Students travel to Brown and Black Forum on MLK Day


Photos submitted to the Simpsonian

by Taylor Williams, News Editor

“Your voice is your vote.”

These were some of the first words heard by an audience filled with people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate MLK Day and have the voices of their communities heard. 

While most Simpson students stayed on campus to celebrate MLK Day, five traveled to Des Moines to participate in America’s oldest minority presidential forum.

Students Diana Sagastizado, Tatum Clayburn, Casie Redhage, Jordan Baldwin and one other sat in a live studio audience for the Brown and Black Forum hosted by Vice News. 

“Being apart of the live audience was an amazing experience. Seeing most of the Democratic candidates in one sitting was literally the best thing ever,” Sagastizado said.  

The forum began in 1976 and grew to include U.S. Presidential candidate forums in 1984. The event has resulted in the Iowa caucuses being more inclusive of all Iowans. 

This year, Democratic presidential candidates Senator Michael Bennet, Andrew Yang, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, Vice President Joe Biden, Congressman John Delaney and Senator Amy Klobuchar were all present at the forum. 

Each candidate was asked a series of questions revolving around their campaign facilitated by award-winning Vice correspondents Antonia Hylton, Paolo Ramos, Dexter Thomas, David Noriega, Krishna Andavolu, Roberto Ferdman and host Alzo Slade. 

The questions and comments were not all on the polite side or easy to answer. Some candidates were called told they were “forgettable” (Bennet) and “too radical” (Sanders).

“It was refreshing to see the moderators not waiver and ask the hard-hitting questions and stick their ground when the candidates would try and defer the questions,” Clayburn said. 

 While some reacted well to the tough questioning, others fell short.

“Many candidates stood out to me. However, very few stood out for good reasons. Out of all of the candidates who attended I think that John Delaney, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders had the best responses,” explained Clayburn. “It was upsetting to see candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg deflect almost every hard-hitting question that was being asked.” 

After facilitated questioning came open audience questioning, most focusing on issues in minority communities. 

Sagastizado explained the importance of hearing what each candidate had to say.

“Not only did they answer questions about issues that matter to people of my community, but I was able to witness it live,” Sagatizado said. “I was able to formulate my opinion and feelings since not many candidates spend much time discussing issues that affect POC unless they are minorities themselves.”

Clayburn said having candidates focus on issues facing brown and black communities is “essential.” 

Many seem to forget that black and brown women have some of the highest voter turnout. Clayburn said she was concerned with candidates’ lack of action and commitment to helping lover the maternal mortality rate for black women. 

“I felt like the overall answer to the three or four times the question was asked would be comparable to “yes, it’s sad we should fix that with healthcare” but gave no actual plan or strategy to bring awareness and light to such a large issue facing the black and brown communities,” Clayburn said. 

After audience questioning, was the much anticipated short answer round. Each candidate needed extra emphasis on the “short” part, going to extensive details over questions like, “what is the worst job you’ve ever had?”

In between each candidate played a short video highlighting the Des Moines community. One man’s story stood out to the crowd, as he cried discussing his struggle with knowing he can never participate in a presidential election because he was once convicted of a felony. 

Iowa’s Constitution and voting laws were one of many topics up for discussing including, but not limited to, health care, immigration and climate change. 

The Brown and Black Forum has three specific goals. 

The first is to focus national and international media attention on Latinx, African-American, Asian-American and other communities of color and their issues, in Iowa and around the country. 

The second is to bridge the gap between Latinx, African-American, Asian-American and other communities of color around the voting process and to educate about the issues and problems that impact these groups and lastly, the forum hopes to mobilize and motivate voters of Latinx,  African-American, Asian-American and other communities of color, in Iowa and around the country, to participate in the political process. 

“Our generation is going to be the largest voter demographic that the polls have seen in years. Especially the Latino/Latina community which has the largest number of eligible voters,” Clayburn said. “For most of us we had to sit back and watch the 2016 election, and for many of us that is the election that changed our life. Now that we have the right to vote, it is so important to exercise our right and vote for a candidate regardless of their party. In this election our vote is the one that matters.”

The 2020 Black and Brown Forum can be found on Vice News Facebook page.