HAMPTON, Va. (February 12, 2019) – Almost 50 Hampton University students spent the day in Richmond, Va., on Tuesday, February 4, 2020, to lobby for the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute (HUPTI), the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) and for the continued support of Black Lives and Historically Black Institutions in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“We are exposing our students to how Democracy works. They are seeing the legislative process first-hand and how they can be involved in that progression. They are meeting leaders in our state and showing these important people that Hampton University’s students are truly the future leaders of this nation,” said Hampton University President, Dr. William R. Harvey.
Throughout the day, Hampton University students acted as ambassadors and met with several state delegates and senators to advocate for increased funding for HUPTI so that they can continue to provide cancer care throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Students also lobbied to fight for and protect HBCUs. Some of the delegates that the students and staff met with included Delegate Kate Kory of Fairfax and Delegate Cliff Hayes of Chesapeake.
After meeting with delegates, students and staff were able to visit and observe the Capitol House and Senate Galleries, where constituents meet to discuss and vote on various bills. Students were able to experience a day of Democracy that they learn in books, but gain different perspectives when actually lived.
“Today’s trip was excellent; it was a great experience. We were able to speak to the Governor and the Secretary of Administration and I learned that I can do anything,” said Reghan Pullins, sophomore, political science major, leadership studies minor. “I really enjoy how we had Black women to speak to us, which I felt I could relate to and see myself in those positions.”
While at the State Capitol, the students received the honor of speaking with Governor Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, and Governor Northam’s cabinet members Fran Bradford, Deputy Secretary of Education; Traci J. DeShazor, Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth; and to the delight of the students, Hampton alumna Keyanna Conner (’06), Secretary of Administration. Conner oversees five agencies: the Department of Human Resource Management, the Department of Elections, the Compensation Board, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency and the Department of General Services.
Although Conner was a chemistry major at Hampton and went on to VCU to earn her Ph.D. in Physical Organic Chemistry, she fell in love with politics by chance. “I was watching CNN and there was a very charming young senator who decided that he would run for the presidency and I was just star-struck. I decided that I wanted to play a part in that campaign,” Conner said. She ended up leading a grassroots organization in Richmond, Va. for Barack Obama and the rest is history. Conner told the students, “As you’re choosing a field, make sure that the passion is there.”
Governor Northam graciously welcomed the Hampton University students in his media room and spoke for approximately 20 minutes including a question and answer period, and photo opportunity. “I plan to work hard to get more money for universities to help schools like Hampton University,” said Governor Northam.
During the Q and A session, Governor Northam also spoke about the gun violence in Virginia. “Last year, gun violence in Virginia killed over 1000 of our fellow Virginians. The tipping point was over memorial weekend in Virginia Beach when we had that mass tragedy when we lost twelve Virginians and four others were wounded significantly. I put eight pieces of what I call common sense gun legislation on the table. Seven of the eight bills passed and we are still working on banning assault weapons,” Northam said.
Students also met with Virginia’s top lawyer Attorney General Mark Herring. He spoke passionately about issues that concern Virginia’s citizens, women’s rights and cannabis reform. “Women are still discriminated against and do not have the full opportunities. An equal rights amendment would do a lot to guarantee them equality. In addition to raising the level of constitution protection for future generations, it is also important for our children and grandchildren to be able to look at our country’s foundational document and see that it protects them,” Herring said.
Herring also spoke about another hot topic today, cannabis reform. “We’ve got a great opportunity for significant changes in criminal justice reform this year and the years ahead. I think cannabis reform is at the top of the list. Criminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana is setting up tens of thousands of Virginia citizens to criminal convictions unnecessarily and the way that the system falls on African Americans is disproportionate,” Herring added.
“The Hampton University delegation was able to experience first-hand the importance of servant-leadership and advocacy in action, by addressing a cause near and dear to each of them, as they have a vested interest in eradicating cancer throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Leadership Fellows and Student Leaders strategically approached members of the General Assembly to garner support of the $11.5M announced by Governor Ralph Northam for HUPTI. It was truly a memorable day and I am confident the legislators heard the message loud and clear that our future leaders of the Commonwealth and our beloved nation want to end the misery associated with cancer and they will appropriate the funding for HUPTI,” said Dr. Jarris Louis Taylor, Jr., Director of the William R. Harvey Leadership Institute.
Mr. Bill Thomas, Associate Vice President of Governmental Relations for Hampton University, accompanies the students on this trip every year and left the students with some advice. “I try to get across to the students that you should only support those who support you in your interests. It doesn’t matter if your representatives are Republican or Democrat or Independent, it’s those candidates that support your institutions and your community and your family, nothing else matters, so the emphasis is to take the position that no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests,” said Mr. Thomas.