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I was so proud to see the photo of my Storiboard Nation team member, Vanessa Razo, along with her parents, at the polls where they voted as first-time voters. Yes, you read that right. This was the first time Vanessa and her parents have voted. Not because they didn’t want to vote in the past, or didn’t support previous candidates. It also wasn’t because they were lazy. They didn’t vote because they couldn’t.

It took Vanessa and her parents 23 years to finally become U.S. citizens and be granted the right to vote. That’s 23 years of working, paying taxes and positively contributing to society, while having to jump through years of bureaucratic red tape. They relocated to the United States in 1993 and have been trying every single day to fully take part in the American dream.

Most people think the path to citizenship is easy breezy, like going to get a driver’s license….You just show up, take a short test, smile for the camera, and if you pass the test then you say an oath and become a citizen. If you don’t pass, you just wait a few days and try again on whichever portion of the test you failed.

Not even close!

Well not for the vast majority of residents who spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours so that they can proudly say they are an “American”. For the small percentage of privileged individuals who somehow get their status fast-tracked, even their process isn’t done in one week–but let’s not even go down that path.

The citizenship process looks very simple on paper:

  • Step One: Find Out Whether You Are Eligible. The first question is whether you have a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence for on average 5 years). …Green cards cost $340-$1,500
  • Step Two: Overcome Barriers to Your Ineligibility. …
  • Step Three: File USCIS Form N-400. …Filing fee is currently $595.00 plus $85.00 biometrics fee
  • Step Four: Get Fingerprinted. …
  • Step Five: Attend a Citizenship Interview. …Which includes English (ability to speak, read, and write it) and an oral U.S. History and Government test (the test proctor selects the questions)
  • Step Six: Attend the Oath Ceremony….This is the step most of us witness through news coverage (which makes it look like a one-day process)

These six steps can take numerous years to complete. For Vanessa and her parents, it took 23 extremely long years. It was no cakewalk. They are fortunate to now be citizens and have full access to the systems, processes, and privileges that other Americans have. Sadly, they have other family members and friends who are still waiting for the day when they can become citizens. I too have friends who are waiting. Some have been waiting for over 25 years. They continue to work, pay bills, pay taxes, pay legal fees, and contribute to our economy, while they wait patiently.

I pray that the results from our recent election does not discourage or intimidate them. Instead, I hope that it helps them to passionately focus on making their dreams come true in the land that has provided them various options, opportunities, and freedoms that their birth country did not provide.

I pray that Vanessa and her parents become more engaged in the political process and encourage others to remain focused and get involved in making sure that this country remains the multicultural home of the free and the land of the brave!

If you know of anyone who is going through the green card and citizenship process, tell them to not lose hope, and don’t get distracted by what they see, read, and hear through media outlets and social media…or even narrow-minded politicians. Tell them to just dig in deep and remember why they are here and why they want so badly to become an American. Our country desperately needs those positive vibes!

~Natasha

Earlier today I posted this announcement to two of my college classes:

Good afternoon team!

Today is Election Day and I know that many of you will be tuned in to see who the American public voted for to be our next President of the United States (POTUS). Hopefully all of you took part in early voting or you’re hitting the voting booth today.

Make sure that you are well-versed on on local and state elections and various amendments that can positively or negatively impact your community. The federal election has one level of impact on us, but our local and state elections have the biggest impact on us—especially since there are certain issues that the federal government has little to no say over, which means that state officials can rule whichever way they choose.

Crime, sentencing laws, education, sidewalks, potholes in streets, adequate lighting, jobs, community centers, parks, community policing, human trafficking, and other important issues are local matters that you need to voice your concerns about.

Change NEVER comes from the efforts
of government. It ALWAYS comes from the people making demands of those they put into office. And it shouldn’t wait for every four years, but should be on going each month.

Let your voice be heard and don’t ever think that your vote doesn’t count. Your vote could be the one that helps pass an amendment or law, or prevent one from being enacted. Your vote could help fast track important measures that our communities need to thrive.

Voters fixate on the presidential elections and then ignore local and state elections. No. No. No!

There has never been a POTUS who sat down and looked specifically at the concerns of residents near ATC, West End, Ben Hill, and other neighborhoods. Your local commissioners and representatives are responsible for that. Are you voting or leaving it up to everyone else to put in office and hold accountable the men and women who will try to dictate your and your children’s present and future?

If you’re against the death penalty wouldn’t it be in your best interest to make sure that a pro-death penalty candidate running to be the next judge, senator, or congressman, is NOT elected?

If you want to protect your child’s school and make sure that it is adequately funded, has quality and qualified teachers, has enough textbooks and resources, and is a bully-free and drug-free zone—don’t you think that you need to be involved in advocating for that and other schools, and voting for or against amendments and individuals that can negatively impact it?

You can’t complain about things taking place in your neighborhood, city, county, state, and country if you don’t vote and aren’t active in advocating for yourself and your family.

Do you know that there are tons of former inmates who don’t even realize when they are eligible to register to vote? Voter suppression is real and you can be an advocate for them. I recall walking through the West End MARTA station a few years ago, and I was helping to register voters. I would hear from individuals that they couldn’t vote due to their incarceration records. When I provided them with materials and informed them of the laws and their rights, many were shocked to find that they had been missing out on local, state, and even federal elections, thinking they couldn’t vote at all or weren’t eligible for several more years. I did meet two men who were ineligible but knew the exact year of eligibility and said they were determined to register at that time. I’m confident that both of those men are now registered voters and that they took part in this year’s election. They were passionate about voting on matters that impacted them and voting for (or against) candidates whose views on sentencing laws, incarceration, rehabilitation, jobs for former inmates, and other related matters, aligned with theirs as voters.

I don’t care if you choose to ignore all candidates for every office and only vote on amendments and measures that matter to you. Just get out there and vote! If you don’t, no one wants to hear your complaints and grievances. If you can’t vote (for legal or residency issues) then speak up and speak out, while encouraging others to cast their votes.

Systems only work when everyone impacted by the system plays a role in it.

Prof. Bryant

It’s important that as an instructor and a leader, that I encourage my students to speak up, speak out, get and remain engaged, and vote. This isn’t just about who’s running for the office of POTUS, this is about the men and women who want to lead in your state! Don’t be blinded by one thing and ignore your own backyard.

Natasha