By AARON GETTINGER
Imani Muse, a sophomore at Kenwood Academy on the lookout for scholarship activities, entered the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Voice of Democracy competition, in which 40,000 high school students from across the United States compete for $2.1 million in scholarship money. This year’s theme is “why my vote matters.”
“But what if it didn’t?” Muse asks, “That this idea of a unified democracy is just a make-believe tale to mask the fact that people are nothing more than just a number and a liability to the government.”
It was something Muse, a Bronzeville resident and pageant contestant (“I‘ve been talking in front people for a very long time, so I don’t get terribly nervous,” she said), heard before as in elementary school, when her teacher told her that voting is something people do as a rote obligation, not something they do because it is important on its own. She found that other adults agreed with her teacher.
“I have realized that citizens don’t vote because they don’t want to,” she said in her speech, “but because since birth, the people who have nurtured them have instilled in their minds that they will never matter to America.
“This is not the case, and we have stop pouring this line into our people, or we will never blossom as a society.” Muse goes on to say that voting is contra to contemporary expectations of instant gratification. Voting should not be done to create small, immediate change, but for long-term, substantial change, she argues.
“Voting is a sign of courage,” she said. “It is a representation of a country that can never be stopped. It is earth-shaking and beautiful. It is what Americans fight for. It is emotional, delicate, strong, scary, enlightening, empowering, influential. It is the soil we walk on and the backbones that allow America to stand tall.
“Voting is what makes America America, and that will always matter,” she concludes.
Muse’s speech, delivered with clarity, cadence and gravity, won her the competition at VFW Post 2024 in Roseland and later the district competition against 25 other contestants. She is going soon to the state competition in Springfield. She plans to use the scholarship money to pursue higher education in international finance and business communication.
“I’m always going to see voting as important, and when it comes to civic duty, my platform is giving better and giving back,” Muse said. “I’m always going to be involved civically,” and she expects to find voting even more important as she gets older.