices of those pushing against the tides of voter suppression. One of those voices is Kevin Bland, attendee of an event hosted by Memphis Artists for Change, Memphis local, and Outreach Coordinator for South Memphis Alliance.
As Tameka Greer, Executive Director of Artists for Change, spoke to the crowd about the importance of voting and pushing forward as one voice, we sat down with Kevin to have our own conversation.
Q. Why do you do this work?
A. We want to be able to get people that are in the community to help us and push us to the next level so we can make sure the community has what they need. This is my first time ever really doing a voter registration event. I’ll be honest with you, it may sound cliche, but I love people and I love knowing that people can depend on somebody that’s around them. They got somebody trusted in their community to work with them. I engage with them more and more, like playing basketball with them. The love of people got me into this work. It’s worth it to me.
Q. Why is voting important to you?
A. Voting is – I’m not even going to say it’s important, voting is CRUCIAL. Especially now. On all levels of government, local, state, when I say all levels I mean ALL LEVEL. When you put somebody in position to make decisions about what’s going on around you, it’s vital that you put the person that you trust in. It’s all about what you are trying to do for my community. Can I really trust you with the goals that we have set for the community? Because the community has a vision but if someone is running for office and they don’t come and listen to that vision it feels like they want to lead that community astray. Then no one wants to vote.
Q. When did you become a voter? Have you always voted?
A. I am a newly convinced voter. I was hard on not voting. I believed in my mind that it was better to be independent than be someone that decided to go vote. It was because I felt I couldn’t trust nobody with the right decisions. But what I learned is you have to learn to trust somebody at one point. And unity is your best friend. My grandma always told me to go vote. What she ended up doing was nudge me, she planted the seed and patiently watched it grow. And finally, this January I registered to vote. I was trying to vote for a church member of mine because I know her and I trust her with the vision of the community and the city as well.
Q. What motivated you to keep going to keep organizing?
A. Some of the young guys here, they were out there playing ball earlier. I really don’t know anybody in this area so that’s what makes it better. I learned that it’s a welcoming community. I was playing ball with them just talking to them and I said, “if I beat you, you have to register to vote.” They’re people of their word. My whole motive was just to get acquainted with people in this community, get to know them as people. You don’t know what people need unless you talk to them.
A. The love of people drives me. I love my people and I love our future. I believe our children are the future, our youth are the future. I am still a youth and I believe that I still hold some of the keys to the future. I don’t want to see us fall because we’re not being proactive with people in the area or in the community. I‘m gonna play ball with you, I’m gonna chill with people. I’d do anything to ensure people have what they need.
Q. What is a pivotal experience that motivates your work?
A. A pivotal moment…I’m going to have to shout out two people in my life; my dad and my current pastor. When I was a youth, I was coming up and I wasn’t the best kid. When I was in the eleventh grade, I came back to Memphis since I was living somewhere else for a period. When I came back I got in contact with my dad, got an opportunity to go into twelfth grade but my answer was that I didn’t want to finish school. I was like “I’m sick of these classes. You guys don’t even think I’m smart enough to do this anyways.” But my dad one day told me, “we don’t quit. That’s not what we’re about.” It reshaped the way I think. That experience has stuck with me. And then my pastor, he makes sure I’m always pushing on, going towards the goals I have in life. Whether it’s in ministry or community outreach. I have so much to do that if I quit, I’m not just quitting on myself but I’m quitting on the people that are around me. These experiences pushed me to go further than I thought I could possibly go.
Q. Why should everyone vote?
A. Everyone should vote. You got some great people out here and some people don’t even know about it. There are people on the ballot and you don’t even know about it. You don’t see them but they end up in office and reshape the whole community. I refuse to sit in another meeting and hear people trying to make changes to a city when they haven’t even addressed the needs of the community. When I talk to people, I don’t want to bribe you to vote. But I’m going to give you facts. I can say boldly that there are people in office that don’t care about the community. When I wake up in the morning and go to work and look around, I can see the changes. When I see it I say “wow, what are they doing? Do they care?” You don’t see people out here wanting to put in the work in this area all because it’s impoverished. Those people we don’t put in office are the ones making moves that we don’t approve of. You want to make sure that whoever might come in contact with your community, that they really care about it. I let them know like, you put the right people in office then you’ll see community centers. You’ll see better playgrounds, water faucets, and beautification of the area. It starts with you too, get out here and show that you care about your community.
Q. If you were speaking with someone discouraged about the current state of voting, what would you tell them?
A. I used to be one of them. It depends on what community and what person you’re talking about. When people want to join different orgs, it’s a requirement that you have a voter registration card. But on the other side, what about the people that don’t care about organizations? What about the kid that just got out of high school? It’s not required for them to register to vote. What do you tell them? These conversations start with showing them that you really care about them, before they even want to hear anything you say. When they know you got their back, they’ll be more compelled to move. We sit down, we talk to them, we ask them vital questions; what do you want to see in your community, how do you want to see your community change, if you had the power to change your community, what would that be? More likely their answer will lead to the need of having someone in office that can make that change. In order for that change to happen, we have to place people who want to create change. It takes all of us. I urge everyone I work with, you have to understand that it’s more than just you. I’m out here with the South Memphis Alliance. It’s in the name, I’m out here to be an ally, and in order to be an ally I have to work with you and be there with you and let you know, “I got your back. I’m here to partner with you to see how we can make this place better. But it starts with YOU.” It can be done, one by one, we can make a change. And if we hold on to what we got we can make a change together.