Lewis making most of state teen title term

Published 7:42 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The reign of Brookhaven’s Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen isslowly winding down to a summer terminus, but she’s making the mostof her fleeting weeks by spreading her message to some veryimportant audiences.

Brookhaven High School’s Laura Lee Lewis, 16, has had a busy yearin keeping up with the appearances associated with the title shewon last year.

And in the short time of 2010 she’s scored some big points throughthose engagements. In February alone, she’s influenced the passageof what could be a major change in school disciplinary doctrinefrom the Mississippi Senate and induced a retired National FootballLeague great to visit Lincoln County on March 12 and share hispositive message with children.

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Both achievements came earlier this month in Jackson, where thecrowned blond seized pivotal moments to make her case – not justsmile, wave and look pretty.

“You know I could go up and say the regular ‘thank-yous,’ but now,through Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen, I have a voice and aresponsibility,” Laura Lee said.

Really, Laura Lee’s recent appearance before the Senate wassupposed to be just a smile, wave and look pretty event.

Brookhaven’s Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith had prepared Senate ConcurrentResolution 585, to “commend and congratulate” Laura Lee for heraccomplishments. Every legislative session opens with a bombardmentof such resolutions in the House and Senate, which lawmakers use togive props to achieving constituents back home – Brookhaven’s Rep.Becky Currie drafted a similar resolution for Laura Lee in theHouse.

There was a touch of surprise in the chamber when Laura Lee steppedup to the podium and – instead of smiling, waving and lookingpretty – hijacked the Senate floor and began lobbying for SenateBill 2015, which would prohibit “bullying or harassing behavior” inschools and mandates the creation of a policy on the matter.

Bullying is a topic near to Laura Lee’s heart, and one that fitsinto her platform, HERO – Honor, Excel, Reach, Overcome. Whenencouraging children to achieve the “O” in HERO, she draws on herown experiences from childhood, when she was bullied for hermalocclusion, a dental condition that results in an irregularbite.

“This is the best opportunity I’ve ever had to get a strong opinionout about an important issue,” Laura Lee said. “I was a bullyingvictim and I still am – it’s something that will never leave you. Ihad a strong support system growing up, but there’s some childrenout there that don’t have the parental guidance to overcomebullying.”

After her speech, the SB 2015 flew passed the Senate with nodiscussion, passing on a vote of 49-0. It was transmitted to theHouse Education Committee and is awaiting further action. Thebill’s author, District Five Sen. J.P. Wilemon, Jr., called LauraLee to say thanks for giving his bill wings.

It was a similar act of microphone seizure that same day thatresulted in Laura Lee recruiting to her cause Jimmy Smith, aretired NFL great who excelled as a wide receive with theJacksonville Jaguars, finishing his career with 12,287 receivingyards and 67 touchdowns, including five consecutive invitations tothe Pro Bowl.

Since Laura Lee is Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen and Smith isthe founder of the Jimmy Smith Foundation and Ridgeland’s JimmySmith Athletics – both of which provide mentoring for at-riskchildren, mainly through sports – both were panelists at JacksonState University’s Mississippi Child Welfare Institute Conferencethat dissected the impact of hip hop on youth. The event waspaneled by several other celebrities and musicians.

With a love for children and the HERO platform taking Laura Leebefore schools regularly, she closed her folder of preparedquestions and spoke of her own experiences with hip hop and theyounger generation. She talked about the “E.”

“Whenever I go to schools, they can sing me every verse of everyrap song and can do all the dances, too. Some of these songs areinappropriate for their age, even for my age,” Laura Lee saidbefore turning to Todd Williams, who writes positive rap songs.”Could you write me a rap song that is appropriate for them,something positive for them so when I go see these kids I can playthem something uplifting?”

Smith, impressed with Laura Lee’s appeals, approached her after theconference and scheduled himself into her next speaking appearancebefore Brookhaven and Lincoln County third-graders on March 12.Matt Bataille, executive director of the Jimmy Smith Foundation,said Laura Lee’s HERO platform and Smith’s foundation goal aresimilar, with the foundation working to promote community serviceand volunteering.

The appearance will kick off Smith’s school speaking tour inMississippi, which he has used to great effect in Jacksonville,Fla.