College student honored with Youth Activist of the Year Image Award
By Tiffany E. Browne
Madison Potts flashed a bright smile after receiving the Youth Activist of the Year award during the non-televised portion of the 52nd NAACP Image Awards on March 27. The 21-year-old is humbled by the honor in recognition of her activism in voter education and social justice in Georgia. During Potts’ acceptance speech, there was an undeniable fire, perhaps started by her parents, who she thanked for “showing me the way daily; for being the change I want to see.”
From a young age, Potts, who was born in Los Angeles and raised in the Atlanta metropolitan area, was encouraged by her parents to pay
attention to what is happening around her. She credits her parents for teaching her and her siblings, an older brother and younger sister, that their perspective mattered. The family, she says, participated in “difficult conversations.” By the time she was a preteen, Potts had attended her first protest, which occurred in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. It was in that moment that she felt inspired to participate in the new social justice movement.
“At that time, I was soaking in the energy and feeling like there is something we have to do. There is a change that has to be made and it’s something we must fight and push for,” said Potts.
A bright scholar, Potts finished high school by the time she was 16. As she began her college studies, Donald Trump was revving up his presidential run, and Potts was a bit frustrated that she could not exercise her voting power for another few years. She joined the NAACP’s college chapter at Kennesaw State University in 2018.
“I fell in love with the organization, and it’s been amazing ever since,” said Potts.
In 2020, Potts became president of the KSU NAACP chapter. The college senior encouraged her peers at the university to exercise their power through voting. According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, young voters made up 20 percent of the vote in Georgia during the 2020 presidential election. All eyes remained on the southern state during the Senate runoff elections as young voters ultimately propelled Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock forward in victory, securing a Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.
During the historic Senate race runoff, Potts hosted the largest student-led voter education and registration rally in the state of Georgia. She equates the high turnout among voters under 30 to an awakening, accentuated by the COVID-19 public health crisis and compounded with the death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement.
“The pandemic has helped us to slow down and pay attention to what is going on around us, especially amid the protests this past summer,” said Potts. “We were able to really sit with what is going on in our country and decide what we are going to do next.”
In the aftermath of the summer protests and civil unrest, it was important to Potts to leverage the influence of the NAACP and build on the organization’s legacy. She participated in a march that led KSU students from campus through parts of downtown Kennesaw. During the march, participants passed a right-wing store that sold Ku Klux Klan hoodies and conservative paraphernalia. In contrast, the local police department had ensured the safety of the marchers.
“When we got to downtown Kennesaw, we had a heart-to-heart moment with the Kennesaw Police Department,” said Potts. “We were able to ask them questions about how they are handling their police department and what is their response to what has been happening,” she explained. “They gave out their cards to students at the end of the protest, and said they wanted to have a follow up conversation.”
Stemming from that march, Potts organized “Beyond The Protest,” townhall style conversations with KSU students that included local officials, candidates for office and law enforcement. Through phone and text banking, social media, and other campaigning opportunities, Potts built a coalition of student leaders on campus that has provided support to the KSU NAACP chapter.
“I tell my peers if our vote didn’t matter, they wouldn’t try so hard to keep it from happening,” said Potts. “It’s a matter of staying aware of what’s happening, holding our elected officials accountable, and making sure we are attending local townhalls and that we’re staying just as engaged as we did when we elected them.”
With the presidential election and Georgia’s Senate runoff behind us, Potts is quick to remind her peers that this is the time for accountability. She recognizes that consistent outreach is needed as many young voters are eager to know more about how they can be involved and become change agents within their communities.
A political science major, Potts is preparing for her upcoming graduation. She is currently an intern with Be the Bridge, a nonprofit that is dedicated to racial reconciliation. Potts said she is inspired by her mother as well as the courage, grace and work of the late congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, Vice President Kamala Harris, and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.
“She was not defeated but came as a powerhouse and really worked to change the narrative in Georgia,” Potts said of Abrams. “She worked to put a name and a face and power and movement behind voter registration and education, which was not there in our communities. Now we’re seeing the fruits of that labor. I have so much respect for her ability to transform, what some perceive as a loss [into] a win for everyone. I’m forever amazed by her.”
Potts also looks forward to continuing her work in voter education and social justice with the NAACP.
“I’m so grateful for the space the NAACP has created for young activists and young organizers; just to feel comfortable in being themselves and knowing that their voices matter.”
Originally published at https://www.thecrisismagazine.com on March 29, 2021.