HARLEM—The Apollo Theater is known for giving future stars like Michael Jackson and Lauryn Hill some of their earliest exposure but this presidential election season, the famous theater wants to be known as a place where voters can get information to make that important decision come November.
In conjunction with BET Networks, the theater is hosting a forum about issues impacted by the presidential elections called “Vote Like Your Life Depends On It" on September 17.
The event is the first in the Apollo Uptown Hall Series, which organizers hope will eventually include debate listening parties.
"We are known primarily for entertainment but what people forget is that we are a community theater," said Apollo Community Relations manager Ade Williams.
"When Michael Jackson died we had literally thousands of people in front of Apollo from this community and beyond," he added.
In 2000, the Apollo hosted a debate of Democratic presidential candidates. Then Vice-President Al Gore and Bill Bradley clashed during a feisty debate that was broadcast on CNN.
In January, President Obama held a concert fundraiser at the Apollo in front of 1,400 people where Al Green and India.Arie performed. Obama whipped the crowd into a frenzy when he sang the opening lines of Green's "Let's Stay Together."
“Since its inception, the Apollo Theater has served as a “town hall” for local community residents as well as people from all across New York City,” Jonelle Procope, President & CEO of the Apollo Theater said in a statement.
"Uptown Hall is a natural extension of the role we have always played, and creates a platform for us to more regularly engage the community in conversations that matter," she added.
BET host TJ Holmes will moderate a panel that includes Rev. Al Sharpton, professor and author Michael Eric Dyson, Elinor Tatum, publisher of The New York Amsterdam News, political analyst and author Keli Goff and James Braxton Peterson, an English professor at Lehigh University.
"This is natural for us because if you pay attention to the news when something key to the black community happens there are news trucks in front of the Apollo Theater. This is a natural gathering place so we wanted to bring some of that inside," said Williams.
Some of the issues on the table will be education, Supreme Court nominees and voter suppression.
"This year's election is developing into yet another historic presidential race and we are continuing to make a dedicated effort to mobilize the significant voting block of unregistered African-Americans to sign up and get to the polls," said Debra L. Lee, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, BET Networks in a statement.
Williams said voter registration will be an important part of the series.
"We are trying to send the message that all elections are important whether its this presidential election or beyond," he said.