When Jabari Banks joined a voter drive in Atlanta, Georgia for Mandela Day
The star of Fresh Prince reboot Bel Air met up with activists giving their community a voice in The Mandela Project, a series from YouTube’s Black Voices Fund.
15 Aug 2022
In partnership with YouTube.
July 18 is Mandela Day, a chance to honour Nelson Mandela’s lifelong struggle for freedom and equality. The annual celebration sees people around the world channel the spirit of the late anti-apartheid activist and former South African president by partaking in acts of service for their community.
This year, YouTube’s Black Voices Fund has joined forces with The Mandela Foundation to spread awareness of Mandela’s legacy through a brand new original series. In The Mandela Project, famous faces from across the world head out into communities to meet people who are making a difference on the issues Mandela cared deeply about.
One episode sees Jabari Banks – actor and star of the Fresh Prince reboot Bel Air – travel to Atlanta, Georgia in the US to join a voter registration drive. Jabari meets some of the young people working to ensure that their generation’s voice is heard at the polls. He helps out activists and organisers Ciarra and Gavin, who are involved in encouraging members of their community to vote. Their efforts are something of which Mandela would have no doubt been proud.
“Part of the reason for the win in Georgia was the number of Gen Z and Black voters turning up at the polls to place their ballot”
During South African apartheid, Black South Africans did not have the same voting power as White South Africans. Mandela was a fearless human rights advocate, who campaigned for equal voting rights for all South Africans. After Mandela’s release from prison in 1994, South Africa held its first multi-racial election in which all adult citizens could vote. It saw Mandela become South Africa’s first black and democratically elected head of state. Already a figure of freedom and justice, Mandela’s presidency showed how a country’s path could be changed by its citizens’ ability to exercise their democratic right.
That’s why Jabari’s visit to Georgia is so significant. In the 2020 US presidential election, the state shocked the rest of America by voting Democrat for the first time since 1992. Georgia’s voters tipped the balance of law-making power in the Democrats’ favour by giving them a new Senate seat. Part of the reason for the win in Georgia was the number of Gen Z and Black voters turning up at the polls to place their ballot.
More elections will take place across the US in late 2022. But a new law, the 2021 Election Integrity Act has been criticised as an act of voter suppression that will hit communities of colour hardest. The new regulations make it more difficult for certain groups, including absentee voters and those who rely on mobile voting vehicles, to vote. So it’s especially important the momentum of voter engagement in Georgia is retained. That’s why, in The Mandela Project, Jabari is keen to bring his profile to the cause, get his peers registered and remind them that “every vote matters.”
In the YouTube series, Nelson Mandela’s grandson Ndaba Mandela tells us: “Being denied the right to vote goes against one’s human rights, not only in South Africa, but it has happened even in America.” Could acts of voter suppression be happening in Britain, too? Here, a new law has been introduced that will change how the population will vote in general elections. It mirrors what’s happening in the very state Jabari visits in The Mandela Project.
The Elections Act of 2022 will, amongst other measures, introduce the requirement of photographic ID for all UK general elections. According to social justice charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Elections Act will disenfranchise around 1.7 million low-income voters. Many of these voters will be Black people and people of colour, who are not only more likely to live in low-income households but also face barriers to voting. As of 2018, 1 in 4 Black and Asian people were not registered to vote in the UK.
Filmmaker and musician Femi Nylander says in The Mandela Project, “If we don’t fight against efforts to disenfranchise us and if we don’t exercise that right [to vote], we are allowing ourselves to be put in positions that leave us vulnerable to the violation of our rights.” The message from the series and Jabari is clear – in the spirit of Mandela, go out into the world and fight for your hope and the change you want to see. As his grandson Ndaba emphasises: “Young people, it’s our responsibility to get out there and vote. My grandfather says, ‘Let your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears.’”
This Mandela Day, YouTube’s Black Voices Fund is honouring the late South African president and anti-apartheid activist with an original series celebrating Black creators, music and culture. ‘The Mandela Project’follows six famous faces as they head out into communities to meet people who are making a difference and keeping Mandela’s legacy alive. In one episode, actor Jabari Banks helps engage young people at a voter drive in Atlanta, Georgia. Watch the show in full at the top of the page or on YouTube here.