Speakers at the Southwest Missouri Democrats' fifth annual Eleanor Roosevelt Days banquet reiterated a common message — in order to grow, you need to reach outside of your comfort zone and have conversations with people who are different from you.
The banquet, which is the largest fundraiser of the year for the Southwest Missouri Democrats, was held Saturday at Missouri Southern State University’s North End Zone Facility. Formerly known as Jackson Days West, its name was changed by the local Democratic party to reflect inclusion and diversity under the banner of the former first lady.
“We liked the idea of naming our banquet after a strong female political figure who was not only a first lady but also an ambassador to the United Nations under (President Harry) Truman, and she was also a friend to people of color in her administration," said Krista Stark, executive director of the Southwest Missouri Democrats.
Masters of ceremonies were JP Johnson and state Rep. LaKeySha Frazier-Bosley, who had run against each other last fall for the 79th District House seat.
“These seats that we hold and these positions that we run for as Democrats and as people, it’s those things that matter, not the individual within themselves,” Frazier-Bosley said. “It’s the people’s seat. I represent 37,000 people, but at the same time, I’m still keeping 6 million people in my mind every time I make a decision for the simple fact that it’s not just about me.”
She encouraged those attending the banquet to talk to people who are different from them or who may not share the same political views in order to see others' perspectives.
“You have to have those conversations, whether they’re uncomfortable or not, and that is the goal here as Democrats,” she said. “We’re supposed to have uncomfortable conversations because once you are uncomfortable, you grow, you learn, you change, and that’s what this is about.”
One of the banquet’s special guests was state Rep. Keri Ingle, a Democrat who turned a red district blue last year in the Kansas City area. Before 2016, she had never considered running for office. But after the November 2016 election, she decided to run for political office to pursue issues such as expanding background checks and red flag laws on guns, fully funding schools and protecting teacher retirement funds.
“Like Harry Truman, JFK and Barack Obama before us, we will meet our problem boldly with sound solutions and create a world worthy of our children,” she said. “When I think about my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who scoff at our optimism and our innovative ideas to address the problems that we face every single day, I think of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: ‘Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says it can’t be done.’”
The event’s keynote speaker was Jorn Vylonis, a Chicago lighting technician and rigging chief who has run crews for popular television shows such as "Chicago Fire" and "Breaking Bad." Vylonis said he's proud to be from Joplin.
“I came from here,” he said. “There’s no film industry here. It’s not a bad thing. Not everybody needs it, but I still made it to where I am now. My goal and everybody’s goal should be to give the same opportunities that you receive, no matter how you receive them, to anybody who wants them and especially the people who deserve them.”
Other guests included state Rep. Crystal Quade, the House minority leader, and Elad Gross, a candidate for attorney general.