WMC Hosts Role Models

Civil+rights+activist+Dr.+Mary+Frances+Berry+and+WMC+Executive+Director+Yashna+Nainani
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WMC Hosts Role Models

Civil rights activist Dr. Mary Frances Berry and WMC Executive Director Yashna Nainani

Civil rights activist Dr. Mary Frances Berry and WMC Executive Director Yashna Nainani

Civil rights activist Dr. Mary Frances Berry and WMC Executive Director Yashna Nainani

Civil rights activist Dr. Mary Frances Berry and WMC Executive Director Yashna Nainani

Sophia McCrimmon, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

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On the weekend of February 12, middle and high school students from all over central Virginia gathered at Maggie Walker to pass landmark gun control legislation, close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and nominate Bernie Sanders as the Republican candidate for President. Walker Model Congress, now in its fifth year, hosted nearly 150 students organized into 14 committees. Over 60 MLWGS students served as chairs and vice-chairs, while nearly 40 stopped in to volunteer.

According to Executive Director Yashna Nainani, the conference was “surprisingly a large success and all sponsors and delegates thoroughly enjoyed the experience.” Despite the low attendance, Nainani reported that “the smaller committee sizes made committee sessions more enjoyable for the delegates.” As the first Junior to ever serve in the conference’s highest leadership position, Nainani faced a unique set of demands. “Running this conference has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my life, but the experience I’ve gained from running it has been invaluable,” she said.

Two guest speakers visited to speak with delegates and students, each representing an opposite  wing of the American ideological spectrum. Dr. Mary Frances Berry, who addressed the MW student body in its entirety during the school day, returned to speak to Model Congress participants at opening ceremonies on the evening of February 12. She began by reflecting on the legacy of the building in which delegates gathered, Maggie L. Walker High School. As a long-time civil rights activist, Berry noted her appreciation for the exceptional African American Richmonders involved in the history of the school. Not only was our namesake the first woman to charter a bank in the United States, but our halls once housed professional tennis player Arthur Ashe. Dr. Berry described Ashe as “not only a tennis great, but also an activist” and said of his passion for civil rights that “if you told Arthur that a ham sandwich was being discriminated against, he would start a protest against the abusers of the ham sandwich.” Though Berry emphasized the importance of protest over politics in some instances, she did take the time to share her thoughts on the legislative process. Referencing a common analogy between politics and sausage production, Berry joked that “the sausage makers were probably offended because they found the work of the Congressmen harder to digest than their own work.” Ultimately, however, Dr. Berry expressed a reverence for government work as a powerful tool against inequality. “What government policy does is ease the raw, rough edges of capitalism so that there is a sense of fairness in society,” she said.

Congressman Dave Brat addresses students at WMC events.

Photo courtesy of WMC photo staff
Congressman Dave Brat addresses students at WMC events.

Congressman Dave Brat, who spoke to delegates on Saturday the 13th, had a very different, but equally compelling perspective on the role of the government. In an hour long speech, Congressman Brat spoke to students about the relationship between ethics and economics and his hope for fiscally responsible government activity. Though some of his insights were dire, Congressman Brat left delegates mindful of their political obligations both inside and outside of a Model Congress simulation. In his engaging address, Brat clearly drew on his experience discussing big issues with young people as a former professor and chairman of the economic department at Randolph Macon College. He also gave delegates a quick economics lesson before they returned to committee, discussing the production possibilities frontier, laws of supply and demand, and budget deficits, which he explained simply: “If you vote yes, yes, yes on everything on everything what happens to the budget?  It goes up, up, up.” Congressman Dave Brat provoked students to think about how their personal religious and moral beliefs affected their political views, a process fundamental to the intersection of economics and ethics.

Both delegates and student volunteers took away powerful insights from a weekend focused on thoughtful political discourse inside and outside of committee. Nainani perhaps speaks for all involved when calling it “an exhilarating experience, and one that I’ll never forget.”

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