The last time the Kansas Legislative Event for Advocacy in Faith, or LEAF, met, the coronavirus pandemic was happening continents away and seemed far beyond the horizon.
But this year, much of LEAF reflects the changes that have had to be made in gathering as well as in its content.
The entire LEAF session, including keynote speaker, panel and workshops, is available for free online, premiering Feb. 22. More than five hours of video is available.
The keynote speaker, Lynn Rogers, has served as a Wichita school board member, state senator and, from 2019 until January, as lieutenant governor of Kansas. He became state treasurer at that time, at the request of Gov. Laura Kelly.
“It was really not something I was looking for at the time,” Rogers said. “She asked me to step up and use my 40 years of banking experience here in the office.”
Rogers gave an explanation of the treasurer’s office, including the initiatives made to help funding education for individual beyond high school.
“That’s one of my key goals in this office, to help Kansans have a better life,” Rogers said.
This year’s panel discussion, “Crisis Management for the Average Kansan,” featured the Rev. Dee Williamston, Salina and Hutchinson district superintendent and, as of July, the director of clergy excellence and assistant to the bishop of the Great Plains Conference; Randy Watson, commissioner of education; and Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Becky Plate of Eudora, chair of the LEAF planning team, said the state and country were facing “overlapping crises” of systemic racism, a public health crisis and a pandemic-injured education system.
Norman, who with Watson was a part of last year’s panel, said the past year has been beyond anything he could have imagined.
“This is unlike anything I’ve seen,” he said. “Crises usually have a beginning, a peak, and go away in some manner. We’re in a crisis that doesn’t have an end immediately in sight.”
Norman said he expected 80,000 COVID-19 vaccinations to be administered within the next few weeks, and praised the management of the shots so far.
“We have not let a single dose slip through our fingers,” he said. “This is a very valuable substance for us.”
Having vaccinations available, especially when it comes time to return to school this fall, should not be a given of a return to the previous way of life, he said.
“I don’t think the curtain goes up and we’re all immunized and we’re going to party like it’s 1999,” Norman said.
Watson said the shutdown of schools and the subsequent actions that followed was “wearing on all of us,” but praised schools that quickly distributed Chromebooks, laptops and iPads to their students to help them learn at home.
That distribution, he said, showed the disparity in internet quality, especially in rural areas of Kansas.
“The technology isn’t always perfect, even in the best of environments,” he said.
Plans for online and hybrid learning were created over a weekend with a select group of teachers, Watson said, and served as a model for the rest of the country.
Williamston said that building intentional relationships was a key to overcoming systemic racism.
“You have to get to know a person for real, not the fake stuff, and believe others who just so happen to be Black or indigenous or people of color,” she said. “You have to believe we are all created in the image of God.”
Workshops available during the LEAF, available online, are:
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