I sang this repeatedly to myself as I glided across the immense hallways of the Senate building on Capitol Hill. My eyes were wide open as I took in the vastness of the space and immensity of the doors and slipped peeks into offices that had their doors slightly ajar.
I was just steps from the door I was to enter, that of Senator Warner’s, where I had a 4:00 pm appointment to share with his aide the things that had found their way into my heart—my first real attempt at advocacy on the political level. My heart raced.
Advocacy is not a word that is in everyone’s vocabulary and is definitely not a word that comes up in everyday conversation. I first heard the word when I entered the mental health field and encountered patient advocates. Then I would hear of different groups having “advocacy days” at the Capitol or petitioning those affiliated with them to write letters to Congress.
I always thought it was nice to have someone speak on behalf of someone who may not be able to do it on their own in order to improve that person’s life. I always felt that was part of the purpose God placed me on this Earth to fulfill, yet I never set out to learn how to be a true advocate or participate in official advocacy capacities until I heard about CBF’s Advocacy in Action Conference.
When I first arrived at this event in Washington D.C., I was nervous, yet very excited about the next three days.
One of our first activities was to introduce ourselves to the group and understand the biblical basis for advocacy. I shared with the group my call to advocate for those who are mentally ill on an individual level, within the church and politically. I shared that currently, in my ministerial internship with Women’s Missionary Union of Virginia, I have traveled all over the state of Virginia educating churches and congregations on mental illness—yet when it comes to sharing about advocacy my information is often limited.
Understanding that this work is a biblical mandate and learning exactly how to be most effective in this work was very important to my overall life-purpose and ministerial call.
Mental health—being my passion—was the concern I brought with me, but we learned in depth about three more concerns through lectures and trips to the White House and Bread for the World: the threat of predatory lending, immigration struggles and the impact of hunger (particularly child hunger) in the US. It was an emotional overload to hear how many people need those who will advocate for them to get laws changed and systems revised.
From prior experience with Asset Based Community Development I know that it is not just enough to give people handouts and goods, but the ultimate goal is to invoke change at the political and systemic level. Advocacy in Action was the experience I needed to take that from a theory in my mind to seeing the true need and the practice of it.
Since returning to Richmond, this experience continues to resound in my memories.
The faces of the people I met in my group, the people I met at the White House and the Senate building, at Bread for the World, the Baptist Joint Committee and National Baptist Memorial Church are permanently engraved in my thoughts. The statistics and problems I heard specifically echo in my ears, thus lighting my fire to be a voice for the voiceless ever the more.
I now have more information to share concerning advocacy at the various churches I engage with, and I am also getting involved with predatory lending reform in my city. I am so thankful to have been able to have such a rich experience and plan to attend the conference again next year.
In the meantime, I hope to find more ways to “cry loud and spare not” in regards to being the megaphone for those who voices are not quite being heard and helping to move bills through Capitol Hill in order to create better laws and systems for the greater good of the country that we live in and the people I have been called to serve.
Jocelyn Blount is a graduating third-year at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond in Richmond, Va.