PARTNER HIGHLIGHT

Meet an SLSV Partner: Nicholas Crookston, Voto Latino

For this month’s spotlight, Nicholas spoke with us about the work his organization does to reach young Latinx voters by meeting them where they’re at and providing them the tools to successfully engage in our democracy. He also offers a glimpse into his inspiring journey and the compelling forces that led him to the #StudentVote space. Read on to learn more about Voto Latino and Nicholas’ incredible story.

What was your experience like at the 2023 National Student Vote Summit? What was your favorite part?

I was beyond honored to represent Voto Latino at this year’s National Student Vote Summit. As a recent May 2023 college grad, it was personally impactful to be back in community with driven and service-oriented students from across the country who are passionate about fighting for our democracy and activating their campuses in the electoral process. My favorite part of the event had to be the conversations I had in between panels, during breakout sessions, and while running Voto Latino’s resource table. If there’s one thing that this year’s Summit made clear, it’s that these students understand the stakes and why it’s so important that our community members – of all walks of life – have their voices heard in elections, up and down the ballot. I got to connect with students from Florida to Arizona, Maryland to my home state of Indiana. Getting to meet each of them, hear their stories, learn more about the impactful critical work that they’re doing on- and off-campus, and spark discussions about partnerships between Voto Latino and their advocacy was incredible. I’ve already had the opportunity to reconnect with many of the folks I met, and I can’t wait to get to work side-by-side in the coming year – and beyond.

What’s new with you? What are you working on these days?

Personally, I just graduated from the University of Notre Dame in May and started in my new role as Voto Latino’s Partnerships & Government Affairs Coordinator shortly thereafter.

Since, I have had the opportunity to take part in some really exciting work that Voto Latino has been part of in 2023. This includes a college tour that we launched during Latino Heritage Month, registering young voters alongside Vice President Kamala Harris’ “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour. So I had the opportunity to travel all across the country – from Atlanta to Miami, Las Vegas to Flagstaff, Arizona – and do voter registration tabling with other members of the VL team on the campuses of Morehouse College, Florida International University, the College of Southern Nevada, and Northern Arizona University. In the process, we had the opportunity to build connections with young voters and leaders on these college campuses, who are doing the critical work of empowering our communities and lifting up their voices at the ballot box. And that, in and of itself, was a remarkable experience.

Now as we look to 2024 – and the exciting work that Voto Latino has in store for this historic election cycle for our communities – I can’t wait to do more of this kind of work: meeting other young folks, learning their stories, and making sure they’re connected and empowered with the tools they need to register and turn out to vote.

How do you support campuses and student voters?

Voto Latino’s approach to civic engagement is about meeting young Latinos where they are, with the tools they need to make their powerful voices heard. This, of course, means getting our communities registered to vote. But it is also about empowering Latino youth voters – many of whom are first-generation voters – with educational tools and resources to make a holistic plan to vote. So we are active in connecting folks through digital platforms and toolkits with culturally relevant content on elections, issues, and how to get involved in the process, as well as the nuances of the process within their particular contexts – local election laws, election deadlines, election days, civic holidays, and so on.

Beyond this, we are excited to partner with student organizations, student activists, faculty advisors, administrators, community organizations, and other leaders on campuses, to map out areas where we might work together to reach, register, and mobilize young Latinos and other voters of color all across the country. So, from a partnerships perspective, we are eager to connect with campuses and students who are leading in the work of empowering Latino students or advancing civic engagement. And we want to discuss how we can best support that work through partnerships on initiatives, activations, and beyond. We want to connect with you and discuss how we can work collaboratively at your institution, and in your local communities. And we would love to welcome even more folks into our Voto Latino familia. So please do not hesitate to connect, and let’s dream big together!

How do you and your organization center racial justice and equity?

Voto Latino is fighting to empower Latino youth to drive change in their communities and propel them to take action to become architects of the world around them.

We celebrate an important truth: Latino voters are a transformative force in deciding the future of our democracy at the ballot box. 16.6 million Latinos made history in 2020, when we made waves as the second-largest voting bloc in the country. And in states like Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, and Virginia, Latino youth, ages 18-29, made up the largest bloc of Latino voters. Further, it is important to note that Latinos are the fastest-growing population in the United States and are projected to make up nearly 30% of the total U.S. population by 2050. All said, it is crucial for the health and future of our country – and creating a democracy that is more inclusive and robust – that the growing and powerful voices of young Latinos be included and elevated at the ballot box.

In 2024, Voto Latino will meet this historic moment for our community. Between 2020 and 2024, nearly 4.1 million Latino youths will come of voting age, all across the country. So, without a doubt, the Latino community will play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of these upcoming elections. And many of the issues that impact our communities across the country will be up and down the ballot – from the presidential race to congressional seats, statewide elections to local ballot initiatives.

Voto Latino is ready to make some history. En 2024, vamos a votar con ganas – para nuestras familias y queridas comunidades.

How can others support your work or get involved?

Log on to votolatino.org to register to vote, check your voter registration status, make a plan to vote, and sign up to volunteer with us.

Have you read any books lately? What are you doing when you’re not working?

When I’m not working, you can find me deep in a good book, taking a spin class or a long hike, or studying for the LSAT. I recently finished Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez, and just started a re-read of Clint Smith’s How the Word is Passed.

Finish this sentence: In a perfect democracy…

In a perfect democracy, every person has the equal rights to participate and flourish in pursuit of their American Dream.

I’m the proud son of a Colombian immigrant mother, who came to this country alone, at 17-years old, one year before I was born. I remember, in 2018, coming of voting age and casting a ballot for the first time, and feeling this great sense of responsibility on my shoulders. Because when I walked into that ballot box, I wasn’t alone. I was carrying my mom’s voice and I was carrying the voice of my family. This was a milestone moment for us and our journey in this country. And, suddenly, my vote became about something much larger than me.

Two years later – after a complicated and winding two-decade road to citizenship – my mother was finally able to vote. And the sense of pride that I remember us feeling that day was great. That November, our family’s deep love for this country and optimism in its potential was fulfilled in a new and powerful way.

I still feel an enormous weight and responsibility each time I go to vote. And now that I have the honor to serve an organization, and a movement, which is fighting to empower the communities I come from within the democratic process, this takes on new meaning.

The work of civic engagement is the work of breaking down barriers. It’s about empowering folks to cast a ballot not just as a means of deciding elections – but as a means of amplifying the voices of our communities and families, including those who don’t have access to the vote, and ensuring that we all have a place at the table. I recognize that there are a number of problems facing our communities – because, in many ways, my family and I have lived and faced many of these realities. But I believe in the power that each of us has to transform the world around us, forge new and imaginative futures for the places we know and love as home, and champion a democracy defined by bold inclusion and equality for all. And I have faith that all of that is within reach, not only when we vote – but when we our powerful stories and the powerful stories of others along with us.

The SLSV Coalition is the national hub and largest nonpartisan network in the United States dedicated to increasing college student voter participation. The Coalition convenes and connects partners, campuses, and students with each other and with resources and programming towards achieving a vision of ensuring that every student has easy and equal access to participate in every election. They use data, relationships, celebration, and easy-to-follow planning structures, to help campus and local leaders register and turnout more student voters every year. The SLSV Coalition is a project of NEO Philanthropy. NEO Philanthropy is strictly nonpartisan, and does not support or oppose any candidate or party.

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