JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — One week after hosting a professional development conference in St. Louis, the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus is hosting its annual youth conference this week.
High school students from across the state had to submit essays and letters of recommendation to take part in the three-day youth conference, where the students stay in University of Missouri — Columbia dorms and listen to seminars, conduct mock hearings, and speak personally with black legislators.
On Monday, the second day, students came to the Capitol to form mock committee hearings for legislation, which did not pass during the 2013 session before attending a brief speaking event with members of the Missouri legislature.
Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, and Reps. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills, Steve Webb, D-Florissant and Sharon Pace, D-St. Louis, all addressed the crowd about how students can excel in college and beyond, as well as the importance of staying active in their communities.
“One of the things I can’t encourage enough is for you guys to read,” Smith told the crowd. “Not just entertainment magazines or what Wacka Flocka is doing next or anything, but read the news, read about your community, find out what is going on and ask yourself do you approve of that or not?”
Much of the talk focused on future employment. Lawmakers encouraged students to clean up their social media accounts and be wary of the impression they left on others with tattoos, hairstyles and personal choices.
“You can get all inked up if you want,” Webb said, discussing the employment stigma of tattoos. “But if you look like Dennis Rodman or Birdman, you’re not going to get far. Dennis Rodman hasn’t had a job since he played and there’s a reason.”
Webb emphasized that tattoos were not inherently unprofessional, but that placement and content matter to employers and, as a business owner himself, he reserves the right to decide what he wants his employees to present. Webb told students to keep tattoos tasteful and in places where they can be covered up.
Lawmakers gave out contact information to interested students and ate lunch with the gathered crowd in the Capitol rotunda.
Pace said the goal was to keep black students as engaged as possible.
“We want them to see what we do as black leaders and what we are trying to accomplish,” Pace said. “And we also want to show them that there is a path and an incentive for them to be prosperous.”
The conference is a partnership with the University of Missouri — Columbia, and a spokesperson for the university said the primary goal was to encourage as many college applicants as possible.
Tomorrow, the final day of the conference, students will attend workshops and hear speakers at the Mizzou campus.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.