Black leaders unite in effort to propel voter registration

WASHINGTON: A coalition of black entrepreneurs, musicians, publishers, and journalists are kicking off a massive voter registration drive this month, hoping to send 20 million new black voters to the polls over the next five years.

WASHINGTON: A coalition of black entrepreneurs, musicians, publishers, and journalists are kicking off a massive voter registration drive this month, hoping to send 20 million new black voters to the polls over the next five years.

The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HHSAN), an alliance of hip-hop artists and record company executives cofounded in 2001 by Russell Simmons and Dr. Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, along with the Black Press Association (BPA), held the first of six 2004 summits in Houston on Saturday, January 31. Intentionally scheduled on the same weekend and in the same city as the Super Bowl, the event, called "Taking Back Responsibility: Youth Economic and Political Empowerment," attracted well-known artists such as Beyonce and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, and registered more than 10,000 new voters.

But registering black voters is only half the objective, according to BPA spokesman Francis Page Jr. "We captured their data, such as their e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and we will send out several communications to all of the registered voters to encourage them to vote" in this year's elections, he said.

Those communications, as well as the summits themselves, will focus heavily on themes of empowerment and responsibility. "A lot of the youth in America today really doesn't understand what the right to vote can do for them," said Page. "We need to go into these markets and talk about the concerns and needs of the individual voters."

According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, black voters accounted for 16% of the general turnout in 2000, up from 10% in 1996. Ninety percent voted for the Democratic candidate, former Vice President Al Gore.

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