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Coppin State Student-Athlete Advisory Committee named recipient of John Lewis HBCU Grant

Jazzleen McRae is the president of Coppin State's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, as well as a bowler for the Lady Eagles.
Jazzleen McRae is the president of Coppin State's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, as well as a bowler for the Lady Eagles. (Vaughn Browne)

Coppin State’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has been named the recipient of the 2020 John Lewis HBCU Grant.

The grant is named in honor of late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, who died July 17 at age 80. It was formed to support voter registration, education and mobilization for voters on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and provides up to $2,000 for their programming.

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Eagles senior women’s bowler Jazzleen McRae is the president of the committee and is assisted by advisor and bowling coach Shaunita Middleton. The two have been at the forefront of registering athletes on the campus to vote.

“It was really important, not only to be leading this group, but being a part of this group that is about using our voices to make the student-athlete experience better at Coppin,” McRae said. “Just being the leader and the voice and the face of the student-athletes and being able to communicate with the faculty about things that we want done that we think should be done or even programs like this about the importance of voting and things of that nature is just very impactful for me.”

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There isn’t much time left before Election Day on Nov. 3 and time is of the essence. McRae’s organization came up with several ideas to mobilize voters and reached out to the school to get assistance, but there wasn’t much space to work with. That’s where Middleton came in.

Coppin State women's bowling head coach Shaunita Middleton supports her team during a match.
Coppin State women's bowling head coach Shaunita Middleton supports her team during a match. (Coppin State Athletics)

Middleton believed it was a great opportunity and it made perfect sense to come on board. She wasn’t initially sure how many other teams and programs at the university would join in, but they were pleasantly surprised. As it stands, Coppin State’s bowling, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, volleyball and women’s basketball teams are registered to vote. Along with it came the grant.

“We were very excited when we found out that we received the grant because it gives us the chance and continues to give us the chance to spread information on voter education and what voting means,” Middleton said. “It’s just understanding when you go to the polls and what you need to do, as well as the pre-process and making sure we get all of our students and student-athletes registered to vote.”

Lewis was the son of sharecroppers and immediately realized the importance of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in his home state of Alabama. Lewis attended Fisk University for his undergraduate degree, a historically Black university in Nashville, Tennessee, and received a bachelor’s degree at American Baptist College, another historically Black college in the same city. While at Fisk, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters and continued his activism until the end of his life.

For Coppin State to receive a grant named after Lewis is an honor for Middleton, who saw his activism as a beacon of light for Black youth.

“When I received the information and saw that his name was on it, one, I thought that was awesome because this is one of the things that he stood for, this is one of the things that he fought for,” Middleton said. “[This is] especially amongst our young generation, once they got to the age that they could register to vote. The message that he used to speak on — using their voice and their right to be able to get out there and vote. It’s just understanding that voting is another way to voice things that you want to see change.”

With McRae being 21 years old, it is her first time being able to vote. Her mother and father always expressed to her how important her vote was. For her, “it was a moment that she had always been waiting for,” and she wants to continue to use her voice and push for a brighter future.

“I think that we don’t realize that people from the age range of 18-21, there’s a very large number of us,” McRae said. “We could really rock this election one way or another with our voice or without it.”

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