Saturday, October 17, 2015

‘Grandma’s Big Vote’ is a clarion call to encourage voting

       Mary Alice Gandy managed to survive the hardships of Jim Crow, but those difficult days paled in comparison to the joy she must have felt after her grandson drove her to the Shelby County Election Commission to early vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
The media swarmed over Mrs. Gandy during that watershed moment. It was her first and only vote for a candidate vying for any elected office, locally or nationally. She was 106 years old then and eager to cast her vote for the soon-to-be first elected African-American president. 
“She always wanted to vote. But because of Jim Crow, she got turned away. She lost her hope; she gave up until she saw advertisements on TV that a black candidate was running for president,” said William A. Gandy Jr., who also registered his grandmother to vote after she tried unsuccessfully in 1960s Mississippi.
Voting brought immense joy to Mrs. Gandy, her grandson said, and an invitation from the Democratic Party to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. But Gandy was convinced that his grandmother was too ill to make the arduous trip. Instead, the two watched the spectacle unfold on TV.
“It brought joy and tears to her eyes,” he said.
The herculean effort on Mrs. Gandy’s part to get out and vote, even in her feeble condition, motivated her grandson to self-publish a children’s book in 2011 titled “Grandma’s Big Vote.” Mrs. Gandy, however, died in 2009 at the age of 108, but not before fulfilling a once-denied, long-awaited, civic responsibility.
“If my grandmother could vote at that age, it means anybody can vote,” said Gandy, driving home the central point of the book. “It’s a civic duty that we should not ignore – especially minorities.”
That year Obama received a groundswell of support from minorities, many of them casting votes for the first time. The surge put Obama over the top compared to the number of minorities supporting Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee.
According to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, 95 percent of African Americans voted for Obama. Hispanic: 67 percent. Asian: 62 percent. Mrs. Gandy, however, was among those 65 and older voting for Obama. But not many people, her grandson surmised, expected a centenarian to vote.
“It’s a proven fact that democracy works better if people would go out and exercise their right to vote. The world would be different if they did,” he said. “Everybody should exercise their constitutional rights to vote.”
“Grandma’s Big Vote” is an important civic undertaking for Gandy in light of the hullabaloo over the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 2013. Voters are now required to show a photo ID as a condition for voting in a federal, state, or local election.
“The courts weakened the Voting Rights Act,” said Gandy, who hopes to change the mindset of people who don’t vote or who are reluctant to take part in the political process. “But I want people to know that they shouldn’t have a problem in voting.”
“The goal is to encourage kids at a young age and adults alike, when they become 18, to register to vote,” added Nathaniel Ray Nolan, a barbeque maven and national marketing director for “Grandma’s Big Vote.” 
Just as importantly, Gandy just wants people to know about his grandmother, the crux of “Grandma’s Big Vote,” which took him about six months to complete. Brian Truesby, a Memphis College of Art graduate, illustrated the book.
Gandy conceived the book in a dream, then put pen to paper. “I woke up at 4 in the morning and started writing the book,” said Gandy, who wrote an accompaniment called “Be The Vote,” a song that can be downloaded for 99 cents on iTunes.
A church musician, Gandy added his voice and soothing music to the 3:47 minute clarion call to attract voters. The lyrics underscore his plea:
“Your mother can be the vote/Anybody can be the vote/Let’s turn out and make a change.”
Gandy is now planning to introduce “Grandma’s Big Vote” to the educators for school-age children in Shelby County Schools. The book, he said, has already been introduced into the school system in Columbus.
With writer-director Larry NuTall, Gandy wrote a play called “Grandma's Big Vote: The Play,” which was performed at the Salvation Army Kroc Center. Actress Mary Woods played the leading role of the aging Mrs. Gandy. The play was filmed and shown – in addition to a voters registration drive – at the Malco Paradisco in 2013.
Gandy expects the movie version to debut next year in February during Black History Month. He already has a title for it – “A Lifetime to Hope.” “It’s going to be about my grandmother’s life and love interest…that she tried to vote but [they] ran her away from the courthouse. The Jim Crow laws in Mississippi.”
Mrs. Gandy, a sharecropper’s widow and descendant of slaves, was born in 1906 on the “Mullin Pratt Plantation” near Columbus, Miss., said Gandy, a self-employed barber. “My grandmother was the matriarch of the family. She was a seamstress and inspired people in the family to be entrepreneurs.”
The narrative that Gandy is drawing from includes other family members as well, such as his father, who died a year before Mrs. Gandy, his mother. Gandy’s mother is still living. He also has seven siblings.
“They totally support me 100 percent,” he said.
It has been seven years since Mrs. Gandy’s maiden vote. Gandy, however, is still trudging along, trying to encourage the electorate to do what his grandmother had waited most of her life to do – and that was VOTE!
“Grandma’s Big Vote” is sold at The Booksellers at Laurelwood. For more information about “Grandma’s Big Vote,” contact William Gandy Jr. at 901-483-9056 or go to 

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