BET personality encourages voting

Tim Magaw

BET personality Jeff Johnson speaks to students about the importance of voting yesterday in the Student Center. Kent State’s chapter of the NAACP sponsored Johnson’s appearance. LESLIE CUSANO | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

BET personality Jeff Johnson told a group of students yesterday to view their vote as a promissory note.

“What is your vote worth?” Johnson said. “Is it worth catchy speeches and flashy fliers? Because we need to say to candidates when we vote for them, ‘What am I going to get for this?'”

Kent State’s chapter of the NAACP hosted Johnson’s stop, which was part of his Ring the Alarm! Get Out the Vote! college tour. Speaking in Room 317 of the Student Center, he focused on the importance of students going to the polls educated and staying involved once the election’s over.

“We’ve got to be sophisticated enough to say our vote is not free,” said Johnson, an Ohio native and producer of BET’s “Jeff Johnson Chronicles.”

He said most people regurgitate what others tell them at the polls, but they should search out the information themselves.

“Empowered voters begin to question what people are telling them,” Johnson said.

When looking for information about candidates, he said people should start by going to the Secretary of State’s Web site to find out who the candidates are. Visiting the candidates’ Web sites to find out their stance on the issues is the next step, followed by reading their opponents criticisms. Checking out local newspaper endorsements is the final step and then the potential voter can step back and ask, “What do I believe?” he said.

“It’s about swimming through a marsh of lies to find the truth,” Johnson said.

He said the motivation for some organizations, such as Vote or Die or the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, was to get students to vote in the 2004 presidential election, but they didn’t focus on the 2005 elections for the issues that affect them locally, such as the election of school board officials.

“Being involved in the electoral process for one election doesn’t make sense,” Johnson said, adding that voters must continue to hold individuals accountable after they are elected.

Johnson said in the last presidential election, the black college student voter turnout wasn’t a problem. But in order to mobilize non-voters, they need to show candidates what issues affect them.

Kristen Chesney, junior psychology major, said voting is a power some people don’t understand, and that’s the message Johnson is trying to get out.

“Seeing somebody in his position and his place in entertainment,” Chesney said, “maybe he’ll be able to reach out to people and hopefully make a change.”

Contact ethnic affairs reporter Tim Magaw at [email protected].