Reshaping the future

2/6/2008

Advocacy event teaches how to impact legislation

 

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Mississippians have the power to turn the state “upside right,” a longtime United Methodist Women’s leader told participants in an advocacy training workshop.

 

“I believe this is a very special time and you are special people,” said Lois Dauway on Jan. 23 as that day’s keynote speaker at the Mississippi Ecumenical Advocacy Conference. “You are gifted people able to turn things upside right. It’s time to turn Mississippi upside right. We can do no less.”

 

Dauway’s remarks focused on the many statistics that list Mississippi near the bottom of most measures of quality of life for children.

 

One figure that impressed the Rev. Ricky James of Jackson concerned prison spending. “You always hear about children in public schools being in a pipeline to prisons,” he said, noting that Dauway pointed out that the state spends about $5,700 per year on students, but $10,000 per year on prison inmates.

 

James also said he was reminded that churches need to take an active role in the lives of children. “Not just inside the walls (of churches) but also in the community,” he said. “Our obligation is to let the children come to him and not hinder them.”

 

Lori Polk of Amory, president of the Tupelo District United Methodist Women, said she came away convicted to help ethnic children reach their appropriate reading level. “There are so many not proficient at the fourth-grade level, especially African-American, Latino and others. We need to help them get to the top,” she said.

 

Other keynote speakers at the conference held Jan. 22-24, included Dr. Hank Bounds, state superintendent of education, and Dr. Jerry Granier, director of the Southeast Equity Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

 

Dauway, associate to the deputy general secretary and director of national ministries for the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, gave those attending the event several suggestions for being advocates.

 

“You need to be discerning about what is being pressed upon you,” she said. “You need to be passionate. Anger is a sign of passion.

 

“You need to be pragmatic to the challenges you face. You need to be loving, even to those you don’t like. And, you need to be loving,” she said.

 

The theme of the event was “What About the Children?” and its goal was to help participants learn how to be more effective in impacting public policy that affects children. The four learning tracks and their leaders were:

 

• Education — Dr. Mike Ward, former state superintendent of education in North Carolina. Ward is currently on the faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi.

• Advocacy — Kira Johnson, leader of the SMART Institute at Jackson State.

• Called to Do Justice — The Rev. Rebecca Youngblood, director of the Center for Ministry at Millsaps College.

• National Policy — Susie Johnson, executive secretary for public policy at the Women’s Division.

 

In addition, the participants attended Bishop Hope Morgan Ward’s annual Legislative Breakfast and a session of the legislature at the state capitol. They also were entertained by a children’s choir from Wesley House Community Center in Meridian and the A’Cappella Choir from Rust College.