By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
For the past 12 years, National Newspaper Publishers Association member, the Los Angeles Sentinel’s, Taste of Soul (TOS) has been an economic driver in the Black community by empowering Black-owned businesses through the festivals’ vendor and sponsorship opportunities.
And, while this year’s TOS offers attendees the opportunity to try amazing food, and enjoy live entertainment, organizers plan to use the event to also make it easier for folks to get hired and register to vote.
TOS is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20.
The deadline to register to vote in California is Monday, Oct. 22.
“Yes, this is new to Taste of Soul,” said Pamela A. Bakewell, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of The Bakewell Company, the Los Angeles Sentinel, Los Angeles Watts Times and Taste of Soul.
“LeadersUp is the sponsor of this new activation at Taste of Soul. It is a non-profit run by Jeffery Brown, who is president,” Bakewell said.
“It is a phenomenal organization that works with employers that commit to the training and employment of young people. He will have at least 25 employers in his activation committed to hiring at least 300 people at Taste of Soul,” she said.
Each year, an annual job fair is held a few weeks after TOS at a local community college. However, Bakewell said everyone realized that it’s hard to get individuals out and decided to take the jobs to the people – the 350,000 Taste of Soul loyal attendees.
On Tuesday, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., the founder and creator of Taste of Soul and NNPA Chairman Emeritus, received acknowledgement from the Los Angeles City Council for the kickoff of Taste of Soul week.
They also honored Jeffery Wallace and LeadersUp for expanding Taste of Soul’s reach deep into the community and bringing jobs to the community.
“Taste of Soul is a party with a purpose,” Bakewell, Sr. said. “Folks can now come to Taste of Soul, get a piece of fried chicken and leave with a job.”
They can also sign up to vote.
In a recent Tweet picked up by numerous Twitter users, the 85-year-old Sentinel announced that they “are serious about voter registration. Tell a friend they can register to vote at Taste of Soul Headquarters at the Los Angeles Sentinel.”
“We started doing this by having a big banner in front of our building at the Los Angeles Sentinel and put it in our newspaper every week so that people can register at the Sentinel, which is the headquarters for Taste of Soul,” Pamela Bakewell said.
And, with the NNPA already aligned with the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus and others for a voter registration drive that aims to register 5 million new voters in time for the all-important November midterm elections, Sentinel officials determined the TOS would represent an ideal venue for a voter registration drive.
“We figured with all the promotion and our social media and digital elements reached 30 million last year, we can hit that this year,” Bakewell said.
“We needed to tell people in Los Angeles where they can go to register should they not know. We started to push this through the Los Angeles Sentinel and through the Black Press and the adjunct place where it all culminates is Taste of Soul because it is on the Saturday before registration cuts off,” Bakewell said.
Earlier this year, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA, began championing the voter registration initiative.
The campaign has focused on an aggressive voter registration drive, community-level education on important issues, and a mobilization effort, which are all designed to reach young, Black eligible voters, particularly in battleground states, like Texas and North Carolina.
“It’s a payback year. This coming November, the 2018 midterm elections will be one of the most important elections for African Americans in our lifetime,” Dr. Chavis said.
“This is about voting rights and the enormous suffering and bloodshed that our people have experienced to make American democracy real and fair. Yet, this is also about responsibility.”
Meanwhile, Bakewell noted that the Sentinel has realized a steady increase in visitors to its website and social media properties, a fact that could only help with the registration effort.
“We are trying to become a daily newspaper, not just weekly and, on the social media side, we’ve tried to develop an internal digital team and that has really increased our views,” Bakewell said.
“We used to reach 30,000 to 33,000 people weekly digitally. Now, we are at about 55,000 on average and we’ve seen our digital views go up 20,000 over the last three months. Our digital and social media news is catching on… so why not use all of these eyes to get people to register to vote?
“So, we turned this into a voter register campaign while we have all of these people coming to the Taste of Soul.”