Wyclef Jean rocked the vote at Essex County College's Newark campus Friday for a civic awareness initiative to drive voter registration among college students.
Hosted by the Newark Youth One-Stop Career Center, Essex County College and Newark Public Schools, the "uWork Behind the Music" project mixed civic awareness sessions, voter registration training and live musical performances to educate youths on their right to vote.
The program was part of the Rock the Vote campaign, which uses music and pop culture to engage young people in the election process.
"Voting – you have to make it cool for the kids because they don't really understand the importance of going out. So, this is why we tie music in with it…" Jean told reporters.
There are 44 million eligible young voters, which represents about one-fifth of the electorate, according to Rock the Vote's website.
Jean, a member of the now-defunct '90s hip-hop band The Fugees, is a graduate of Vailsburg High School in Newark. Aside from his musical career, the Grammy-award winner is known for his political involvement, having filed for candidacy in the 2010 Haitian presidential election.
Jean, who said his involvement in the Rock the Vote campaign dates back to his Fugees days, took a moment Friday to throw his support behind President Barack Obama.
"I'm gonna tell you like (Rev.) Al Sharpton told me, 'If you love your mama, vote for Obama,'" he said. "It's important to exercise your right to vote in perhaps what will be the most important election in American history."
Following the civic awareness seminar, which included a panel discussion and question-and-answer portion with state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) and voter registration training with Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, Jean held a special performance with several local artists.
Essex County College President Dr. Edythe Abdullah said addressing all areas of the election, from locating polling locations to educating students on the importance of their vote, was a top priority for the college.
"Our students have very complex lives," she said. "Sometimes just knowing where to vote is an important part of the educational process."
Also helping to reverse voter apathy on campus is the Hip Hop Student Association, which is offering scholarships as incentives to get students to become more politically active.
In order to apply for the $500 or $250 scholarship, or $100 book voucher, students must be registered to vote, an Essex County College student and submit an essay, PowerPoint presentation or song about being president for a day.
The club's goal is to "engage our students to be involved in political campaigns," said Treasurer Tarrick Tucker, whether it's through volunteerism or just joining in on the discussion.
Tucker said the group helped register as many as 100 new voters last week, with a target of 1,500 total by next month.
The Hip Hop Student Association last week also held reruns of the first presidential debate followed by a question-and-answer session, which drew more than 100 students.
This Friday, the Newark Voter Empowerment Tour will host a voter registration celebration at the Blue Mirror Lounge (257 Clinton Ave. in Newark). The event is free and open to the public and attendees are asked to bring completed voter registration forms to help the group