Delaware Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester Talks To 8th Grade Students At Redding Middle School

Delaware Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester spoke to 290 8th grade Social Studies students at Louis L. Redding Middle School in Middletown on Thursday, March 29. The visit was set up by Redding Middle School teacher Patricia Pyle who told Middletown Radio that the students are learning how the federal government works and have studied the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and will get into the Bill Of Rights after spring break. She said she extended the invitation because Lisa Blunt Rochester is Delaware’s only U.S. Representative and as Delaware’s first female and African-American elected to Congress, her background is important to many of the students.

Before taking questions, Blunt Rochester talked about her personal background and said at the age of 14, she felt that “adults didn’t understand me” and she spent a lot of time writing, especially poetry. She read a poem called “Teenager” which expressed some of those feelings. She said that today she sees young people doing remarkable things and she expressed to the students that “you’re important”. She cited the school motto that she saw when entering the school: “With Belief Anything Is Possible” and cited her history making status as Delaware’s first woman and first black member of Congress as an example of that motto.

Blunt Rochester talked about what she did before running for Congress and said that her first job was at McDonald’s. She said that the experience taught her basic life and job skills such as looking people in the eye, smiling, working as a team, and showing up on time. She talked about moving up from working with the summer youth employment program, as a Congressional intern, and later as state Secretary of Labor and working in the Department of Social Services. She talked about living in China for 4 years after her marriage to her late husband and that she decided to run for office after his unexpected death in 2014 because despite her pain, she saw others in pain. One of her prime sources of motivation was a loved one taking her great-great grandfather’s voting card after being born a slave, and having the design put on a scarf. She carries that scarf with her all the time and proudly displayed it to the students.

After her opening remarks, many students had the opportunity to ask questions. Several of the questions centered on the current gun control debate and school safety after recent school shooting incidents. She has questions about how NRA money influences votes and while she does not take money from the NRA, she has talked to them to get their perspective on the issue. She supports an assault weapon ban. She asked the students if they felt safe and not many raised their hands. She said that they shouldn’t feel that way and Congress needs to come together to talk about it. She said that things have to be done at the local, state, and the federal level but she said recently that the House of Representatives had to pass legislation to simply study the issue. She said some are asking if teachers should be armed or if metal detectors should be put in place and she said in that a student did the math on the idea of metal detectors in schools and the math shows that would be a very expensive solution.

She was asked about the problems she faced while running for Congress and she cited the expense of getting her name known to the public; having belief in herself; and the toll that running put on her body. She was asked how students can be involved and said that you should know yourself and make use of your talents. If you’re a writer, write to elected officials and to newspapers. She said to create groups or run for student office.

When asked about public schools she said she’s a believer in the public school system and that her two children attended public schools. She said that students can give feedback and asked the teacher Mrs. Pyle if she can set up a feedback system to share with the Congresswoman. When asked about comparing our education to that of other countries, she said her experience in China was that families celebrated their children getting to college more than graduating because getting there is so hard. She said we lag behind some other educational systems around the world and we need to look at some of what they are doing in order to better compete.

In answers to other political questions, she was asked about the Electoral College and she said it’s there for a reason and doesn’t believe it’s outdated but would consider ways to tweak it. She would like to open up the presidential election process to Washington D.C. and to the territories. On racial violence, she said we are a great country but we do have our history. She said if we use name calling and point fingers, we don’t listen. She said how you treat others is important. On the death penalty, she said that is a state issue but she’s against it for moral reasons. On immigration, she said it used to be a bipartisan issue but lately has become politicized. She said she loves diversity and she is about building bridges and not about building walls. On the minimum wage, she said it should be raised but gradually as not to burden smaller businesses.

One student asked about her day to day life as a Congresswoman. She said that while in session, her time is taken up with voting on bills, committee hearings, and meetings. Out of session, she cited that just yesterday, she met with business leaders, was at an ERA rally, was talking to the USDA about rural development, and was at a woman’s business event. She said after talking to the students today, she will get some vacation time for the Easter holiday. She said she starts her day listening to music to get her going, usually gospel but sometimes Beyonce. She will also watch several news sources to get a broader perspective on the issues. She said she also likes to go to movies and has seen “Black Panther” twice. In response to a question about her most important non-legislative issue, she said that we are divided as a nation and she likes to talk to people different than her to better be able for different sides to come together.

Blunt Rochester briefly talked to Middletown Radio and she said came to talk to the students simply because she was asked to. She said she was impressed by their questions and by their knowledge of current issues.     

Photo creditss of Lisa Blunt Rochester and the Congresswoman with teacher Patricia Pyle: Keith Thompson

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