MN Jennings Student Lobbies in Washington, DC

MN high school student went to Wash DC, to lobby MN reps to support the Jubilee Act 2634, to cancel dept in Africa and other impoverished nations. Ms. Henry, the youngest participant, underwent lobbyist training and met MN Senate and Congress reps for bill support. On Nov. 7, the House Financial Srvcs Committee held a legislative hearing on the Act.

St. Paul, MN, November 14, 2007 --( Kelsey Henry may seem like your average teenager. She has the latest Harry Potter novel on her night stand and sends friends text messages enthusiastically on her hot-pink mobile phone. But beyond the appearance of carefree youth is a young woman determined to break down barriers of inequality and poverty.

Her ambitious goal recently landed her a scholarship that funded a trip to Washington, DC, where she lobbied the Minnesota congressional delegation to support the Jubilee Act H. Res 2634, to change lending practices and expand debt cancellation for 67 impoverished countries, the majority being in Africa.

What started out as a school project at Jennings Community Learning Center, turned into a profound hands-on learning experience that could affect an entire continent. Henry journeyed to Washington, D.C., in mid-October with the non-profit group Jubilee USA. Kelsey felt honored to be a part of this 2-day lobbying event as the youngest, and only high school student amongst the scholarship winners.

The trip began with a prayer breakfast, which broke the 40-day fast of Reverend David Duncombe, who has taken on the task of speaking for impoverished African nations. Reverend Duncombe prepared the group of lobbyists for the challenges that lay ahead. He visited a different Congressperson and Senator each day of the fast, encouraging them to fast and pray with him for the cause.

After an afternoon crash-course in lobbyist training, Kelsey Henry began the second day with visits to each of the Minnesotan Senators and representatives of Congress. Their goal was to encourage and give support to the representatives who already supported the bill, and to further educate those who were not yet behind it. On her agenda were visits to Congress representatives Kieth Ellison, John Kline and James Oberstar, and Senators Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman.

“I was amazed at how down-to-earth some of the Congress representatives were,” said Ms. Henry. “We were scheduled to meet with Congressman Jim Oberstar for 30 minutes, but when we got there, he set his phone aside and gave us his undivided attention for the next hour-and-a-half. He had a great sense of humor and clearly knew what he was talking about. It was obvious that he was committed to moving this bill forward.”

Along with American politicians, the determined youth sat with members of parliament and UN Ambassadors from a number of African countries and helped shoulder their burden. “The conditions in Africa are incredibly heart-breaking and unnecessary,” Kelsey reflects. “If the U.S. takes leadership in approaching the World Bank to cancel the African debt, it would mean hope and life for so many people.” Every day, 8,000 people die from HIV/AIDS in impoverished countries. At the same time, most African countries spend more on debt payment to the World Bank than on health care. These impoverished countries are weighted down by harmful policies, including privatization of basic services like water, electricity and the burden of user fees on health care.

Debt cancellation is a tested and proven means of fighting poverty and injustice. “Impoverished countries around the world currently pay debt service to wealthy nations and institutions at the expense of providing these basic services to their citizens,” says Jubilee USA representative, Nathan Fishman. In 2005, the World Bank forgave Zambia’s debt, allowing them to hire 4,500 new teachers and eliminate fees for rural healthcare. “Jubilee USA continues to work to ensure that resources released by debt cancellation reach those who need it most, by demanding accountability and transparency from creditors and impoverished countries," says Fishman.

In addition to her recent lobbying trip to D.C., Ms. Henry journeyed to Nepal this past summer, visiting human-trafficking agencies, orphanages and schools. When asked what was next on her agenda, she replied, “It’s difficult to say. There’s so much that I want to learn and do. I’m staying open to the possibilities and simply looking for doors and windows ajar that I can climb through to discover what’s on the other side."

On Thursday, November 7th, the House Financial Services Committee held a legislative hearing on the Jubilee Act for Expanded Debt Cancellation and Responsible Lending (HR 2634) in Washington D.C. For further information on this hearing, visit Jubilee USA’s website.

About Jennings Community Learning Center:

Jennings Community Learning Center is a free public charter school that has been serving students in grades 9-12 in the Midway area since 1998. Its name reflects the school’s philosophy that embraces the Community Learning Center Model, created by Dr. Wayne Jenning. The school believes that all learners should have a customized personal learning plan – in other words, one size does not fit all. Students create their own projects, tasks and schedules. They may also participate in project-based learning, online courses, extensive international and domestic travel, volunteering, internships, seminars and much more.

Jennings CLC is accepting student applications for the current school year. The school invites all to view their website: Any interested students may call 651-649-5403 to set up an intake meeting.

Jennings CLC is now located at: 2455 University Avenue W. St. Paul, MN 55114.

Jennings Community Learning Center
Alissa Anundson