Nearly 70,000 attendees are expected at the 92nd annual FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis from Oct. 30 through Nov. 2.
To compare the attendance size, each Republican and Democratic convention in 2016 drew in about 50,000 visitors and attendees. All major news media convenes and hones in on the details and happenings of those conventions for weeks. But unless you live in Indianapolis or are connected to one of the 8,612 local FFA chapters in the United States, Puerto Rico or U.S. Virgin Islands, you might not hear or read about the FFA convention.
I believe in the grassroots power behind the 700,170 FFA student members could be a force of positive change for our country's future. It makes headlines in this little column I write. FFA members are our nation's future competent employees, business owners, agriculturists, scientists, educators and more while being leaders and advocates. They are being taught by 11,000 FFA advisors and agriculture education teachers.
Today, nearly half of FFA members are women, ages 12-21 and women and men have equally split state leadership positions, according to the National FFA.
But only 50 years ago, on Oct. 15, 1969, did women receive inclusion into FFA membership when the late Paul Bankhead of California FFA motioned to strike the word male from the constitution. His motion was seconded and passed.
I can't imagine the world of 50 years ago limiting an educational opportunity to only my son and not including my daughters and I realize much of my generation of today feels the same. Others paved a path for us to chase down our goals and dreams, to shatter glass ceilings.
On Oct. 15, 2019, my friend, Malorie (Bankhead) Walker who I have previously met and know through California agriculture events wrote on her Facebook page, "50 years ago today, my uncle, Paul Bankhead, made the motion to allow young women to be members of the FFA! I believe he was serving as CA FFA State Vice President at the time, as well as a National Delegate. He told the story that because he had a brace on his leg due to polio, he knew he had to be quick at the National Convention that year! There was a lot of chatter that the motion would be defeated like it had been several times before, but my uncle knew it had to be done, and he wanted to be the one to do it. So when they opened the floor, he shot out of his chair like a rocket to be the first with his hand raised to make the motion.
It's my favorite fun family fact to share, and quite a special legacy to leave behind, and I miss the stories he and my dad used to tell about their younger days. As an FFA Alumni myself, I'm thankful for my uncle Paul and his forward-thinking nature in 1969. He was an amazing man full of humor and light, and he was a successful farmer and public servant! Thank you, Uncle Paul!"
Malorie shared a link to a National FFA organization article, "The Fight for Female Membership" where more of the story is told.
For me, Malorie not only gave voice and context behind her "favorite fun family fact" in her uncle's role in the gaining female FFA membership, but she also reminded me of the importance of the men who have fought alongside women for inclusion. These men rarely make headlines or news stories. They aren't afraid to forge a new path, like Paul Bankhead, jumping up to make a motion on a controversial topic that had been defeated in years prior.
I don't know what you're fighting for today. Or what the issue you feel you can impact is. But a simple act of getting involved, speaking up, being "forward-thinking" as Malorie highlighted and creating action have lasting effects. You're not too young, too old or too busy. My hope is for the FFA, its convention and members to continue to lead and create more momentous changes for positive future good.