We had a major ice storm here in my area last week. We were without power at our house all day Friday and most of Saturday. We got our power back late Saturday night and there was a message waiting for me, an invitation to speak at the Forward Together/Saving OurSelves rally for voting rights.
I had two days to prepare. I knew what an honor it was for them to ask me and I knew this was an amazing opportunity to talk about pre-registration, an issue that often gets lost among the other huge issues that have come about due to the recent voting law changes here in our state. I pieced together some words and hoped my message was worthy of the invitation to represent the young people of NC.
I got to Raleigh and I went to watch the buses arrive with all the people who had come from Alabama and were making their way to DC. There were quite a few kids getting off the buses. That made me happy. I always love seeing kids, especially little kids, at these events. It gives me hope for the future.
The rally began. It was surreal standing on that stage with so many great people. Many of those people have known struggles I will never know. That's why restoring the voting rights act is something I feel strongly about. I want our nation to make a promise that people will never struggle in that way again. We've overcome so much to get where we are and we still have a long way to go to promote equality in America. We shouldn't be going backwards and we shouldn't be sending a message that the blood that was shed to get us where we are today was shed in vain.
It felt like all of ten seconds passed before Reverend Barber was announcing me. I got up to the podium and started talking. Then, just as I was ready to go into my speech, the wind blew my speech away. I got it back and kept talking. Then, I noticed Reverend Barber was helping me hold my speech down so it wouldn't blow away again. That should have made me incredibly nervous but it didn't. I had one of the greatest civil rights leaders of our generation standing behind me and I heard his voice saying, "That's right" along with the crowd as I was speaking. I cannot put in words what that feels like. In that moment, I felt the true meaning of leadership. It's more than just words or deeds. It's an energy that radiates out of someone and empowers others. I should have felt so small in that moment, but I didn't.
My generation has a great responsibility. We've been given so much by those who came before us and we must carry that legacy forward. That's why I hope as many people as possible will stand with me in encouraging young people to participate in the voting process and help make the kinds of decisions that will provide us with more true leaders. We can build a beautiful future if we move forward together.