Swagg the Vote helps Columbia residents register to vote

Saturday, September 22, 2012 | 8:45 p.m. CDT
A table topped with voting information sits in Douglass Park during Swagg the Vote on Saturday. Swag The Vote is a voter registration event with a barbecue, voter registration and softball games. "They got the young people to come out, so I believe it is positive," Bohannon Thompson said about the event.

COLUMBIA — Barbecue, baked goods and ballots dominated the discussion Saturday at Swagg the Vote in Douglass Park.

Smoke and the savory smell of meat fresh from the grill filled the breezy autumn air at the park’s basketball court as volunteers helped adults of all ages fill out voter registration forms. In addition to handling serious business, Swagg the Vote also added fun and games to the otherwise mundane process of voter registration.

Swagg the Vote was hosted by TEAM, an organization run by Columbia residents Marvin Stemmons and Deedee Jackson. Its name is an acronym for “together everyone achieves more." Stemmons and Jackson estimated 50 to 60 people had registered at the event within the first four hours.

Stemmons said as voters mature, they will realize the importance of voting.

“I think the understanding of voting comes with education and age,” Stemmons said. “Each four years of life, voting’s going to be more serious.”

Stemmons, who described himself as someone who got into trouble in his teenage years before turning his life around, said he got involved with TEAM in order to promote positive activities for youth in Columbia.

Jackson, who said she stayed up preparing for Swagg the Vote until 4 a.m., emphasized the importance of the upcoming election.

“We’re all Americans,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, or Mexican. It affects all of us.”

Ernestine Campbell, a teacher who primarily lives in Arkansas but frequently travels to her family’s hometown of Columbia, said she decided to bring an art display to the park to show support for Stemmons and Jackson.

Campbell lined up approximately 50 pieces of artwork against a fence. The subjects of the paintings, which she said were from a wide variety of black artists, included Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama and Tupac Shakur, among other historical and cultural figures.

Ernestine Campbell’s son Chris Campbell, who lives in Columbia, said he supported the event because he wanted people to listen to Stemmons’ message.

“We do a whole lot of talking in the community, but action is a different thing,” Chris Campbell said. “He’s out here taking action. We need those same people who are complaining to be voting.”

The source of the barbecue scent permeating throughout the park was the work of grill master Billy Sutton, whose family used to run the now-closed Sutton Community BBQ. Sutton said he cooked for TEAM because he wanted to participate in helping teenagers in the community.

“I just do it for the neighborhood,” Sutton said. “I have no problem doing something for the neighborhood. If they (teenagers) weren’t here, they’d be somewhere else, maybe getting in trouble.”

Columbia resident Kayla Wisley said she probably would have never registered to vote if not for Swagg the Vote, but she is excited to cast her first-ever vote in November.

“I’ve never voted, and I’m 50,” Wisley said. “I don’t know why. But my one vote might make a difference.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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