Hampton University

featured organization

HU young people tackle old issue, smoking

"On a day many used for rest and leisure, a busload of people left Hampton University on President's Day, headed to the Virginia General Assembly to do some work.

Their task?

Lobbying for smoke free public places at the Young Leaders Day At The Capitol event.

Close to 40 HU students, employees and local high schoolers boarded a bus bound for the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, to dialogue with state legislators about the controversial issue of smoking. The trip was hosted by the HU Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

In years past, HU participated in tobacco free legislation in Newport News. When the American Cancer Society stepped up to provide free transportation, however, Department Chairperson Dr. Marilyn Wells said she was more than happy to organize a trip further north.

"I thought there was no reason why we can't go, and set the goal of filling that bus," Wells said. "Needless to say, in Hampton fashion, we filled that bus."

Wells, Beatrice Byrd, a retired Health and Physical Education and Recreation faculty member, and 28 HU students were among those who road the bus. The group met Delegate and House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, as well as  Senator Mamie E. Locke (D), also the HU Dean of the school of liberal arts and a political science professor. 

Students asked policy makers to vote in favor of two bills, SB 298, and HB 500, to ban smoking in all public places. The bills represent legislation to protect almost all Virginians from second hand smoke.

HU Junior Jamal King said the discourse was awesome. King is also the vice president of Colleges Against Cancer.

"The conversations we had with Senator Locke and Delegate Ward were truly rewarding, as they gave us valuable tips about how to get our voices heard in the legislative process," King said. "We as CAC accomplished our goal of getting in the faces of the lawmakers."

Also for some middle and high schoolers, conversing with policymakers was a big deal.

"After meeting the representatives, a couple of students made comments indicating how down to earth and regular the delegates were," said Jacqulyn Allen, a mentor for the outreach group Diamond and Pearls.

The mentorship program, which includes a Boys To Men outlet for young boys, is run from the First Baptist Church Denbigh in Newport News. The groups work with HU students throughout the year on various activities, and took the bus ride with them to Richmond last month.

"The opportunity to allow our young people to understand they can make a difference, one vote at a time needs to be a belief for them," Allen said. "We need to frame their minds now. It was a learning experience in every way, especially when the young people had disagreements with the decisions made regarding Smoke Free America."

The mission of Smoke Free America is to motivate youth to stay tobacco free and empower smokers to kick the habit, according to its website. However, Delegate Tom Gear, R-Hampton, voted against local smoking bans in restaurants.

Students questioned his logic, Allen said, and have been proactive in policing the idea in their community.

"They (students) made it clear they would continue to follow up, because they felt too strong about putting a stop to the problems created from second hand smoke," she said. "Since the trip, the young people have been visiting local restaurants inquiring if they are smoke free, and if they are, they ask for store coupons to pass around in the community."

King's group is on the same revolutionary track. There are plans to make Young Leaders Day an annual event for HU.

"It was truly a learning experience that the whole of Hampton University's 25 some odd members of Colleges Against Cancer will not soon forget," King said.

-Leha Byrd