Meet The FAMU Student Who Helped Organize A Massive, Star-Packed Rally For Andrew Gillum
by: Kayla Pasacreta
One day before the November 6th midterm election, FAMU had a massive ‘Bring It Home Midnight Rally’ for Tallahassee mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. Students stood in hour-long lines to attend the star-studded event. Migos’ Quavo, Sean “Diddy” Combs, rapper Fat Joe, producer Will Packer, comedian Tiffany Haddish, R&B singer Monica, political commentator Angela Rye, and rapper Gunna took the stage to not only put on a great show, but also advocate for students to vote and support FAMU grad Andrew Gillum. As FAMU students gathered for a great time, they were also aware that they were on the very brink of history - Andrew Gillum, an HBCU grad, could be the first black Governor of Florida.
"We are in the midst of a black excellence moment, and we have the opportunity to make history ,” Combs told the crowd while wearing a “Vote Or Die” shirt.
The rally, which FAMU student Denver Smith helped organize, was a profound intersection of black culture, music, and youth political advocacy. The Executive Tea sat down with Denver to discuss the rally, the importance of voting, and her plans for political involvement in the future.
Denver Smith is a 4th-year Pre-Physical Therapy scholar from Prince George's County, Maryland. She previously served as the Student Government Association Chief-of-Staff for Florida A&M University. This year, she serves as the Special Advisor to the SGA President's Cabinet. Florida A&M University (FAMU) sits on the highest of seven hills in Tallahassee, FL. It is rich in history and known for many of the barriers it's broken in the 131 years of being established. FAMU’s Student Government Association has especially been a progressive aid to the many changes that have come to fruition in our state's capitol and the rest of Florida. FAMU’s very own alumnus, Gubernatorial Candidate, Mayor Andrew Gillum, was very active on FAMU's campus as he was elected as the SGA Vice President during his college years.
The Executive Tea (TET): You played a big role in organizing a massive rally at FAMU that had major celebrities like P Diddy, DJ Khaled, Quavo, comedian Tiffany Haddish, CNN commentator Angela Rye, Gunna, and more. How did you come up with this idea to merge black popular culture and politics to rally support for FAMU grad Andrew Gillum?
Denver Smith: The idea was brought to us by Mayor Gillum's team. We are very supportive of our own alumni. Nonetheless, we are still a non-partisan school. We have provided a space for all candidates to reach out to our SGA and student body to civically engage everyone. Many artists have began to utilize their humongous platform for things that truly matter. Diddy along with many other artists have began to "shake the table" if you will by calling everyone to action about problems that truly effect ALL citizens of the United States of America. Knowing the audience each artist could draw while utilizing our commentators and Gubernatorial Candidate, Mayor Gillum, we knew for sure we'd catch everyone's attention and have them actually listen.
TET: Did you face any push back or criticism for wanting to incorporate a concert into a political rally?
Denver Smith: There was literally no push back. We threw this event together in less than 72 hours and it sold out in the first 24 hours that the RSVP link went live. The Al Lawson Center was at capacity long before the night ended. I was the talent escort for every artist. The biggest challenge I encountered with my specific job was having so many top artist, and not having enough rooms to place everyone with their person riders as they requested.
TET: Politics and popular culture are increasingly becoming one in the same. How do you plan on continuing to advocate for black political participation?
Denver Smith: Regardless of anyone's job, career, or path in life, if you are living and breathing, you should be engaged with politics because politics effect every person who steps onto our US soil and even international travel. I plan to utilize my social media platforms, not only for model-esq pictures, but to remind everyone of the true problems that we face as black Americans and a minority. I've protested, I've sat in on many senate hearings, I've spoke at press conferences and I plan to continue to do that for my institution and future students of FAMU.
TET: What are the greatest takeaways you got from planning the rally? How did you feel afterwards?
Denver Smith: My biggest takeaways from the rally were again to get civically engaged because we are being suppressed, oppressed, and repressed in many ways. I plan to vote on ethically and professionally qualified individuals like my life depends on it. We have to continue to rid each branch of the government, state, local, and nationally of inhumane people and saturate our government with more people who look like and care for you and I (minorities). I am exhausted after the midterm elections. I also, work for For Our Future, FL. It's a non-partisan grassroots lobbying entity that fights for equality, funding, and the environment. So, with that being said, I just am trying to finish out my Fall Semester strong to walk across this stage come May 3rd, 2019!
TET: What advice would you give to other college students also looking to make a difference on their College campuses?
I would tell college students to do what they can within their means to get civically engaged and keep students abreast on the changes that are being made, but not publicized. Next time you're worrying about the lack of funds your university seems to have, get to know your states Board of Governors who decide on its funding. Next time you're wondering, well who decided to build this building here and take away parking, get to know your university's Board of Trustees. Learn the information and then be the change you and your fellow students need.
Denver is a shining example of the power and impact young people hold in the future of politics. The Executive Tea is proud of you, Denver!