Dwight Hall’s Civic Allyship Initiative is elevating the existing work of community organizers in New Haven and beyond. The program confronts complex social challenges, convening criminal justice advocates, grassroots activists, currently and formerly incarcerated people, students, and professors in equitable relationships through workshops, trainings, and research. Together, these allies are utilizing new grassroots organizing strategies, developing opportunities for underrepresented populations in civic leadership, and laying the groundwork for substantive policy reforms.
On November 2-3, 2022, the Civic Allyship Initiative at Dwight Hall hosted two events featuring artist and activist Kenyatta Emmanuel, aimed at increasing voter participation and encouraging the Yale community to think critically about the power of the vote. The first event, hosted on November 2nd by the Initiative alongside the Full Citizens Coalition, Pierson College, the Afro-American Cultural Center, and Yale Law School, consisted of a College Tea during which Kenyatta discussed his personal experiences, as well as the immense power offered by voting. The next day, Kenyatta performed at an Unlock the Vote concert at the Afro-American Cultural Center.
James Jeter, founder of the Civic Allyship Initiative, discussed how the events focused not only on the importance of voting as a means of supporting candidates, but also of sending important messages to political leaders. “If all of the college students in Connecticut voted in Connecticut, they’d be the largest voting group in the state. They would literally dictate every election, they would dictate [who] the governor is, they would dictate our U.S. reps, and, in most cities, who the mayor is,” James said. “[We] have the ability to have 40,000 people vote for Count Dracula, right? And as funny as it sounds, it’s a protest. It’s a unified protest that would scare any politician that this many people have agreed to…this erroneous election candidate for the sake of showing that we’re not satisfied with either or any [candidate].”
For the Civic Allyship Initiative, voting is crucial to its mission of supporting grassroots organizing efforts across New Haven and Connecticut. According to James, the Initiative strives to create personal connections between students and issues. “Civic Allyship [Initiative] offers students the opportunity to see how issues play out on the ground,” James noted.
Director of Community Outreach and Engagement Johnny Scafidi ’01 believes that this personal connection is what made Kenyatta’s events so insightful. “You have people [like Kenyatta] who bring all of themselves, their full humanity, their full skill, and their full being and presence to whatever issue they’re working on…I think that’s a great model for students.”
Looking forward, the Initiative plans to continue supporting grassroots activism across the state. In the upcoming legislative session, it hopes to support the efforts of the Black Census Survey, which aims to address the underrepresentation of the Black diaspora in the 2020 census by surveying Black people and allowing their voices to be heard.
Learn more about the Civic Allyship Initiative at Dwight Hall here.