Betty Miles registers to vote, taking advantage of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.’s national campaign – “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People.” (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

Betty Miles ended up getting much more than she expected during a recent trip to Southland Mall. Asked if she would like to register to vote, Miles replied, “Yes, I’ve been meaning to register to vote. I might as well go on and do it now.”

One year out from the political races of 2022, the men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. recently braved showers to make voter registration convenient for those who are yet unregistered.

An Alpha-branded table was set up on the main corridor of the mall, giving shoppers and browsers the opportunity to register for the vote on the spot. Their four-hour, voter registration drive (on Oct. 2) was the Alpha Delta Lambda graduate chapter’s participation in the fraternity’s national campaign, “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People.”

“We want to start now getting as many people as we possibly can registered to vote,” said chapter President Vearnon Woods. “We don’t want to wait until two months before the elections to start voter registration.

Interest in making sure people register to vote and actually go to the polls, especially people of color, has been ratcheting up in light of Republican-dominated state legislatures pushing through new voting restrictions in the name of election security since the party lost the White House. Those GOP efforts have been spurred in part by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him.

Helping to man the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. voter-registration effort at Southland Mall were (seated, l-r) Derek Brassel Sr., Darin Patterson and Oscar Sueing; standing (l-r): Vearnon Woods and Oscar Thompson Jr. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

As the Alphas push forward with their voter registration and engagement effort, the fraternity is not endorsing or supporting any particular political party said Derek Brassel Sr., a chapter member.

“We want everyone to have the opportunity to vote for whoever they choose, based on the issues that matter to them. Every vote counts.”

Education, said Woods, will be at the top of the list of issues on next year’s ballot.

“I am a teacher, and we need to make sure public education is adequately funded. We put money toward those things that are most important to us. Funds are allocated toward what is seen as valuable.”

Chapter Second-Vice President Daron Patterson said Alphas always have believed in the power of the vote and the need for young people to be engaged in the political process.

“I believe young people have felt disconnected, that they are not a part of the process,” said Patterson. “But we want to encourage our young people to register to vote because their vote counts. We all have one vote, and we must all use the power of our vote to bring about a change.”

Chapter member Oscar Sueing said the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer was an awakening for many, particularly young people who discovered the power of their voices.

“The Black Lives Matter movement was instrumental in driving a global conscience about social injustice,” said Sueing. “Issues having to do with social justice and police reform are important to young people.

“Without a vote, you have no voice. I believe many young people who have not been a part of the political process will register to vote.”

Party primaries for county elections are May 3. The County general election is Aug. 4. State and federal party primaries also are Aug. 4.

As of Oct. 1, there were some 564,272 active voters in Shelby County, according Shelby County Election Commission data.

Ralph Thompson Jr., a senior member of the local Alpha chapter, talked about the 2022 local elections in the context of what he views as multifaceted issues that are not easy to sort out.

“I’m a grandfather, and so many of the problems we have with our children, our schools and other things have to do with the breakdown of the family,” said Thompson

“These problems are complex. It’s not just the absence of fathers in the home. But there are some mothers absent as well, parentless homes. We have to vote candidates in office who represent our values. Every person’s vote counts.…”

“A Voteless People is a Hopeless People” was initiated as a national program of Alpha during the 1930s when many African-Americans had the right to vote, but were prevented from voting because of poll taxes, threats of reprisal and lack of education about the voting process.

In the 1990s, the focus shifted to include political awareness and empowerment, delivered most frequently through town meetings and candidate forums.