7100 Davis Blvd, Naples, FL
NAPLES — If you give a child a cookie, you can ensure a smile on their face. If you create a movement for children, one which emphasizes early-childhood development and quality education, you can ensure that smile for a lifetime.
That’s the goal members of the Milk Party proclaimed at Seacrest Country Day School during the Children’s Movement of Florida Rally. Hundreds gathered inside the school auditorium to rally for Florida political leaders to put children first.
The Children’s Movement of Florida has been holding Milk Parties across Florida to get that message out, and Wednesday night’s stop in Naples brought out parents and leaders within the community. The movements is citizen-led and non-partisan, and focuses its efforts on educating political, business and civic leaders — and all parents of the state — about the urgent need to make the well-being and education of infants, toddlers and school-aged children Florida’s highest priority, according to its website.
“This is not about raising taxes, it’s about raising children and putting children as a priority,” said David Lawrence Jr., chair and creator of the Children’s Movement of Florida. “We are building a long-term, sustainable movement.”
Lawrence, former Miami Herald publisher, has said voters should demand that lawmakers put children before “high-speed trains, prisons and roads.”
With thousands of uninsured children in Collier in Lee County, a failing pre-kindergartan program, a lack of early-screening for special needs in schools and little support from mentors, Lawrence told the audience that Florida shows up on many lists as either mediocre or miserable in rankings.
While the movement stresses its non-partisan stance, Lawrence noted the Milk Party could learn from the Tea Party. The political clout of the Tea Party, Lawrence said, is needed for the movement.
“We need to energize people for the Children’s Movement,” he said.
Parents and educators at the rally agreed more needs to be done for the children of Florida.
“I’m hoping to put in a voice and find someone who will make changes on how money is spent on children in our state,” said Joyce Byrd, whose husband works for the Collier County School District and is a mother of five children in Naples. “We spend little money on school-age children, and spend all the money after we fail the children.”
Wednesday night’s rally included a stand-up comedian for children, presentations from a variety of speakers, including Lawrence, performances by Lely High School’s Marching Band and Golden Gate Middle School’s Jazz Band and a traditional dance performed by the Immokalee Mexican Dancers.
Children watching the event cheered along and listened to the speakers, some waving Children’s Movement flags throughout the event. Fourteen-year-old Chelsea Calloway of Naples thought the movement was a good idea, noting many kids she knows could use guidance and mentorship.
“(Someone) should help kids understand the opportunities and consequences of finishing school and staying in school,” she said.
Since going public on Aug. 9, the movement has drawn thousands of supporters to its “Milk Party” rallies, which are a play on the Tea Party rallies and use milk and cookies as a way to turn the focus to children.
In addition to rallies across the state, The Children’s Movement is also sponsoring a televised gubernatorial debate focused entirely on early childhood development on Oct. 16 at the University of Miami.
Democrat Alex Sink has agreed to attend, while Republican Rick Scott has not yet confirmed, said Lawrence.
E-mail Allie Garza at email@example.com.