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“Get Out and Vote, Brownsville,” Elected Officials and Activists Urge the Community

Despite Brooklyn’s high early voter turnout, participation is lower in some neighborhoods than others and community leaders are trying to rectify that.
Brownsville elected officials and community leaders
Brownsville elected officials and community leaders. Photo: Nigel Roberts

Since early voting began on Oct. 24 Brooklyn voted in high numbers, outpacing the other boroughs.

By Thursday night, Brooklynites had cast 232,744 ballots, representing about one-third of the six-day citywide total of 702,408, according to the New York City Board of Elections (BOE).

However, voter turnout was less brisk in some Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Van Dyke Center Polling Station Brownsville
Van Dyke Center Polling Station Brownsville. Photo: Nigel Roberts

Elected officials and community leaders held a media conference Thursday outside the Van Dyke Community Center polling station in Brownsville.

Sen. Zellnor Myrie of Brownsville
Sen. Zellnor Myrie. Photo: Nigel Roberts

"I have one single message, Brownsville. Get out and vote," Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-20th Senate District), whose district includes Brownsville and Crown Heights, said.

Voter turnout in Brownsville was significantly lower than other areas of Brooklyn, according to data Myrie's office received from the BOE.

"There are a number of factors that could be at play," Myrie told BK Reader. "This community received the brunt of the pandemic, for some people there's also a historic mistrust of the electoral system, and many people are accustomed to voting on Election Day."

Brownsville, which is predominantly Black, is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. Approximately 37% of residents live below the federal poverty level and suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases associated with poverty, according to a 2015 New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report. Brownsville was also one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods by the Coronavirus.

US Rep. Yvette Clarke
US Rep. Yvette Clarke. Photo: Nigel Roberts

Speaking to reporters, Myrie emphasized there was plenty at stake for the community with this election.

"Resources for the Van Dyck Community Center are on the ballot. The resources for our small businesses on Pitkin (Avenue) and Rockaway are on the ballot. Money to help prevent gun violence, that is on the ballot. Police reform is on the ballot, and what we need on the path to homeownership is on the ballot," he said.

U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, whose 9th Congressional District includes Brownsville, Crown Heights and Flatbush, echoed Myrie's urgency, adding that high voter turnout would send a message.

"We can send a strong signal to all of our elected officials, primarily those in Washington D.C., that we are not appreciative of the way they left our communities vulnerable to this virus," she stated.

Lurie Daniel Favor
Lurie Daniel Favor. Photo: Nigel Roberts

Some speakers emphasized the pressing need to elect candidates who will stem the rise of racism.

Threats to the future of civil rights and the rise of white supremacy added to the urgency to vote, Lurie Daniel Favors, interim executive director at the Center for Law and Social Justice, stated.

Camara Jackson
Camara Jackson. Photo: Nigel Roberts

"Right now, if you're a person of African descent it's imperative that you make your way to the polls," Favors said, noting that, with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, civil rights achievements were "poised to reverse."

Voter turnout was so important that Brownsville-based Elite Learns Inc., a nonprofit youth mentorship and violence interrupter organization, said it would provide transportation to the polls for people who needed a ride.

"Brownsville's future also depends on raising youth who are civically engaged," Elite Learners' Founder and Executive Director Camara Jackson told BK Reader. "To do that, our children need to see us participating in the election process. Voting teaches them that they have a responsibility to help improve our community."

Lisa Kenner
Lisa Kenner. Photo: Nigel Roberts

Indeed, there was a tradition in Brownsville of parents taking their children with them to the polls on Election Day, recalled Lisa Kenner, the tenant association president at the Van Dyke Houses in Brownsville. The goal was to teach the next generation to become voters.

"Even if we don't go out and vote for ourselves, go out and vote for our ancestors, who fought to make sure we have the right to vote," said Kenner, who has lived in Brownsville for 61 years. "If we don't vote, we don't have the right to complain about what we don't have in our community."

About the Author: Nigel Roberts

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