andrea-k-owes_web.jpgThe Urban League of Broward County has organized a joint initiative with numerous organizations to host a series of political forums aimed at heightening the political awareness and civic engagement of central Broward residents.

The forums, called Broward Votes, will focus on local and statewide political races, and will take place throughout July.

The focus of the forums will be on people living in the 33311 ZIP code area of Broward County, one “that is faced with many more challenges and obvious disparities,” said Dennis Wright, president of the 100 Black Men of Greater Fort Lauderdale, a youth mentoring organization.

The 33311 ZIP code area is the poorest in Broward County. Some of the unique disparities that affect it include the highest incidents of reported child abuse and the highest percentage of at-risk youth, with at-risk behaviors, including drug and alcohol abuse and gang activity.

“There’s a need to heighten political awareness for residents of the 33311 zip code,’’ said Andrea Owes, president of the Urban League of Broward County’s Young Professionals Network. “It’s important to target them as they are generally of low income and low education, and when candidates campaign, the majority of the time they are focusing on wealthy, already educated and politically aware neighborhoods.”

Wright agreed.

“We want to see a commitment to economic development, education and public safety,’’ he said. “These are key components to the revitalization of any community.”

The Jamaican Diaspora of Southern United States, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) South Florida chapter, the T.J. Reddick Bar Association and the Caribbean Bar Association are also participating in the forums.

Joy-Ann Reid, a South Florida Times reporter who is also a political commentator, and South Florida Times Executive Editor Bradley Bennett, will moderate the free forums.

“We are pleased to participate in this effort to help voters decide which candidates best suit their needs,’’ Bennett said. “An important part of our mission to elevate the dialogue in the community is ensuring that citizens are well informed when they enter the voting booth.’’

Marlon Hill of the Caribbean Bar Association, said, “The Broward Votes initiative recognizes the growth patterns and changing dynamics in the black community. It is simply reaching out to those communities where there are thousands of new voters and persons who are typically not as directly engaged.”

Hill noted that these communities also include people of Caribbean descent.

“The Caribbean community experiences some of the same challenges,’’ Hill said. “The only minor difference is their consistent engagement with the political process. Their voices are frequently absent. This must change, and Broward Votes intends to be one of the catalysts."

An official website, www.browardvotes.com, will accompany the initiative in an attempt to educate the community on where local and state candidates stand on relevant issues such as healthcare, employment and safety.

The website will provide recaps and video clips of each forum, and will have a blog available where community members can discuss candidates’ responses to questions posed at the forum.

Palmer.Shanique@yahoo.com

Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Andrea K. Owes



IF YOU GO

What: Broward Votes Constitutional Offices debate
When: July 10 from 6 to 9 p.m.

What: Broward Votes Local Political Race debate
When: July 17 from 6 to 9 p.m.

What: Broward Votes State Political Race debate
When: July 23 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Location of all Broward Votes forums:
African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., near Fort Lauderdale.

Cost for all events: Free

Contact for all events: Andrea Owes, by phone: 954-625-2548 or by email aowes@ulbcfl.org.