There’s something about space and the final frontier embodied by Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek that ignites our imagination to consider boundless possibilities. In his vision of the future, humanity had long reconciled its dysfunctions and prejudiced ways. Hate, racism, and greed were a thing of the past.
Perhaps that’s why Congressman John Lewis cast the deciding vote to save Nasa’s International Space Station in the early 1990s - having fought so hard to secure voting rights for African Americans in the United States, the vision of a diverse group of people circling our planet and working together for a better future stirred his soul.
As we mourn Congressman Lewis, we are reminded of a lifetime devoted to the sacred right to vote; of battles won and lost, and a legacy fought on the frontlines of the civil rights movement for a better future. John Lewis perhaps better than anyone understood that the future he believed in, one of equality and justice, rests in the hands of young people and their communities - the same communities he spent his life working alongside and on behalf of.
By November 2020, seven million young people of colour will have turned 18 since the last election. These seven million first-time voters are one of the most powerful, untapped blocs of voters in the country. In recognition of this unheralded fact, in June of this year, the Roddenberry Foundation launched the 7 Million Strong initiative to support organisations, teams, and individuals across the United States who are mobilising young people of colour to vote.
Through 7 Million Strong we’re supporting groups like Dignity & Power Now and their work with 15 Black-led organisations to gather 10,000 new Black voters and get 50,000 pledges for the Black Agenda 2020. In Georgia, Women Engaged will register and mobilise thousands of young Black voters in Atlanta for upcoming state and national elections. And The 2020 Project will be registering 100,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to vote in key swing states.
There are many more organisations across the country doing this critical work. Over 400 organisations from 47 states applied to the 7 Million Strong initiative. They do this work despite our country’s chronic underinvestment in and underestimation of young people of colour, which not only hurts them, but undermines our democracy. The path ahead is clear for anyone who cares about climate change, gun control, racial justice, or voting rights, all issues that most animate this generation. Black and brown youth will redefine America’s future at the ballot box.
Casting the vote to save the space station was only one of many extraordinary acts by a man who believed that “ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America”. As we celebrate his life and his vision of a fair and just America, there is no better way to honour John Lewis’ legacy than to ensure that we invest in and amplify the voices, and votes, of young people of colour.
Lior Ipp is the CEO of the Roddenberry Foundation.