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St. Petersburg's Black Community Holds 'Souls To The Polls' Event Ahead Of Midterms

Roberto Roldan
WUSF Public Media
Black churchgoers in St. Pete celebrated the final day of early voting with food, music and a get-out-the-vote effort.

Black churchgoers in St. Petersburg joined congregations across the country in holding a get-out-the-vote event on Sunday.

Known as "Souls to the Polls Sunday," a celebration was held in Demens Landing Park marking the last day of early voting.

People enjoyed music, dance and barbecue, and those who hadn't voted yet were shuttled to the County Municipal Building downtown. Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from a number of candidates running for local and statewide offices.

Sheila Lilly-Louis, a member of Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, was one of the people who cast her ballot on Sunday. She brought her daughter and grandson along with her to vote.

She said Souls to the Polls is important because it makes voting a community effort.

"People come out ot these things and they get to have a conversation strictly dealing with what we're dealing with: voting, amendments," she said. "And guess what? You get to have some fun while you're doing it."

The event was organized by the Pinellas County Urban League and other community organizations.

Watson Haynes, who heads the League, said the last time a Souls to the Polls was held was during Barack Obama's presidential re-election campaign in 2012. He said he's seeing the same excitement over the possibility of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum becoming the first black governor of Florida.

"It's not a partisan thing," he said. "It energizes folk when you can become a part of history, and that's what it is. I can tell you that if Gillum was a Republican, folks would get excited."

Black voters and young people were critical to Gillum's upset win in the Democratic primary. Veteran political analyst William March said those voters will also be important in the general election if Gillum wants to beat Republican Ron DeSantis.

"Democrats have been talking about a blue wave, if Gillum wins it's more likely to be because of a black wave," March said. "So far, we haven't seen evidence of that in the early voting, but there is evidence that black voters are clearly enthusiastic about Gillum."

March said counties with more black voters were more likely to go for Gillum during the Democratic primary.

As of Sunday, more than 40 percent of registered voters had already cast their ballots in Pinellas County.

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.
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