Florida Advocacy Days brings moral voice to state legislators




Bishop Ken Carter gave volunteers headed to the Florida Capitol building Tuesday a pep talk.

He told them about persistence.

Each year during Children's Week, tens of thousands of paper hand cutouts from children across Florida are hung in the Capitol rotunda in Tallahassee. Photo posted by Amanda Bowen on the Good Samaritan Academy (Tallahassee) Facebook page.

Carter spoke of a sermon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave in 1958 warning that ministry can be lonely work, doing the work of justice can be lonely and it can be discouraging.

Before sending the volunteers to Florida Advocacy Days where they would speak with legislators, Carter spoke of Luke 11:5, which tells the story of Jesus speaking to his followers about persistence.

“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,’” the verse states. The friend, who is already in bed, refuses. But persistence eventually pays off, and the loaves are delivered.

“It’s midnight,” the bishop told the gathering of Florida United Methodists and African Methodist Episcopal church members gathered at Trinity UMC in Tallahassee.

UMC volunteers joined forces with AME volunteers to speak up for those who would not otherwise have a voice—children in need.

Carter and Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, director of Connectional and Justice Ministries, took the lead during Advocacy Days at the Capitol. They headed to the offices of Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran to discuss some specific needs for Florida’s children, among them, diversion programs and civil citations in lieu of jail time for young offenders.

While others fanned out across the Capitol to speak with legislators, Carter and Austin, accompanied by Trudy Novicki, president and CEO of Florida Impact, and Lucy Pride, Florida Conference president of the 11th Episcopal District representing AME churches, called for the restoration of civil rights for convicted felons. They also asked that legislators vote against a bill that would require agencies providing food to disadvantaged youth to have a childcare facility license.

The volunteers found one of their most effective tools was the ability to talk to legislators from their districts. Austin urged more people to sign up for next year’s event so that more people can speak with their legislators about children’s policies.

“The big challenge always revolves around philosophies about the care and nurture of children, and who is to provide it and how,” Austin said. “The ‘how’ always revolves around budget dollars.

“There is not always a sentiment for youth civil citations” in lieu of jail, she said. “The emphasis is on punishment, not second chances. But the United Methodist churches value restorative justice, and we are opposed to retributive justice.”

It is important that young people not have to worry later in life that they got thrown in jail for a minor crime, like shoplifting, that may prevent them from having later success in life, Carter told the legislative aides. He said the Florida Conference overwhelmingly supports civil citations for young, nonviolent offenders. “Our angle is spiritual,” he said.

Most counties already have diversion programs, Novicki added, but law enforcement in each county doesn’t necessarily use them, thus, the need for state legislation.

As for a state licensing requirement for every individual site of a Boys & Girls Club feeding children after school, it is overly taxing and will financially deter some clubs from participating, Novicki said.

Shown left to right: Lucy Pride, president of the 11th Episcopal District of AME churches; Trudy Novicki, president of Florida Impact and Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, director of Connectional and Justice Ministries, in the state Capitol. Photo by Yvette Hammett.

Advocacy Day participants spread the message.

“Evangelism, or we might say Christianity, is one beggar telling another beggar where to find the bread,” Carter told the group.

“In the sermon, Dr. King talks about how it’s midnight, how (it was) midnight 60 years ago. It’s midnight now,” the bishop continued. “He talked about violence. He talked about inequality: a 29-year-old young man, already the voice of a movement.

“He talked about midnight in the moral order. It does seem like today; it’s midnight in the moral order. 

“We have words like CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and we use them as bargaining chips; and yet, it’s not a game. It’s not a game for a child’s health,” Carter said.

“Think about your own child or grandchild. It’s not a game when you came here with your family and crossed a border to live here, and then wonder if you are going to be able to continue to live here.

“We are talking about real people. We are talking about children.”

--Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico.

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Donate here to the Florida Conference Hurricane Irma Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery. Together, with God, we are bigger!


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