The political climate might have been even more frenzied than usual during this year’s trek to Tallahassee, but participants in the annual Florida Advocacy Days effort said they felt it was worthwhile.
Samantha Aupperlee, 25, of Orlando was among 80 representatives of Methodist churches in Florida to bend the ears of lawmakers Tuesday on behalf of children.
The three-day trip was the first time she has participated in the event, which coincides with Children’s Week in the state capital, but she was hooked. She hopes to make the trip again and also advocate for social justice issues in her community back home.
“For me, (the highlight) was getting to meet other members of the Florida Conference who were supporting the issues as I do,” Aupperlee said.
The primary issue on the Methodist agenda this year was pushing for statewide use of civil citations for first-time juvenile offenders instead of arrest and criminal charges that may stay on a youth’s record for a lifetime.
Aupperlee said more than 50 people from the Methodist group attended a subcommittee meeting in which the issue “passed with flying colors.” Those who attended signed in and were invited to signal their support or opposition as their names were called. Aupperlee said she watched everyone raise their hands in support, one by one.
“It was exciting to see it happen right in front of me,” she said. Aupperlee said she also was able to visit with state Rep. Fred Costello of Ormond Beach, who was receptive to her pitch for changes in the juvenile justice system.
Pam Garrison, who coordinated the event for the Florida Conference Office of Missional Engagement, said participants were split almost down the middle between United Methodists and members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Some contentious bills not related to the Methodists’ issues were being debated Tuesday, so it was difficult to get face time with legislators,she said.
Even so, she said, the event was charged with energy, particularly Monday, the day that Florida Impact, the nonprofit partner of the Florida Conference, briefs participants on the issues and coaches them for meetings with lawmakers.
This year, Florida Impact included a session on advocacy in the home territory, encouraging participants to approach public policymakers in their home offices away from the hustle and bustle of the legislative session.
Because juvenile justice was a prominent advocacy issue this year, Garrison said she also was able to get the word out to AME members about a Florida Conference initiative called “No More Throw Away Kids.” The effort seeks to pair mentors with youngsters who have just been released from incarceration, and Garrison is hopeful that strengthening a partnership with the AME Church will help boost the number of teens who receive mentors.
Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference and Bishop Adam J. Richardson Jr. of the 11th Episcopal District AME Church led the contingent in a walk Tuesday morning from Trinity UMC, Tallahassee, to the Capitol, where they met with legislators and later spoke and prayed at a press conference. Trinity UMC was host to the briefings from Florida Impact.
– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.