Man who paved the way for Amendment 4 expresses gratitude to organization at Daytona banquet.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Desmond Meade, who led the charge to get Amendment 4 on Florida’s ballot last year, emphasized that the NAACP played a critical role in making it a reality.
Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, was the keynote speaker at the Volusia County/Daytona Beach NAACP’s 46th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet on July 12 at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort.
The attorney, who is a former felon himself, talked about the path to Florida’s constitutional law that restores voting rights to more than 1.4 million ex- felons.
“Returning citizens like myself and others are glad that you stuck with us and you weren’t fair-weather friends,” he said to the banquet crowd.
“There was a time when everyone left and no one thought we could get the initiative on the ballot. The only organization that stood the entire way with us was the NAACP despite the lack of money.”
Kudos to ‘victors’
Meade, who was listed this year in Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” and Central Floridian of the Year 2018 by the Orlando Sentinel, mentioned the former felons as the victors.
“The most important person on the ballot was not Andrew or Ron but Mookie, Pookie, Ray Ray, etc.,’’ Meade noted, referring to former felons as opposed to gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis.
“These are the people who were scrutinized and often shamed walking into a place of worship. They are the ones who led us to victory. They will lead change in our community. That’s why change hasn’t come because we have been looking to the wrong people for solutions.”
Passing of the Amendment 4 vote automatically restored the right to vote to more than 1.4 million ex-felons in Florida who have completed their sentences as well as parole and probation who have applied for restoration.
Sixty-five percent of the voters approved the measure.
However, Governor DeSantis signed legislation last month that requires felons’ fines to be paid before their rights can be restored.
Florida felons now will have to pay court-ordered financial obligations before they can get their voting rights restored.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition has set up a fund to help ex-felons pay those financial obligations.
‘We saw love win’
Nevertheless, Meade calls Amendment 4 the biggest voting rights victory in Florida’s history.
“It took a true commitment. There is a difference between a contribution and commitment. You give a contribution you can’t expect much,” he related. “If you’re willing to give your life and keep moving forward, you can expect great things to happen.’’
The amendment passed in a political climate with division and uncertainty.
“Those who voted in favor didn’t vote based on hate or fear but love, forgiveness and redemption. We saw love win. Amendment 4 proves that despite our differences people can come together with shared values and love to move society forward,” Meade explained.
“People of all races, political associations and background voted for it. We never attacked a politician. We never got mad or caught up in divisiveness. We have more unity, collaboration and understanding in this movement. …We worked with Republican legislatures.’’
From broken to revered
Meade addressed going from homeless and suicidal to being on Time’s 2019 “100 Most Influential People in the World.’’ He is a graduate of Florida International University College of Law.
“I once stood on the railroad tracks as a broken man. I wondered if I would feel any pain if the train came. I was tired of my life. I was a disappointment to my family. I waited but the train never came that day. I was addicted to drugs and a criminal,” he related.
He urged banquet attendees to believe in the impossible.
“I never saw this coming. I thought no way. Take impossible out of your vocabulary. All things are possible with God. Impossible means I’m possible.
“I wanted to be on Time magazine’s cover to show everyone that you don’t have to be an actor, athlete, singer or entertainer. He asked, “If I could, why can’t you?”
‘Fight for justice’
He also focused on the need to support the NAACP.
“I stressed that if you’re not a member of this NAACP chapter to become one. If you live somewhere, join that branch. If you are a member, you should look to contribute more to this organization and others that fight for justice,” Meade said.
During the banquet, the NAACP also honored people, businesses and organizations for community service.
Mainland High graduate Traci McClary and Atlantic High grad Bryson Gregory were awarded $1,000 scholarships.
Both will attend Bethune-Cookman University. McClary will study music and join the marching band while Gregory will study business and law.