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MSU concludes 'Slavery To Freedom' lecture series with voting rights activist LaTosha Brown

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Courtesy
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MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine
LaTosha Brown cofounded Black Voters Matter in 2016. She'll deliver a virtual lecture Thursday as part of the MSU "Slavery To Freedom" series.

Editor’s Note:  You can register for LaTosha Brown’s lecture here.

On Thursday, the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine concludes its annual Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series, “Slavery To Freedom.”

The lecture is being conducted virtually.

The final speaker in this year’s series is LaTosha Brown.

In 2016, she cofounded the group Black Voters Matter.

The organization is perhaps best known for its work in electing Alabama senator Doug Jones in 2017, and for both the regular and special U.S. Senate elections in Georgia in 2020 and 2021.

Brown is a native of Selma, Alabama, the site of the historic march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.

WKAR’s Kevin Lavery spoke with the college’s associate dean of diversity and campus inclusion, Dr. Marita Gilbert, about LaTosha Brown’s contributions to American democracy.

Interview Highlights

On LaTosha Brown’s influence

As we are in a bare knuckles fight to hold on to our democracy, to hold on to voting rights for everyone, there was no one that I felt should have a bigger presence this year than LaTosha Brown to come and talk to us.

On being inspired to act

She's going to come and talk to us and share experiences and facts. But then, it’s up to us to put our boots on, to lace them up, to hit the pavement and to really do the work.

Interview Transcript

Dr. Marita Gilbert: There was no question this year that we were going to bring LaTosha Brown to be a part of this series. As we are in a bare knuckles fight to hold on to our democracy, to hold on to voting rights for everyone, there was no one that I felt should have a bigger presence this year than LaTosha Brown to come and talk to us.

Whenever you hear her speak, whenever she shows up to register voters and to facilitate kind of a voter literacy, I applaud her as someone to help us to stand in the promise of American democracy.

Kevin Lavery: That promise is under threat in the last five years. Ever since President Trump was inaugurated, we've seen a huge push by the GOP to suppress voting rights. Do you see Black Voters Matter itself struggling against suppression, struggling to remain legitimate?

Gilbert: What I will say is this is, that the work is to ensure that democracy persists regardless of who is president. That we secure voting rights for everyone and every community because it shouldn't matter who is sitting in the executive office. But even though we have not fully realized the promise of America, it does not mean that we stop working.

I don't want people to think that there is any one person or personality that should drive our focus, because anti-democracy is an idea that persists beyond a person, beyond even a specific time frame. So, the work that is happening is to ensure, again that who we said we wanted to be as a nation, that we truly realize that.

Lavery: Later this year, Justice Stephen Breyer is going to retire from the U.S. Supreme Court, and there's been lots of talk about President Biden and his vow to nominate a Black woman to the high court; a first in our country. Is that cause for hope, in terms of restoring some protections for Black voters, or is that unrealistic given that the court would still hold a conservative majority?

Gilbert: It is high time for all of our branches to reflect the demography of America. Am I hopeful? Yes, I will not rest, I will not exhale until the confirmation has happened. Who will be the person that shows up to continue the legacy of Thurgood Marshall? Regardless of what they look like, right, who will champion those same values? Who will take up that mantle? Should we have the first Black woman confirmed on the Supreme Court?

Of course, I will celebrate, we will continue to do the work to dismantle systems of injustice, of marginalization, of oppression. Because no one is free until all of us are free.

Lavery: Based on what you know about LaTosha Brown, do you think there's going to be a punch that's going to stay with people?

Gilbert: Oh, I think LaTosha Brown follows in the tradition of that prophetic fire. So, I know she has a word for us. I also know that she's going to cause us to not just sit down and listen to a conversation but to rise to our feet and do the work in our own communities.

She's going to come and talk to us and share experiences and share the facts, but then it is up to us to put our boots on, to lace them up, to hit the pavement to really do the work, whether that means electing some folks and unelecting others, right? But really doing the work to dismantle these systems that would allow for our democracy to either be in threat or to be eroded.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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