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September 1, 2014, 7:58 pm

Olney resident leads voter outreach program

As the Republican candidates squabble among themselves in an effort to secure the party’s nomination, President Barack Obama’s campaign has begun to rally the Black community behind the president.

Watching the Republicans fight has invigorated Democrats.

“In a strange way, it’s spurring them on,” said Shirley Bright, who volunteers as part of the Obama campaign’s African-American outreach program.

An Olney resident, she works a slice of North Philadelphia as part of an outreach effort geared specifically toward African Americans. Her job is touching base with church leaders from seven congregations in an effort to mobilize church members to support Obama.

“Church is a big part of who we are,” she said. “In the African-American community in particular, our faith is such an important part of who we are and a lot of times pastors, clergy in general have an influence. They can get their congregations aware of the importance of registering, making them aware of some of the things that are going on to try and suppress the vote, especially in our community.”

Most of the churches are small, she admits, but Bright hopes through her efforts to reach thousands of area residents to vote for Obama in November.

Obama ignited Bright’s passion during his 2008 campaign.

Inspired by her mother, the late Aleva Harmon, who died in 2008 at the age of 104, after living long enough to see a Black man run for president and cast a vote in the Pennsylvania primary, Bright has always been politically active.

“My earliest recollections of elections were going with her to vote,” remembered Bright, who grew up in North Philly. She would never tell me who she was voting for, she would always tell me she was voting her conscience. I think that’s where this comes from for me. From her.”

She is proud to have an African-American in the White House, but said she backs Obama for other reasons too, citing the passage of health care reform, foreclosure prevention measures endorsed by the president and his efforts to make college more affordable.

“I just believe in what the president is trying to get done,” said Bright. “He is our best hope. It’s not just that he’s the first African-American president; it’s the kind of president he is. It’s so important that we get out and vote.”

Knowing that the general election would be tough, Bright decided to volunteer again.

“I think it’s important that when we say we believe in something, we become actively involved,” Bright said.

Historically, African Americans have overwhelmingly supported the president whose approval ratings among Blacks, according to Gallup Poll, have consistently been above 80 percent. Recent poll numbers found that 83 percent of African Americans support the president. The all time low reported by Gallup was recorded in January and even then 79 percent of Black voters supported Obama.

Campaign officials are not taking that support for granted.

Under new rules, ranking campaign officials will speak to reporters only with quote approval – reserving the right to approve what they’ve said, reading and commenting on a story before it goes to print – something the Tribune has declined to do.

Two officials who are spearheading the African-American outreach effort visited Philadelphia last week and would speak only on background. They sketched the campaign’s effort to rally Black voters in broad terms. In addition to reaching out to churches, volunteers are targeting Black barbershops and salons and businesses.

Volunteers are instructed to discuss Obama’s accomplishments and how they have affected the Black community. Among the things touted are: healthcare reform, which according to the campaign has given 7 million African Americans access to healthcare; $3.4 billion spent with Black businesses through the Minority Business Development Agency; $2.5 billion to historically Black colleges; payroll tax cuts; and reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

Bright said she’s found most African Americans are already supportive.

“People are still really committed to the president,” Bright said. One of the ways that I can tell is the rally signs from ’08 are still in people’s windows.”


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