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Fort Wayne nonprofit strives to improve voting access for disenfranchised

Multicultural Spotlight: Agency launches racial justice accessibility fellowship

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WISH) — Efforts to improve equity and access at the polls are moving full steam ahead thanks to the Fort Wayne-based nonprofit, Count Us In.

With Tuesday marking National Voter Registration Day, the organization is moving forward with its new Racial Justice Accessibility Fellowship.

In just a few years, the agency has helped register over 750 voters.

They have a specific focus on people who have disabilities and those who have historically been disenfranchised. The new class of Fellows’ representatives say the class will learn the tools to help bring more people to the polls.

2020 was the year that sparked action in Monique Vargas. Living through the pandemic and watching social justice protests erupt, Vargas wanted to do something.

“I felt like I wasn’t quite doing enough. I didn’t really want to be a sideline activist or just be on social media,” Vargas, a former Fellow herself, said.

Vargas then learned about Count Us In and the work they do to create an equitable political space. From there, she learned of its first Racial Justice Accessibility Fellowship. Vargas applied and went through a rigorous panel interview to join the inaugural class.

“They were targeting a specific group of people, so those of us (most) impacted – those who are BIPOC or Black, or identify as Black. Those impacted by incarceration as well, those within the (disabled) community,” said Vargas.

Count Us In representatives say Indiana has for several years ranked in the bottom five states for civic literacy and voter turnout.

This cohort of Fellows will work to help diverse communities reclaim their power in the voting process, including this year’s mayoral elections around the state – all through knowing their rights, advocating for accessibility voting, voting drives, and more.

“Every single person’s voice matters. It doesn’t matter if they are incarcerated. We learned on a recent call that 90% of people that are incarcerated are actually in pretrial detention,” Nativida Muhammad, a current program Fellow, said.

Muhammad is already working with her team on understanding the curriculum and ways to better advocate. She says she’s passionate about sharing the value and need for every single vote, and working in a team can only further the work being done.

“Networking and coming together, particularly in the Black community is really, really important. And it’s how we get information and spread information and awareness,” said Muhammad.

The last day to register to vote is Oct. 10. Voters are urged to double-check to make sure their registration is still active.