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story.lead_photo.caption Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, along with Arkansas State Senator Stephanie Flowers, House of Representatives Vivian Flowers, alderman Ivan Whitfield and many others encourage voting in the 'Gather the People' music video presented by the City of Pine Bluff Civic Engagement Group. (Special to the Commercial)

"Voting don't matter and I ain't gon let you lie to me

400 years and we still living in poverty

Last time I voted hoping my people would get promoted

Seems it was all a dream in case you didn't notice."

"Well I'm open to speaking on the issues, aye

Let's talk about the elected officials, aye

Notice that I said elected, votes put them in power, that's how they get selected

How many people you know that vote? One or two?

That's why they get in office and do what they wanna do

When you don't vote, you leave it to people who don't have our problems to vote for somebody, hoping they solve them."

[Video not showing up above? Click here to view » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6d4MhS6d6M]

Ty Walton, a lyricist and rapper originally from Chicago who lives in Pine Bluff, put pen to paper and in two days wrote an everyday conversation to music about his friends believing their vote doesn't matter. That resulted in a music video featuring prominent leaders in the community such as Mayor Shirley Washington, state Sen. Stephanie Flowers, state Rep. Vivian Flowers, Jefferson County Sheriff Lafayette Woods, city council members and community leaders.

Presented by the City of Pine Bluff Civic Engagement Group, this group of people had one important point to make: vote.

When the Schaefer sisters relocated to Pine Bluff from California's San Fernando Valley earlier this summer, they knew there was something special about this town that their family was from. With election season coming up, the sisters wanted to destigmatize voting, an issue they said plagued the community, especially young adults.

Shva Schaefer, 22, Iman Schaefer, 20, and Bee Schaefer, 20, wanted to do something targeted toward younger people so they could realize their involvement in voting was significant.

"There are over 27,000 registered voters in Pine Bluff, and with covid-19 and everything happening around, I wanted to make sure that we can prioritize voting, maintain the active voters but also make sure the youth are voting," said Iman Schaefer.

Ima Etim, 32, special projects coordinator for the city of Pine Bluff, was introduced to the Schaefer sisters by Washington. "One day, I walked into the office and she said: 'Do you know the Schaefer sisters? They just moved here to Pine Bluff,'" said Etim, who is also from California.

Etim also has a passion for the community and said Washington felt their shared efforts would spark a movement of community engagement, which led to their first meeting July 30 at City Hall.

"We met with Ima Etim and the mayor, and it started from there," said Iman Schaefer. "We talked about the need for civic engagement to increase, and the ball just started rolling."

Iman Schaefer said she loves and supports Washington and the vision she has for Pine Bluff.

"She has a heart for bringing communities together and the city of Pine Bluff," said Iman Schaefer. "Not just for young people, but for all citizens."

The meeting concluded with a project called "Gather the People," aimed at educating and empowering. With the idea on the table, the sisters still needed a team to make their vision come to fruition.

"During that meeting, I told them I had a really good sister-friend I thought would be a good presence to add to this team," said Etim. "I've worked with her in the past on other projects, and I know her passion and desire for civic engagement for young people and just uplifting the community of Pine Bluff."

That was Angelica Perkins, a photographer and videographer from Hot Springs whose mother is from Pine Bluff. With the help of her siblings, Perkins produced a visual composition that creatively told a compelling story of people stopping what they were doing and going to vote. Besides Walton, who added the dynamic with his verses and lyrics, the team added Caleb Ramsey, 22, who learned the lyrics written by Walton to create a dialogue about voting.

"I have these types of arguments with my friends a lot," said Walton. "I just think it's more to vote for than just the president, and when people have that idea that voting doesn't matter, they cut themselves short of having the power to speak up for their community or putting someone in place that can speak up for their community."

The Schaefer sisters, who are very vocal in their stance on voting, said this is one of the most important elections because of the number of open seats.

"There are 13 governors, 24 senators, 435 seats in the House of Representatives as well as sheriffs, DAs and local county elections," said Iman Schaefer, who will be voting for the first time. "One vote can change who's going to get whatever seat you're voting for, so it's very important to vote and get involved, be heard, have a voice and represent for the generations who've come before us."

Bee Schaefer agreed with her sister, explaining how voting was essential to democracy and how they used the music video to visually show both sides of using the right to vote.

"With this video, using pop culture and including that and having a protagonist-antagonist inside of it, what we're doing in Ty's video, Ty is educating his friend why it's important to vote," said Bee Schaefer. "We're trying to tell people to place yourself in that position. Ty is convincing you, educating you, leading you to go vote, and so that's the push and the enthusiasm we need, want to see and hope to inspire in young people."

Shva Schaefer weighed in, stating that before casting their ballots, voters should educate themselves on the ordinances, local, state and federal laws and really understand how they affect everyone. The music video not only educates, but it also features common locations in Pine Bluff that the sisters said were significant to them.

"When we moved to Pine Bluff, we stopped at Mrs. Maryanne's coffee house, and she's the one who told us, 'Welcome to Pine Bluff.' We went to Uptown Salon and Boutique, where Will Jenkins and his wife have a business, and they said, 'Welcome to Pine Bluff.' We go to Saracens Landing and we see some young people, and they say, 'Welcome to Pine Bluff,' and so we realize that these locations, Main Street, 28th Street, this is what Pine Bluff is," said Bee Schaefer. "When I think of Pine Bluff, I think of community, and so those locations are very symbolic."

Production wrapped two weeks ago, and the music video premiered to a social media audience on Monday. With so much negativity associated with Pine Bluff, Etim said, this project meant so much to the city that she cares about greatly.

"Pine Bluff has definitely been hit on all sides with covid and all types of things that have happened, and we wanted to reframe the narrative of Pine Bluff because a lot of times the single story of Pine Bluff is just told," said Etim, who said Pine Bluff is on the rise. "We have citizens that care about the community, we have citizens that care about the young people, we have people who want to stand together, bond together and work together through the difficult times and the good times."

The video is just the first of many civic engagement projects that this group will showcase in order to create dialogue, educate, and encourage voting. More videos will be released leading up to Election Day, featuring Pine Bluff residents and city leaders. The group has also launched a website, www.votepinebluff.org, a one-stop shop for voting information.

"Because Pine Bluff is our ancestral home ground and we are returning home, that is what truly ties us down to this city," said Bee Schaefer. "Knowing that voting is the action we can partake in right now in covid and make an immediate change is what we focused on, and so vote Pine Bluff is what we want."

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