Empower Missouri started over 100 years ago as an annual conference, making the job of planning and executing our annual Anti-Poverty Summit even more significant. Ask any nonprofit staff and they’ll tell you that conference execution is no joke. I have to uplift our team and give them a round of applause: 2022’s return to in-person events was a smashing success.
We set out to talk about how poverty impacts multiple aspects of a person’s life. We wanted to bring our guests a broad conversation about the collateral consequences of a criminal record, how housing and food insecurity always coexist, and how people who struggle to meet their basic needs are full of talent and potential. Our neighbors need support, compassion, and policy change in order to live into that potential more easily, not an increased burden. Our network of advocates spent two days learning skills, engaging in deep conversation, and cementing their dedication to end poverty in Missouri.
We heard from two amazing keynotes who shared their history in struggle. Toriano Porter opened our time together, sharing how he was raised on many of the same social safety net programs Empower Missouri works to protect and improve. Now a three time published author, speaker, and member of the KC Star Editorial Board, he uses those experiences to inspire others. Sheena Meade told us the story of how she passed a check that she hoped wouldn’t bounce in order to pay for gas and food for her family. Unfortunately that check led to an arrest and a record. Providing for her family that day made it difficult to provide for her family in the future, which launched her life mission of automating expungement across the U.S., including here in Missouri. Sheena and Toriano are exceptional humans who have experienced struggle, just like our neighbors. They have persevered and overcome, while working towards systems change for those just like them.
Likewise we featured breakout sessions from folks across the country and from all walks of life. Our Clean Slate track, a series of sessions planned specifically to educate and inform about the need for an automatic expungement process in Missouri, was wildly popular. Our participants heard from people with records about their experiences, from small business owners who hired those with records, and more. We featured sessions about supporting tenants, expanding food security, and teaching us skills to improve our advocacy. Our most popular breakout session featured an advocacy training from Bolder Advocacy, giving us the basics of what nonprofits are allowed or not allowed to do with lobbying and advocacy. You can view that session here.
We’ve made tremendous progress in 2022 towards a more equitable and just Missouri. We have much more to do in 2023. All three of our coalitions spent time strategizing and networking, preparing us for the next legislative session. One where we hopefully pass automated expungement, expand tenant protections, and increase access to nutritious and affordable food.