I don’t have any children or grandchildren at my alma mater, McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, but I felt it was worthwhile to attend its first home football game, give the school a few dollars, cheer on the team that is going through hard times, and see some old friends.
I could see lines forming for the world-famous Shorty Jordan fried turkey legs. Shorty was a former McKinley basketball whose fried turkey legs are an institution. As I continued along the fence, I saw a familiar-looking woman sitting at a table looking busy. “Oh Lord,” I thought, “what is she going to ask me to contribute to? What cause is she promoting?
Do get me wrong; I didn’t dread seeing Almenia Freeman Warren. In fact, she makes me laugh, and often she makes me do some deep thinking about politics and life. In fact, we occasionally exchange text messages about politics and sometimes, when I have a long time to talk, we have a phone conversation. I do most of the listening.
Warren, a McKinley graduate, is a longtime educator in Baton Rouge and was the principal of the school long after I had graduated. I grew up with two of her younger brothers. I believe she is the only Almenia I have known.
What Warren was doing at her table was something great, and I suggest more people do it at not only at high school football games, but at other high school sporting events and during school days.
She was encouraging people to register to vote. At that little table in a dimly lit parking lot, she had papers, pens, enthusiasm and a desire to get people to do something that is important to the democracy of this country.
“The midterms (elections) are so important for us,” she said, “us being Democrats and women.”
I know where she’s coming from, but it’s also important for everyone, regardless of party.
I know she feels as passionately as I do about the importance of voting. She often lets me know that through social media and phone calls.
She once sent me a get-out-the-vote poem that was published in an African-American newspaper back in the 1960s with the title, “Don’t Be a Goat.”
The poem says, in part, “The working man who fails to vote is like the hapless Billy goat: He butts his head against the wall, and finds he gets nowhere at all!"
Warren said she was recruiting registered voters in the parking lot because she was inspired by her mother who worked with voter registration efforts many years ago.
That effort continues a theme for her. “When I was the principal at McKinley, we had voter registration during lunch time in the fall and during May Day in the spring,” she said. Other school principals should take note.
Besides, she said, “I was coming to the game, anyway, so I decided to get people to register.” At the end of the night, she had gotten eight people to complete the registration papers.
“I had a former prisoner to register. His daughter told him, ‘You can’t vote. You have been in jail.’ He registered anyway,” she said, citing a piece of recent legislation enabling him to do so.
The Legislature passed a bill, signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, to restore the voting rights of thousands of the state’s convicted felons still serving probation and parole. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Pat Smith, a Baton Rouge Democrat, allows someone on probation or parole for a felony to register to vote after being out of prison for five years, though not someone convicted of a felony involving election fraud or other election offenses. It goes into effect March 1, 2019.
What’s also important about Warren’s effort is that she has had her grandson help her with voter registrations since he was 5 years old. He is now 11. “It is my wish that he will follow in my mother’s footsteps,” she said.
The deadline to register online to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 16. The deadline to register to vote by mail is Oct. 9, and the deadline to vote in person is Sunday, Oct. 7.
What’s encouraging about Warren’s effort is that she is not through. “I still have lots of applications to distribute,” she said. Let’s join her.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at email@example.com.