by Siera Jones
As the results for the 44th presidential election flashed across her television screen, 8-year-old Symone Thomas was struck by the significance of Barack Obama becoming the first black president of the United States. Hearing the joyful weeping of her Nana through the telephone, she did not yet realize it, but Symone was experiencing a historic and hard-fought victory for her ancestors. Her passion was born.
“I was only 8 at the time, but I feel as though I fully grasped how important that election was,” recalls Thomas, now a senior at Norfolk State University. “I have been in love with politics and policy ever since.”
Twelve years later, Thomas is fighting to make a difference on her college campus with the 2020 presidential election looming. Norfolk State University sports seasons remain at a standstill, but the Spartan student athletes still have a significant goal. The NSU Student Athletic Advisory Committee is leading the athletic department in a voting initiative with the goal of reaching 100% voter registration across all sports teams. Thomas is leading the charge.
Thomas is the Student Athletic Advisory Committee’s Civic Engagement chair, and NSU Young Democrats president. She has organized a partnership between NSU Athletics, Young Democrats, and Campus Vote Project to create the “Spartans Vote” Campaign.
Thomas is not simply operating as a name behind the project, but is well-known by the entire campus community, and is also a member of the Spartan volleyball team, and the Norfolk State University ROTC program. Thomas’ passion for political and civic engagement is apparent to everyone she comes in contact with, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Thomas is never shy about asking friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers if they are registered to vote, and never hesitates to offer voter education resources to anyone who may need them. She possesses knowledge beyond her years, and her career ambitions are known and shared by her friends, who know her as the “future United States Congress Woman.”
Thomas receives her inspiration from the activists that came before her.
“My specific source for motivation to get people to vote is the fact that our ancestors fought for this right,” said Thomas, who vividly recalls attending an Obama campaign rally in her home state of Texas as a child. “This is my way to honor what they fought for. I’m going to continue to fight against voter suppression, and get our people educated.”
Thomas and her team have been busy in the past month. They have hosted events and launched social media campaigns to educate the NSU athletic community. Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, they have spread the word on campus using interactive Zoom calls, outdoor events, and social media campaigns.
Thomas stressed the importance of creativity while educating a younger voter audience.
“This election will be the first time a lot of our student athletes are going to be able to vote, and as they say, each election is a new age,” she said.
Her appeal to young voters has been achieved through the use of social media, and she is taking advantage of the digital transfer of information, especially in the midst of the global pandemic.
“There are new forms of voter education,” Thomas explained. “We are more about technology than ever. There are so many resources this year that haven’t been before to get voters educated.”
Some of those digital efforts have included the production of a video featuring various Spartan athletes promoting voter registration, social media graphics and voter education and registration sessions hosted over Zoom in partnership with NSU Athletics, NSU Young Dems, and Campus Vote Project. Thomas and her team have also sought to inspire hope for social justice through a social media series featuring Spartan athletes’ responses to the systemic racial injustices in the United States.
Thomas aims to inspire a sense of responsibility in her peers, as well as the realization that they can create the future that they desire.
“I am a firm believer that if you want to see change, you have to be the change,” Thomas said. “People are only going to start voting once they start caring about their futures, and the future of this country.”