The executive for Racial Justice for the national United Methodist Women planned to attend the 44th Nebraska Ecumenical Legislative Briefing Day.
But when Emily Jones registered, she didn’t plan on presenting. Ruby Thelander, spokesperson for event, had other ideas. After Jones registered, Thelander asked Jones to speak while at the event, Feb. 9 at Lincoln Christ UMC. And Jones was very excited for the opportunity.
Nebraska Ecumenical Legislative Briefing Day is an opportunity to learn about legislature, how to contact representatives and discuss hot topics that are currently happening -- or in some opinion -- should be happening.
Thelander said the event’s purpose “is to provide information about particular concerns we all share; to learn how these issues are being addressed in our legislature; to call together leadership in various disciplines to share their knowledge and on-site about the issues; to provide information about how to contact our senators regarding bills being debated and how their passage/defeat might affect us; and to provide material to share with church groups, family, friends and neighbors."
Open to people of all faiths, the event is designed to help participants understand the issues before the Nebraska Unicameral, where attendant bills related to those issues reside in the legislative process, and which state legislators are sponsoring them.
This year, included in the estimated 200 in attendance, were 25 students from Creighton University in Omaha. Thelander said this is the third year Creighton students have attended, with numbers increasing each year. This year, the students led opening worship.
“It brings a different energy,” Thelander said .
The day is made up of workshops (of which participants may choose three) run by subject matter experts.
New this year, was the workshop “Advocacy.” In this workshop, four speakers discussed various topics.
Thelander spoke on how to write to senators, both what to say and how to best to send the letter.
Andrea Paret, Great Plains Conference Peach with Justice coordinator, discussed immigration. She said “we need to realize why people come (to the USA). Most don’t want to leave home. They may fear for their lives or their children’s lives.
Jones was able to speak on racial disparities. Jones said about 30 percent of children in Nebraska are children of color; however, 60 percent incarcerated children in Nebraska are children of color.
Molly McCleery, program director/staff attorney --Healthcare Access Program at Nebraska Appleseed, spoke about Medicaid expansion. The expansion affects those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford healthcare.
At the end of the workshop, people were encouraged to write to their state senators with paper, envelopes and stamps provided.
This workshop, while one of five being held at the same time, consisted of more than one-fourth of all attendees.
There were eight workshops in addition to “Advocacy":
After the workshop, attendees meet for lunch before heading back into the sanctuary for the closing address. Jones and Fickenscher spoke at the closing.
Jones started off by discussing the school to prison pipeline, what it means and what everyone can do. She thinks about how black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls – despite similar behavior. Thoughts like that, she said, can make you weep, like the women in the Bible.
“We need to keep working towards justice,” Jones said. “To use the skills we’ve established here today.”
She mentioned that it is one thing to hear a concern from one person, but it’s another thing to hear from the (200) in this room.
“Be the change, said Jones. “There is much to be done and much that can be done.
Jones mentioned the celebration of UMW turning 150 next month. She said that in all those 150 years, they never found the meaning of change they were seeking by biding their time and waiting on someone else to do the work. They commit to putting faith, hope and love into action.
“We are just asked to do our part,” Jones closed with. “We’re not asked to be the light, God is the light. But we are asked to carry the torch as long as we can.”
-- Rachel Shea, for the Great Plains Conference