ORLANDO, Fla. — Sept. 10 was designated Desmond Meade Day in 2019 by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, who named the day to commemorate all the work Meade has accomplished in the fight the right to vote in Florida.
In January of 2019, the right to vote for certain felons who had served their time was restored, which helped 1.4 million “returning citizens” in Florida regain that right.
Meade said that it was an honor to have his hard work recognized, so on Desmond Meade Day 2023, he wanted to spend it giving back.
Meade and volunteers from his organization, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), in partnership with Orlando Magic, made breakfast and handed out hot meals to people experiencing homelessness at the Christian Service Center.
“If we want our communities, if we want our counties or our state to be great, then we have to empower those within our communities that have been most weakened by various systems,” Meade said.
Meade said he was once down on his luck, formerly incarcerated and addicted to drugs. But he says it's that past that drives his passion to help others who are, or have been in similar situations.
Meade said it was important for him to show people that with opportunity and access, change is possible no matter their situation.
“There are so many people out here that we just drive by and walk by on the streets that we think may not amount to anything,” he said. “We think, 'What’s wrong with our society?' When really if we looked at it differently, we could see what’s possible in our society.”
While the day of giving included free breakfast, the focus was also mainly on educating people experiencing homelessness about their right to vote and the changes to voting policies.
Meade said that on top of being formerly incarcerated and having an addiction to drugs, he was also homeless at one point. He said he turned his life around and strives to give that same hope to others.
“If Desmond Meade, who was once homeless, and addicted to drugs and incarcerated can turn his life around and be who he is today, then that means that anyone that we pass on the streets has to has the ability to do so,” Meade said.
There was also a voter’s registration booth at the event where people were encouraged to register. The FRRC is working to make voting even more accessible to people experiencing homelessness, by seeking approval to make the Christian Service Center a polling location.
Meade said there are a lot of stipulations on where a polling locations can be, and that ultimately the decision will have to be made by the supervisor of elections.