RISE isn’t an organization that speaks for the community — it is an organization that empowers the community to speak for itself. This is no small feat.
After so many years of not being invited to the table; many are reluctant to act, don’t think it will matter; or are fearful of retribution. RISE consistently addresses injustice and by doing so; more and more in our community are finding the strength to join the fight. Our mission is to be a vehicle for giving voice to the voiceless, strength to the weak and support for the lost within the black community.
Last year RISE created headlines when we held our first debate in Waynesboro. We are the first organization of color to hold a debate in our region. We spent months having meetings, conducting research, obtaining a location, inviting the candidates, and formulating questions based on the needs of our black community.
The day came and we were holding out hope that both candidates were going to show up. Sadly, only one candidate, Jennifer Lewis, found it necessary to address the black community and answer our questions.
The questions were difficult mainly because no one has ever presented our issues in that way. Our political action team spent countless hours going through quotes and voting records to see how the GOP candidate had either answered the questions previously or how he had voted in the past. Our goal was, and still, is to provide information so that the black community can make an educated decision at the voting polls.
While this column isn’t an endorsement of any candidate, I would like to share the impact that the RISE debate had on the last election. Most of us know the results of that election, but what some of you may not be aware of is that Jennifer Lewis lost the city of Waynesboro by only 35 votes. An election board official said that they saw “presidential-year turn out” in last year’s election.
Are we saying it was solely from our efforts? Of course not. However, what was different last year from the years before? RISE held “Get Out the Vote” events and registered young people in the community center at Rosenwald. We held our debate. We helped educate the community and in conjunction with the Lewis team we almost saw Waynesboro go blue.
Bottom line? Don’t underestimate the power of RISE and the ability to sway an election.
That is what we do. We challenge the status quo, we educate the populace, we get things done. This year, we’re holding another debate. It’ll be 6 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 20 in the Waynesboro High School auditorium. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. so that you can meet candidates, get yard signs or register to vote.
We’ve invited candidates running for House of Delegates for districts 25 and 20. We’re excited and proud to announce that all six candidates had agreed to the debate. Delegate hopefuls: Chris Runion (R) and Jennifer Kitchen (D) District 25, John Avoli (R) and Jennifer Lewis (D) District 20 will be there.
Virginia Senate incumbent, Emmett Hanger (R) and opponent, Annette Hyde (D) has agreed to come to this year’s debate. However, John Avoli has recently changed his mind about attending and declined the debate to attend his grandson’s Friday night football game. The other candidates will be answering questions from the black community, about the black community.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of when the first African was brought to Virginia and enslaved. Look how far we’ve come. Look how far we still have to go. Four hundred years and still we RISE!