Prairie View A&M students haven’t forgotten Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old alumna of their school who was found hanged in a Prairie View jail cell after state police arrested her in a minor traffic stop. Neither have they forgotten when a local officer Tasered Jonathan Miller, the youngest member of Prairie View’s City Council and alumni of their school, for “suspicious activity.”
That was 2015. By 2016, Donald Trump—who ran on a campaign that promised to give more power to the police—was president.
President Obama’s farewell address included a call to those listening to “grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself,” encouraging students to be the change they’d like to see. Three Prairie View A&M students took the former president’s advice, running for the two open seats in Prairie View City Council.
On May 6, both seats were filled by Prairie View students, one of whom is the youngest city council member in the state of Texas.
The results, according to Frank Jackson, former mayor of Prairie View and now Assistant Vice Chancellor for State Relations–Texas A&M System, show the power of young voices in the community. “If the students ever became truly organized, they could hold every political office in the city and key political offices in the county,” Jackson said.
“The students of Prairie View A&M University’s voices have not been heard,” said Prairie View Student Government President-elect, and now the youngest city councilman in the state of Texas, Kendric D. Jones. “Since I have been here, the city has been stagnant and has not made any progression—outside of the university. I feel as though a young, innovative mind can push this city forward.”
Maduforo Eze, who has been a member of PVAMU Student Government Association since his freshman year, ran for Prairie View City Council Position 2, but lost to the incumbent, graduate student Jonathan Randle. Eze now serves on the university’s student government as vice president of governmental relations and external affairs and, despite his loss, said he will continue to participate in local government.
“Our current political climate in the US has taken a turn. Politicians…run solely to advance their parties’ ideals and gain political power, instead of fighting for constituents,” Eze said. “ I refuse to make blank promises and give false hopes to people just to get into office. I will continue to stick to that principle even when I run for future offices.”
Founded as a part of the Morrill Land Grant Colleges Act, Prairie View A&M University, and Texas A&M University were both part of the public education initiative of former slaves, established during Reconstruction by some of the first black members of the state legislature. Students are versed in the history of the school’s founding and student activism and participation in the political process make up a significant part of campus life. The university holds voter registration drives the moment students step on campus; freshman at orientation take turns packing the auditorium in the student center to listen to peer advisory leaders, administrators, and city politicians who encourage them to be the change they would like to see. And each voting season, the students, who not only make up a large part of the voting power of the city but the county as well, line up to exercise their rights as citizens. Political engagement, especially the fight for the right to vote, is embedded in the university’s history.