For 35 years, Daryl Lewis, age 55, had been a criminal. Not working, in and out of jail and prison but then, when he was released in April, he was a changed man–including his name. Today, ‘Truth’ works and prays and thinks all the time about improving his life.
One thing he hasn’t done is register to vote.
Oswald Newbold, on the other hand, who spent nearly 25 years in prison before he was released in 2017, registered to vote as soon as it became possible for ex-felons to do so after the passage of Amendment 4 last year. Now a municipal employee, a business owner and an author, Mr. Newbold actually voted in the March 2019 municipal elections.
The difference? None, according to Alfred J. Fields, president of the Alpha Educational Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the WPB-based Delta Delta Lambda chapter of the national Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. That chapter, along with the Omicron Upsilon Lambda chapter, are hosting a statewide fraternal conference October 18-20, 2019, at the West Palm Beach Marriott.
Part of the conference will be a panel discussion and community workshop about this issue. The name of the event is A Voteless People is a Hopeless People: Amendment 4; Now What? and it has a simple, clear focus: ex-felons and protecting their right to vote.
“Ex-felons have all kinds of stuff to deal with when they get back home–housing, jobs, family issues, even trying to get a driver’s license–so voting may not be at the top of their lists,” he said. “But the key is this: whenever they are ready to vote, that right needs to be there.”
His point is huge. It underlies the overwhelming Amendment 4 voter support across Florida, which had been one of only three states that didn’t allow full rights restoration for felons once they completed their sentences.
It is also why, when Gov. DeSAntis signed a bill into law in June that requires ex-felons to pay all fines related to their crimes first, multiple federal lawsuits were filed against the state. It, too, explains why the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWV) President Patricia Brigham called the new law “a blatant attempt at voter suppression.”
Mr. Fields’ point also explains the Alphas’ focus at the conference panel discussion: how and why to register ex-felons. It is a pushback that other organizations–like the LWV, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the ACLU of Florida–are doing too as part of their lawsuits against the state.
In other words, these efforts are meant to undermine the new state law that seeks to undermine Amendment 4.
“A poll tax in 2019?” Mr. Fields asked. “No.”
Besides the federal lawsuits, one Alpha Man has already started a pushback of a different sort: he filed a bill in the state Legislature. State Rep. Al Jacquet, who represents District 88 in Palm Beach County, has filed a bill for the 2020 Legislative Session that would remove language requiring full payment of certain fines and fees.
But how important is registering to vote for the ex-felon? Truth says he hadn’t even thought about it because he’s focused on “trying to live my better life.”
Mr. Newbold agrees. “But it comes,” he said, “as we change and grow and achieve, we then start looking around to try to make change not just in our own life but in society. Believe me: we know what change is.”
For more event information, call 561-627-3089, x. 201 or send an email here.