On Feb 25th, 2019, the Queens College Student Association hosted a panel called “Millennials and Politics” during Free Hour.
Held in honor of Black History Month, the panel focused on the up-and-coming generation of leadership and activism within the African-American community. The event was moderated by Aboubaker Hamida of the Student Association.
To start off the event, Hamida opened up with an icebreaker, asking attendees what black history meant to them.
Hamida asked the guest speakers questions submitted by students through a Google document. The guest speakers at the event were Natasha Williams, James Johnson and Edward B. Cooper Owens. Natasha Williams is a political consultant for the Women’s March organization.
James Johnson is the Southeast Queens Liaison for the NYC comptroller Scott Stringer. Professor Edward Cooper Owens is the director of Africana studies at Queens College.
Hamida asked the speakers what they wanted to be when they were growing up and how, if at all, their dreams have changed. Ms. Williams said that she wanted to be a judge when she was younger; then she realized she would have to be a lawyer before she could become a judge, so she decided to become a lawyer.
Later, Ms. Williams realized she didn’t want to be a lawyer, and got a master’s degree in public administration instead. Ms. Williams doesn’t feel that what she wants to be has changed, just the method. Mr. Johnson had wanted to be a sports analyst. Professor Owens wanted to be an astrophysicist.
When asked how community mobilization has changed from the civil rights era to the present day, Ms. Williams answered that there are people still using tactics from the civil rights movements and she thinks those shouldn’t be thrown away. She was recently at a conference with the purpose of building political power for African-American women in the country.
She said a similar question was asked at the conference, and the response was that we shouldn’t throw away tactics from the civil rights movement, because things like knocking on doors and talking to people face-to-face is important.
When asked if he’s seen more people similar to him represent him in politics, Diego Ortega, a junior environmental science major minoring in biology, answered, “Both yes and no.”
“Yes,” he said, “because as a Latino immigrant, this year has had more Latino, LGBT, indigenous, and women politicians elected into important congressional positions than ever, and the same goes on a local level.” However, since he is a DACA recipient, he is unable to see others like him elected into office.
When asked if he is involved in any type of political or volunteering work helping others, Ortega responded that he is an intern at a local environmental/community activism organization in rockaway and a mentor for Project Excel at Queens College.
Ortega describes Project Excel objectively as a resource for underserved minorities in academia and subjectively as a place where he feels welcome and supported by the people in it.
“We live in a society where we’re already deemed as the generation who doesn’t vote, the generation who thinks voting doesn’t matter, but as a member of a minority that feeds off a lot of the things that are put into place by these politicians, it’s important that I make my duty as a citizen to try to elect the best person for the job that represents us,” senior media studies major Tyrell Petrie said, when asked if he feels it’s important for him as an African-American male to vote. Petrie is also a mentor at Project Excel and social media and communications aid for the program.
When asked if being part of project excel has helped him meet other African Americans on campus, Petrie responded that being part of the organization that brings not only African-Americans, but other minorities together, has helped him meet other people in his position because of the low enrollment rate.
“I have always been interested in being involved in public service. I believe it’s important to get involved in the political process in all levels, especially the small and local. Even if you are not involved, the decisions that are being made in those processes will affect you, in some shape or form” answered Senior economics and history major Aboubaker Hamida, when asked what made him join the Student Association. He’s been in Student Association for almost two years.
The top CUNY schools, which include Queens College, have low African-American enrollment rates. Here’s to fixing this problem, one step at a time.