Traces of change devoured the streets of Chicago eight years ago as African-Americans came together to elect the first black president of the United States.
But eight years later, change resonates with an aftertaste of failed promises that comes with being born to the murder capital of the world.
“Eight years, eight years,” said Ron Robert, a 26-year-old South Shore resident. “What has Obama done for your life? What has changed? Nothing. Nothing has changed. We are struggling. Either way, we can’t win.”
And that sentiment is felt by many African-American voters all over the country.
According to early voting data, North Carolina lost nearly 65,000 black voters in 2016 due to changes in early voting laws, and other states report a significant decrease in the number of black voters as compared to the 2012 and 2008 elections. Republican nominee, Donald Trump called for African-Americans to give him a chance. “What else do you have to lose?” he taunted.
But blacks’ decision not to vote goes much deeper than a distaste for the candidates. The 2016 presidential election marks the first since 2008 without a black candidate — and that means something.
“It’s hard to go from voting for the first black president to choosing between two white candidates,” said Jordan Simmons, 18, who voted for the first time Tuesday. “A lot of African-Americans feel that no candidate is really behind them all the way. But the stakes are higher this time around.”
No one understands the stakes at hand more than veteran, Ben Hudson.
There is integrity behind his eyes as he delicately climbs the steps to the South Shore community church to cast his ballot for the president of the United States.
At 70-years-old, he wears the battle wounds of his ancestors’ on his skin. Voting is a legacy they have left behind, and he doesn’t take it lightly.
“Our lives used to depend on voting,” Hudson said with a quiver. “My parents couldn’t vote when I was growing up. That’s one of the reasons we moved north.”
The Voting Rights Act, which passed in 1965, afforded African-Americans the right to vote, and an opportunity to voice their opinions in the changing tides of America. But 51 years later, African-Americans, and many Americans for that matter, have neglected that right altogether to follow a different path.
“Not choosing between the lesser of two evils is worse than choosing,” Simmons said. “When you choose, at least your voice is heard. For those who aren’t voting, they can’t complain when they don’t like the results.”
Hopelessness seeps out of the broken sidewalks and abandoned storefronts that plague the South Side of Chicago where most of the African-American population lives.
Robert, who is in the process of spearheading a movement to bring black men in the streets together, has lost all trust in politicians and their ability to bring change to a broken city.
This year, he is calling on the black community to uplift each other.
“The truth is that the president can’t change anything. If the president focused on these streets and Chicago, they would lack in other areas, like national security,” he said. “It’s up to us now. We gotta stop bringing each other down and pick each other up.”