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Civil Rights Icon Congressman John Lewis Urges FAMU Students To Early Vote

About 50 years ago, African Americans were fighting for their civil rights, including the right to vote. And, with early voting underway in Florida, state and local leaders are joining people, like U-S Congressman John Lewis, a Civil rights icon, in encouraging young African American voters to take advantage of the remaining early voting days.

“Fired Up! Ready To Go! Fired Up! Ready to Go! Then, Let’s Vote!”

On a windy day in Tallahassee, U.S. Congressman John Lewis got the students at Florida A and M University “fired up and ready to vote!”

With hundreds of FAMU students in tow singing and chanting, the Georgia Congressman is leading a march to Leon County’s main early voting location: the Leon County Courthouse.

It’s nothing like the thousands of people who were beaten and killed during “Bloody Sunday,” when Civil rights activists, like Lewis, took part in the famous March on Selma, Alabama.

“On March 7, 1965, when we attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, I gave a little blood," said Lewis to a group of college students. "I had a concussion on that bridge. I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death.”

Lewis says it’s now very important for students to have their voices heard, since people worked hard to give them the opportunity.

“I saw those signs that says White men, colored men, White women, colored women. I would come home, and ask my mother, father, my grandparents, and ask them ‘why?’ And they would say, ‘That’s the way it is! Don’t get in their way! Don’t get into trouble!’ But, one day, I heard the words of Rosa Parks, and I heard the words of Martin Luther King," said Lewis. "And, I was inspired to get into trouble! For more than 50 years, I’ve been getting into trouble, necessary trouble, good trouble.”

Lewis says it’s crucial for people to turnout in this election, because he says there are so many others who may be disenfranchised.

“We can’t let that happen," exclaimed Lewis. "You must send a message today, a message that can be heard around the nation, and around the world."

And, FAMU Student Government Vice President Michael Jefferson agrees. He voted 7 a.m. Saturday, Florida’s first day of early voting. And, he says he thanks the efforts of those before him:

“When I think about the fact that my grandfather was a deacon for defense had to march with a rifle just to make sure that they were safe. When I think about the fact I talked to my grandmother this morning, that I was able to vote without anybody giving any type of trouble or issue.”

Another person inspired to vote is Jaeayia Sinclair, a second year Criminal Justice Student at FAMU.  It’s her first time voting and she was one of the first people to stand in a long line to early vote Monday at the courthouse. She says it’s not lost on her how great a moment it is to share it with a Civil Rights icon, like Congressman Lewis.

“It’s actually meant a lot because he was there, knowing how it felt when we weren’t able to vote. So, by him, experiencing that time with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it kind of meant a lot because he was there and he knows what is to be left back then," said Sinclair. "I think he’s a good person to try and encourage everyone to do the right thing and vote, and I think it was a good thing  for us to speak to him and for him to speak to us.”

At the rally, there was also a casket to show pictures of several people who lost their lives fighting for African Americans to have voting rights, like Martin Luther King Jr. and people depicted on “Bloody Sunday.”

Early Voting in Florida lasts until Saturday. Hours vary, based on the early voting location.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.