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Hundreds of millennials joined religious and civil rights leaders in a march and rally on the state Capitol on April 26, 2018 to support the restoration of voting rights for felons.

Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network and MSNBC show host, and other local and national church and civic leaders joined the march.

“This march/rally will serve notice that the clemency board must take seriously the restoration of former felons’ civil and voting rights,” said the Rev. R.B. Holmes, Jr., pastor of the Bethel Church and president of the local chapter of NAN. “The federal judge has spoken. Florida’s process of restoring rights to former felons is unconstitutional.”

Holmes said they marched to mobilize the state to vote for Amendment 4 so that 1.6 million returning citizens will automatically have their civil and voting rights restored.

Tawanna Franklin, president of the Black Law Students Association at Florida State University, said she never expected to be fighting for giving people the right to vote.  But it's her generation's turn to step up and let their voices be heard given Florida's poor track record regarding felons.

“In two states, felons never lose their right to vote,”  Franklin said. “In 14 states (plus the District of Columbia) felons only lose their right to vote while incarcerated, and in 21 states felons lose their right to vote during incarceration and while on parole or probation. Thirty-seven states in total either never decline a felon’s right to vote or restore the rights immediately after a certain period.  We need to join those states and restore their rights,” she said.

Students from Florida A&M University, FSU and Tallahassee Community College participated in the march coined as “Millennials Rising.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website, Florida and a dozen other states either withhold voting rights until completion of sentence, until after a post-sentencing waiting period or until additional action is taken.

Other issues that were addressed at the rally were guns in schools, the midterm elections and progress since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

“We do not think guns should be allowed in school at all,” said the Rev. Don Tolliver, vice president of the Tallahassee Chapter of NAN. “They should have resource officers or trained police officers at the school, not the janitors or workers or teachers. They should not have guns.”

Tolliver said the rally should have energized new and first-time voters. “Another point is not only changing the dynamics of the midterm elections of 2018 by registering people to vote, but also getting them to the polls,” he said. “About 2.1 million people were registered and did not make it to the polls during the last election.”

Recently returning from the National Action Network Convention in New York, Tolliver also expressed his displeasure with how civil rights legislation is under attack. “The consciousness of America is not where it needs to be and has gone back 50 years with this current administration, “he said.

“The future of America is in the millennials’ hands. They are the ones who will have a say in what’s about to happen.”

“What I think was most refreshing was the youth participation and the kind of excitement that developed among youth about this march,” said Terrance McNeil, an academic coordinator for TRIO Talent Search at FAMU. “Often our young people are dismissed from the decision-making processes of this world. Here’s a cadre of young people who are changing this world for the better,” he said.

“We will be wise as adults to first recognize and then have dialog about the things our young people are saying.”

McNeil supports the premise of the march and rally. “I believe that in a fair and just society attention to this matter is long overdue. I would like to see continued conversation and action items around this particular issue because it promotes equality for people who have served their debt to society.

“After all, these are our fellow citizens,” said the former ambassador for FAMU to the White House Initiative on historical black colleges and universities, “and if the justice system has allowed them to be free in our society, then they get all aspects that freedom and democracy in America guarantees us.”