Mathieu White and Tamaira Ballard were among the Memphis high school students who targeted the Youth Congress Day Luncheon as the place to be last week to gain first-hand experience in lawmaking.
The luncheon (Dec. 11), which had students taking on the roles of state senators and representatives, was coordinated by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, which hosted its 37th annual Legislative Conference at The Peabody last week.
The four-day conference, whose theme was "Progress: Moving Our States Forward Through Policy Action," centered on presentations and discussions addressing current legislative issues in our community.
There were mock government sessions, a speech by motivational speaker Dr. Dennis Rahiim, and an address and performance by Grammy Award-winning artist CeCe Winans.
White and Ballard are social media team members for Memphis Gun Down, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.'s initiative to reduce gun violence. The evidence-based plan is built around five core prongs: suppression, community mobilization, youth opportunities, intervention, and organizational change and development.
White and Ballard participated in Youth Congress Day to increase their knowledge of the legislative process, build their confidence, and better advocate for the cause of ending youth gun violence.
" I would love to be an activist, helping people in the community," Ballard said. "They were talking about the fact that a lot of people who've held offices started as volunteers, promoting good things in the community."
Student participants were split into two groups: senators and representatives. After being sworn in, they elected speakers and chairmen and began focusing on the bills up for votes.
The mock legislation focused on issues such as texting and driving, bullying in schools and garnishing parents' wages based on their children's' academic performances.
"It made me want to become more involved and more politically aware," White said. "Decisions are being made by our elected officials, but some of us don't even know what's going on – only that a new law has passed and we're expected to follow it. Our understanding is usually the bare minimum.
"This experience reminded me that regular citizens are allowed to sit in on House and Senate meetings to hear first-hand about what's going on. It should be more open and easier for people to do that."