Forget the beach parties or trips home to visit family. For a group of students from historically black colleges and universities in the U.S., this year's spring break will mean traveling to Ferguson, Missouri, to help register voters ahead of local elections there in April.
NAACP officials in Atlanta told the Associated Press that dozens of students from Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College will make the trip as part of a larger effort to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was ratified after violent struggles in Southern states for a ban on race-based barriers that kept most African-Americans unregistered to vote and voiceless in choosing their elected officials.
Ferguson is fertile ground for activism in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen killed by a white police officer last August. The St. Louis suburb's elected officials and police force do not reflect the minority racial makeup of its residents.
Atlanta NAACP President Richard Rose told the AP that the voter registration project in and around Ferguson is meant to show residents and the students that change requires civic engagement. Residents in Ferguson and nearby Jennings, Missouri, have filed a lawsuit alleging a pattern of discrimination by police and city government that's led to jailing of people when they can't pay traffic fines and other municipal violations. The Justice Department recently announced that it would join those residents by bringing a federal lawsuit.
Following Brown’s death, which last year sparked national protests against excessive force by police and raised discussions of contemporary race relations in the U.S., there has been renewed focus on local African-American voter engagement. Ferguson is two-thirds black. But in a municipal election last November, only 10,222 ballots were cast out of 24,334 registered voters, CNN reported.