What Jalen Lawson thought was going to be classes about the government turned out to be the experience of a lifetime.
Lawson, along with Kamaryn Frazier and Emmanuel Robinson, were Ashley County delegates who attended the Arkansas Boys State program recently, and both Lawson and Frazier said they were hesitant about going but walked away from the program with a new perspective on meeting different people.
Boys State is a program of the American Legion, and is intended for high school juniors.
“At Boys State, participants learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens,” the Legion Website says. “The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments. Operated by students elected to various offices, Boys State activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law-enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, choruses and recreational programs.”
Lawson said when he first heard the description of the program, he thought it would be like attending more school in the summer.
“I thought it would be a little more in depth, a little more in detail, about how the voting process goes,” he said.
That wasn’t the case, however.
“We learned about the government, but we got to meet different people, to get to know their stories and their views in life,” Frazier said.
As part of his participation in the mock government, Lawson ran for attorney general. He said he wasn’t going to run for anything, but changed his mind at the last minute and ultimately came in second in the election.
“I had to write multiple speeches at my desk late at night,” Lawson said. “I got to the finals, and I got second; I couldn’t believe it.”
During the mock legislative session, the delegates got to sit in the seats in the Arkansas House of Representatives’ chamber.
“We got to go over the laws they pass, where we sat they have a little setup where they press ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Frazier said.
During the week, students also had to run a mock trial.
The camp also allowed delegates to hone their debate and critical discussion skills for when they meet people who think differently. Lawson said they started easy, with the perennial debate about who is a better basketball player, Michael Jordan or LeBron James, but eventually worked up to the debate over abortion rights.
“They stressed to us having different opinions but not coming at someone or tearing someone down over it,” he said. “It was getting serious.”
Though they were from the same town, none of the Crossett attendees were in the same groups. They rarely saw each other, Lawson said, but that was the point.
“You were meant to be with people in a different surrounding,” he said.
The most meaningful part of the experience was the evening group sessions where members of the group would open up and talk about what was gong on in their lives, Lawson said.
“It kind of opened my eyes,” he said. “You think people make good grades, they don’t have worry about anything, but everybody there had a story.”
Lawson and Frazier said they will take the leadership training they received — and the new perspective on how people might have something going on in the background of their lives that they don’t know about — and apply it to their lives during their senior year.
“It was definitely worth going to,” Lawson said.