- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

The beautiful models pranced in red, fuzzy fake furs, or see-through, plastic spike-heeled boots, and even cream-colored, classic casual wear, but the basic black-and-white frock that stood out was worn by an ensemble of hip-hop male dancers.

The bold, block letters stating “Black Folks Must Vote” on the T-shirts and buttons worn with jeans, baseball caps and boots by the dazzling DC Showbiz Dancers made a usually unflappable crowd cheer and clap during Howard Univer-sity’s Homecoming Alumni Brunch and Fashion Show on Sunday at Indian Spring Country Club in Silver Spring.

“When I was watching [the dancers on the runway], I felt like a father looking at his son or at something he had done, and I felt very proud,” said Kenneth A. Smaltz Jr., who spent Howard’s homecoming weekend pushing his T-shirts and buttons to push young people into the polls today.

“I thought this was a good thing to do, especially now, seeing how important this election is,” Mr. Smaltz said.

This New York dealer in rare coins and gems felt so strongly about rallying black voters that he used his own money to print the items, create a Web site and travel to the historically black college campus in the District with the “Black Folks Must Vote” message.

Mr. Smaltz got the idea to revive the “Black Folks Must Vote” slogan from his aunt, Audrey Smaltz, who is “very, very political.” In her collection of political memorabilia, his aunt found an original button with this slogan. It was used in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, after blacks were granted the right to vote and after individual states allowed blacks to run for political office.

“The significance of the button back in the ‘60s still resonates with issues African-Americans face today,” said Mr. Smaltz, who is particularly concerned about the impending Supreme Court vacancies.

“I’m a Democrat, but we really didn’t want this project to be Democrat or Republican; we just wanted to make the point that blacks need to vote, and we need to have our voices heard,” he said.

“When you assign yourself to one side, the message gets lost,” added this man, who conceded he was not very political himself until this critical election. According to her nephew, Ms. Smaltz — owner of Ground Crew fashion show service and production company in Manhattan and the first commentator of the popular Ebony Fashion Fair traveling revue — wanted to make “a silent statement” during Fashion Week held in mid-September. So her employees wore the buttons while working at the vending booths and fashion events.

The buttons were a hit, Mr. Smaltz said. They were written about in fashion trade papers. Several stars, including Sean “P Diddy” Combs, were photographed wearing them. Designer Stephen Burrow even designed a line of clothing based on the slogan.

So Mr. Smaltz, 41, decided to continue the project and added the T-shirts. He hired a lawyer to copyright the ‘60s slogan and printed 200 T-shirts and 500 buttons. The shirts sell for $15 and the buttons are $2 or two for $3. He expects to lose money, but “it’s definitely all worth it.” Mr. Smaltz contends the buttons are popular, in part, because blacks harbor bad feelings about the 2000 election, particu-larly with what happened in Florida. That experience has energized a lot of blacks to register and vote in this election. It’s as if blacks are remember-ing their history and how hard it was to gain the right to vote, and saying, “How dare they deny us?” he explained. “But it’s not just African-Americans, but all people who feel their word is not being listened to,” he said.

Mr. Smaltz was granted permission from Howard grad and fashion-show organizer Nesta H. Bernard to sell the items and to incorporate them into the homecoming fashion show, which was interspersed with a voting theme.

A cadre of small children, dressed in denim outfits, delighted the smitten audience by strolling down the runway carrying signs and wearing shirts that read “Citizen Change,” “Rock the Vote” and the popular Combs phrase, “Vote or Die.” Mr. Combs, also a Howard grad, and rapper/actor LL Cool J also used the traditional Howard home-coming weekend to spread the word about the importance of voting. All manner of “Vote or Die” paraphernalia peppered Georgia Avenue NW on Friday and Saturday.

Mr. Smaltz said when he spotted LL on a float during the homecoming parade, he gave him a red “Black Folks Must Vote” T-shirt, which the rapper wore all day.

Although Mr. Smaltz ran out of time before his Web site was fully established or he could visit more black college campuses before today’s election, he pledged to press on. “You have not heard the last of it,” Mr. Smaltz said of his voter participation project.

Election Day is here, and many people and organizations on both sides are worried about voter fraud and voter suppression. So much misinformation is being disseminated that I received an electronic message yesterday that said one unscrupulous group in South Carolina sent notices to potential minority voters telling them that the election was delayed a day because there had been too much confusion about voting.

Don’t believe the lies. Today is the day. Take your voter registration card or picture identification with you. Go to the polls early and stay late if you have to. Don’t leave until you cast your ballot, even if it is a provisional ballot.

Yes, “Black Folks Must Vote.” But let’s all turn this silent fashion statement into a loud political statement: Everyone must vote and every vote must count.

• To get one of Mr. Smaltz’s shirts or buttons, call 212/501-2005 or go to KAS@uscoins.com. If you are challenged at a polling place, call the Election Protection hot line at 866/OUR-VOTE (866/687-8683) or speak to one of the election monitors.

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