Since the 2008 Crawford v. Marion County [Indiana] Election Board landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, civic literacy and voter turnout in Indiana has declined making it one of the lowest-ranked states in the US. Indiana legislated one of the nation’s strictest voter-ID laws, creating unnecessary voting barriers for America’s historically disenfranchised communities.
Count US In, an Indiana based non-partisan movement and organization founded by Senior Fellow Jalyn Radziminski-Smith, is committed to reversing this decline. Inspired by Indiana’s 1970s Black National Convention and Fanine Hamer’s Black Disability Freedom Dreams, Count US In empowers, educates, and shows the black and disabled community that their vote matters.
With the support of Humanity in Action’s Racial Equity Grant, Count US In launched it’s very first Racial Justice & Accessibility (RJA) Fellowship empowering their first cohort of five Fellows from Indiana. The RJA Fellowship was designed to boost voter turnout and integrated civic engagement among communities of people who identify as: Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, Women, LGBTQIA+, those who live with a disability, those impacted by incarceration, students, seniors, immigrants, individuals affected by poverty, and members of the working class.
The 12-week program would give RJA Fellows the tools that they need to create projects which boost voter turnout and civic engagement in Black and Disabled Black communities.
The Racial Justice & Accessibility Fellowship designed a 12-week program with the following four focuses:
- Political, Voting, & Civic Engagement Educations
- Community Coalition & Movement Building
- Reparations Communities that are Black, Disabled, and Impacted by Incarceration
- Personal Development & Skill Buildings
Progress & Achievements
The Racial Justice and Accessibility Fellowship launched successfully with five Fellows:
- Lindsey Batteast
Lindsey Batteast is the Founder and CEO of the Rising Rainbow Coalition, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the socio-economic conditions and civic engagement of marginalized communities in Indiana. Lindsey is an ambassador for gender equity and aspires to “lift as she climbs.”
- Venus Dabney
Venus Dabney has spent her career servicing juveniles in residential placement facilities and classrooms throughout northwest IN. Venus is a strong advocate for organizations which promote and encourage inclusion.
- Danicia Malone
Danicia Malone is an arts & culture ambassador and urban planner. She is a creative director and interaction designer who challenges the ideas of public space and place-making to encourage a people-centric status quo.
- Clarence Underwood
Clarence Underwood is an aspiring motivational speaker and author. Clarence is the founder of the Executive Voter’s League, a grassroots collective committed to mobilizing communities to participate in community level politics. He is involved with several non-profits such as Finntown Academy and Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males. His goal to uplift humanity through servitude and charity.
- Monique Vargas
Monique Vargas, a purchasing associate at First Merchants Corporation, joined the RJA Fellowship to gain new skills around advocacy and implementation to create a more just and restorative society. Monique wants to eliminate inequality between black, brown, and international students by increasing civic engagement in those communities.
The Projects and Final Showcase
Through the Racial Justice and Accessibility Fellowship, this cohort established four of their own projects. Three of the projects, Counting Kids IN, Disability Voter Rights and Incarcerated Community and Voter Rights were part of the Black, Incarcerated, Disabled (B.I.D.) series. The fourth project was the Watering Hole Project.
- Counting Kids IN; Venus Dabney
Counting Kids IN is a project aimed towards educating Indiana communities in the power of educating youth on the voting process. This project advocates for teaching civic literacy to individuals starting at a young age so that it becomes a natural behavior as early as possible.
- Disability Voter Rights; Monique Vargas
The Disability Voter Rights project is meant to tear down barriers and show the power of the disabled vote in Indiana. After the Disabilities Act of 1984 and The Have America Vote Act of 2002, people living with disabilities became more recognized and voting became more accessible. However, in Indiana, voter ID laws are very strict and still provide unnecessary voting barriers to disabled communities including obtaining an I.D. or having to wait in long voting queues. This initiative is meant to tear down barriers and show the power of the disabled vote.
- Incarcerated Community and Voter Rights; Clarence Underwood
The Incarcerated Community and Voter Rights project advocates for felon voting rights by demonstrating the power of felons knowing their voting rights. The goal of this initiative is to end voter suppression by restoring access to voting in those communities.
- Watering Hole Project; Lindsey Batteast and Danicia Monèt
Through the Watering Hole Project, Lindsey and Danicia worked to bring polls to the people and trusted communities by providing a review on the current state of accessibility to US polls and factors affecting low voter-turnout. The goal of this project is to increase the number of accessible voting stations in Black and Disabled Black communities in order to increase voter turnout.
After 12 weeks, the final showcase for the projects was given on May 1st, 2021. Viewers included people across the state of Indiana and the U.S. (Fort Wayne, West Lafayette, Muncie, Gary, Indianapolis, Bloomington, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Boulder, Los Angeles, and Atlanta).
- Humanity in Action Unapologetic: The John Lewis Legacy and the Fierce Urgency of the Now conference in July 2021.
Jalyn spoke about the impact that the Racial Justice & Accessibility Fellowship was having on the Indiana community through defending voting rights and diversifying political participation.
- Indiana Governor Council for People with Disabilities
- Voting Guide & Coalition Project Community Meeting
For more information on the Racial Justice and Accessibility Fellowship, please see the HIA Grant Report.
Updated March 2022