By Cillea Houghton

Educators at TSU, Meharry Medical College and MTSU are sharing their reactions to the final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, held at Belmont University.

Dr. Sekou Franklin, associate professor of political science and international relations at MTSU. Courtesy photo

Dr. Sekou Franklin, associate professor of political science and international relations at MTSU, said that the candidates were mainly focused on driving their respective audiences to the polls while trying to gain favorability with the small percentage of undecided voters. “The debate was about whether or not you could turn out your base, and it looks like both sides are probably going to turn out the base,” he analyzed.

Executive Director of the Center For Health Policy at Meharry Dexter Samuels said that both candidates made “very strong points” that “held to their base” and believes Trump showed stamina on such topics as the oil industry, which he calls a “slam dunk” for the president, as well as how his administration has worked to mitigate America’s relationship with North Korea. Samuels said Biden did “extremely well” discussing healthcare and his plan to manage the pandemic through rapid testing and increased access to PPE. He said the topic of COVID-19 was a “challenging discussion” for the president and was “awe struck” by his comment that we are “around the corner” from seeing an end to the virus. “That’s just not the case,” Samuels affirms. “The rising numbers of infection rates, the mortality rates are rising, and so we’re really not around the corner and there’s really no end in sight.”

Dexter Samuels, executive director of the Center For Health Policy at Meharry Medical College. Photo courtesy of Meharry Medical College

Another important topic the candidates discussed was race relations. Dr. Learotha Williams, associate professor of African-American and Public History at TSU, cites Trump’s comparison of himself to Abraham Lincoln in terms of supporting the Black community as “problematic” and shows an “ignorance” of Black history. While he applauds Biden’s honesty in admitting that the 1994 Biden Crime Law, which saw an increase in mass incarceration and lead to a disproportionate number of Black men sent to prison over drug charges, is flawed, he does not feel that either candidate shows signs of taking the necessary steps to effectively combat systemic racism.

“I don’t think we do as much as we should do in terms of race relations, dealing with the inequality that systemic racism has caused. I don’t think we do enough in that regard and I’m not really convinced that either one of these fellows will really make things right,” he expressed.

Franklin made it a point to tell voters that their ballot goes beyond the election, as the thousands of rules and regulations that the president votes on each year, ranging from public health to protecting the environment, have a direct effect on citizens. “When you think about drug cases, civil cases, class action cases, white collar crime, embezzlement issues, federal drug cases, these are cases that are going to be determined by who wins this presidency. And for black folks, although it’s not as visible or as transparent or as visceral as a ‘crime bill’ or ‘a statement about white supremacy,’ they’re equally impactful,” he urges.

Dr. Learotha Williams, associate professor of African-American and Public History at TSU. Photo by DaShawn Lewis

In a time when the country feels divided, the educators see glimmers of hope. For Williams, it’s adopting the resiliency that his ancestors, who were enslaved and lived during the Jim Crow era, embraced, and left an immeasurable impact on the generations to follow.

“I wouldn’t be here talking to you if they didn’t have hope that things were going to be better, if they didn’t take positive actions to make things better, if they had not sacrificed to make things better,” Williams reflects. “So I’m taking the hope that was built upon hope and passing it on to the next generation, hope coupled with the ability to work to make substitute change.”