DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This presidential election comes on the heels of a year of incredible black activism in the streets, on college campuses and at campaign rallies. You might expect that political energy to be reflected at the ballot box. But as NPR's Asma Khalid reports, some young activists don't see much point in voting for president.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: When Koya Graham turned 18, the first thing she did was register to vote. And she was a loyal voter until this primary season.
KOYA GRAHAM: I'm not interested anymore. I don't see any immediate significant changes happening.
KHALID: Graham is in her 30s now. And she no longer sees voting as a means to an end.
GRAHAM: And I know people use the argument well, black people have, you know, fought so hard to get the right to vote. And then how can you not vote? I understand. I understand your point. But we vote. We vote these people into office and then once they get in the office, then what?
KHALID: Part of her frustration is that she says black lives have not improved under the country's first black president. She points to the repeated shooting of unarmed black men. And she doesn't necessarily blame President Obama. But she says she now realizes the presidency is limited in its power.
GRAHAM: For me to have so much faith in him coming in, thinking that he was going to make a change - and that was his big - that was his big word. That was his word - change and yes we can and yes we will and we have not.
KHALID: These days, Graham is focusing on grassroots activism. She is a community leader working to empower and educate black people in Cleveland, her hometown. Cleveland is a city that's witnessed police-involved shootings firsthand. The most notorious incident was Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot while playing with a toy gun. For Kelton Latson, it's a shooting that's hard to forget. Latson is 24, a student at Cleveland State. And for him, the question of voting is a little more complicated. He did vote in the primaries but only for down-ballot races.
KELTON LATSON: So I believe in voting for, like, community struggles, like councilmen, mayor, like, local stuff mainly because that right there, firsthand, affects you the most.
KHALID: But even on a local level, he's not sure politicians are talking about the real concerns of black people, who suffer from the highest unemployment rate and the shortest lifespans.
LATSON: It's a lot of problems, I feel, within the black community that can only be solved by us. And that's - politics is not going to fix any of that.
KHALID: So Latson makes a point of regularly visiting the juvenile detention facility to talk to black kids. Both Latson and Graham have no intention of voting for president this November. Their decision is less a referendum on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump than a referendum on voting. This is by no means to say that African-Americans as a whole are going to skip out on November. Millions have already voted in the Democratic primary. But some are making a conscientious objection.
ANDRA GILLESPIE: They may think at this stage in their lives that it's best for people to work outside of the political process because of their perception that Washington is broken.
KHALID: Andra Gillespie is a professor at Emory University in Atlanta who focuses on race and political mobilization. Gillespie points out that even if some young folks skip out on voting, they still are involved in politics.
GILLESPIE: I think, you know, we would be remiss to not acknowledge the importance of Black Lives Matter in making criminal justice reform an issue that candidates have to address.
KHALID: But Gillespie warns that just as the presidency has its limits, politics with no voting has its limits, too. Asma Khalid, NPR News.
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