Shonda Rhimes explains power of the vote at Girls Build Summit

Girls Build Summit
Screenwriter and producer Shonda Rhimes with a handful of friends at LA Promise Fund's annual Girls Build Summit on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Los Angeles, CA-Girl power is rocking hard in Los Angeles. Just ask the thousands of girls and young women who filtered their way into the USC Galen Center on Friday, Sept. 28 to hear what Shonda Rhimes had to say about empowerment and raising their voices to speak truth to power about the issues affecting them and their communities. Rock on.

Rhimes is a bonafide rock star in Hollywood. She has it like that because she knows how to speak truth to imagination. That starts with Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. The two ABC hit shows would not have come into fruition without the creative mind and writing and producing talents of Rhimes. Grey’s Anatomy, though, is the show that has prompted Rhimes power play in the land of the stars.

“I’m a storyteller,” Rhimes told the audience. “I tell stories. I tell stories for a living, and they’re mostly made up stories. I make stuff up for a living. I spin yarns. I weave dreams. Whatever I want, I make stuff up for my job. It’s a job. That’s what I do, and it’s not new. It’s not a new job; it’s not special. It’s a job that is as old as time itself. It’s tribal. It’s basically a campfire. I imagine stories and then I tell them around what at some point to humanity that we all collectively agree to treat as a modern campfire: the television screen or really, any screen these days. It’s our campfire. You gather around and I tell you stories.”

Girls Build Summit
Acclaimed screenwriter and producer Shonda Rhimes speaks to more than 10, 000 girls and young women attending LA Promise Fund’s annual Girls Build Summit at the USC Galen Center on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

But that’s not exactly why Rhimes decided to show up and speak to more than 10,000 girls and young women attending LA Promise Fund’s annual Girls Build Summit. She was there to educate them about the power to vote and the need to have their voices counted. Sticking to the campfire script, Rhimes shared with the young women that the same approach can be used in improving America’s democracy-if they looked in the mirror.

“America, if we can do that for a television show, surely we can figure out how to do it for something as important as democracy,” Rhimes said. “Every election day, we should all be gathering around the same campfires as one community to do the thing that matters the most to the future of this country, which is vote.”

That was just a warmup act for Rhimes.

“Every election count,” said Rhimes. “We can’t afford to sit back and do nothing-none of us can. It is quite clear that if you want your voice to be represented, if you want your face to be represented, then you have to get involved. You have to be a citizen. You have to vote. You do not want anyone else determining the course of your future. If you care about women’s health or gun control or the criminal justice system or public education or civil liberties or immigration rights or religious rights…if you care about who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, no matter which side of the aisle you stand on, the only lasting way to make a change or protect your issues, is through the political process.”

Girls Build Summit
School violence survivor and March For Our Lives activist Kyrah Simon speaking to an audience of more than 10,000 girls and young women at LA Promise Fund’s annual Girls Build Summit at the USC Galen Center on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

In partnership with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote, the LA Promise Fund’s yearly Girls Build Summit focused its daylong program on attending youth getting word out on the importance of voting to their school peers. The get out to vote push was emphasized by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, actresses Rhyon Brown, Grace Parra, and Francesca Reale (Stranger Things, Season 3). Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas attended the event as well.

“I’m super excited to be here,” Reale said. “It is so inspiring to be in a room filled with so much strong female energy, and so much wonderful male energy. I’m extremely excited to be here and hear what everyone has to say being agents of change in your own life.”

Girls Build is a program with LA Promise Fund that tries and encourages girls to address some of the pertinent issues affecting their surrounding communities. Some of those issues include tackling homelessness, obesity, mental health, and voter registration. The event turned out to be a success on the voter registration front as hundreds of participants signed up to register to vote.

“When we vote our votes count equally but only if we show up,” Padilla said. “If you don’t register, if you don’t vote, you take yourself out of the equation. Every vote matters. Every election matter, even when we’re not voting for the president.”

Girls Build Summit
Actress Rhyon Nicole Brown (Empire) at LA Promise Fund’s annual Girls Build Summit on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Padilla said the voting process starts at the local level.

“It’s not just federal and elections, it’s also local elections,” said Padilla. “If you care about safety in your community, you want the attention of the city council and the mayor who oversee the police department. You want more funding for public schools, not just because you’re in school right now, but for your little brothers and sisters coming behind you.”

School violence survivors and March For Our Lives activists Delaney Tarr and Kyrah Simon (Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida) took part in a panel discussion with Padilla to talk to students about their civic duties to vote.

“We’re a part of this country, too and we deserve to have a voice in it,” Tarr said. “People don’t often understand the importance of a midterm election. ‘How many of you guys know about the (Judge Brett) Kavanaugh hearings right now? Did you know that the (U.S.) Senate is capable of confirming or denying a Supreme Court justice from being on the court?’ You vote for senators in the midterm elections. Those are the people you are voting for, the people who decide whether or not Kavanaugh gets to be a Supreme Court justice. That alone is a pretty good reason to vote.”

Simon said she would like to see more people that look like her and other minorities be reflected through election results.

“I feel like we need representation,” Simon said. “We need people who have the same wants and desires and belief systems as we do. We need to put people that look like us in the seats of power. We need men that support women. We need men that support minorities.”

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1287 Articles
Dennis is a news and sports photojournalist. Dennis has covered and written on issues such as civil rights, education, politics, and social justice. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Daily Breeze, Daily Press, Los Angeles Wave, Los Angeles Sentinel, and other media outlets. Dennis is currently the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and NCAA. Dennis is an alum and graduate of Howard University.

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