Capitol Elementary School’s gymnasium provided a bright and inviting atmosphere for Baton Rouge Speaks: A Conversation about Jobs, Health, and Social Justice in Our Community. The word ‘Harambee’ plastered on the wall reminded attendees of the Kenyan principle to “pull together”. Nearly 100 people attended the event which, for me, evoked the spirit of Louisiana-born civil rights leader Kwame Ture who once said, “The knowledge I have now is not the knowledge I had then.” Ture would also say, that “unity is the greatest power of a community”.
On June 29, organizers of Baton Rouge Speaks echoed the same message, shared valuable community resources, and honored four men who have been proven to be outstanding community leaders and mentors to young men.
Hurst, of Elite Sports, mentors and builds up children through team sports and other activities. Elite Sports offers programmatic mainstays like tutoring, camps, college campus tours, and community service projects that highlight the importance of giving back. Elite Sports is an umbrella organization that partners with professional athletes who have a Baton Rouge connection such as basketball players Garrett Temple and Terrel Martin. The year-old organization, has sponsored 150 kids in their football camp with another 150 on the wait list. Hurst said his greatest joy is to be a positive role model and see the kids, whose life he impacted, go on to college and beyond to be great leaders”.
Sims is owner of Sims and Son, BDS Motors, and Big Boys Car Wash. Sims has been doing construction for more than 16 years, completing small construction work, foreman work, paving, and debris cleanup. He was recognized for taking chances on at-risk youth, showing them how to work hard and provide for themselves. He says, “We all get together and look out for each other. If you need a service, come see me at work. If your son needs a job and he doesn’t mind working in the heat, I don’t mind giving it to you.” For fun, Sims leads an ATV riding group called Mud Mafia along with Jeremy Smith, owner of The Spot Barbershop.
Johnson was honored for his dedication to leading youth through the Baton Rouge Rising Stars Boxing Team. As a trainer, he has discovered and developed the natural skills within young boxers turning fledgling competitors into professionals. He has lead the boxing team for five years, competing in several state tournaments, and a National tournament. Johnson said, “The youth is where it is!” His joy for helping young athletes is genuinely felt. One of his star boxers said, “Johnson is a ‘man’s man’.He is one of those guys that, if you have it in you, he will get the best of you.”
Augustus was acknowledged for providing jobs to members within the community from his real estate and heating/cooling businesses. For his dedication, Augustus Properties LLC and Marvin’s Heating and Air Enterprise LLC are flourishing, He says he isn’t a “boss”. “He leads a team and everyone is important”. After being imprisoned in his youth, he was stuck working temporary jobs with grueling labor. His wife found an opening for a maintenance job that put him on the path to a lifelong career. He used those skills to open his own business, which has seen 17 successful years. “There is no such thing as poverty. You do well and increase productivity, your pay comes up as well,” he said. He is an active member of Living Faith Christian Center. He has been married for 31 years and has fathered three children. Augustus said, “He is proud of the reputation that he has built for himself and his businesses”.
Speakers at the event; such as personal trainer and wellness coach Gary Ausbon, told the audience that health comes from the inside out. There are small changes that can be made to start feeling and looking better. “Pay me now or pay me later,” he said, explaining that it is important to be mindful of health on the front end means the rest will take care of itself later. “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great” he said, encouraging everyone to put information to action and get past the starting line.
Dr. Rani Whitfield reiterated that diet is everything. Many foods are genetically modified, containing steroids and compounds that do more harm than good. His rule of thumb, “If it has more than five ingredients, it probably isn’t good for you.” Whitfield also described the difference between a community and a hood. A community is one where its residents own businesses and establishments; where everyone is responsible for the mental, spiritual and financial wellness of the collective.
The Reverend Reginald Pitcher brought that message home. He spoke on issues within the Black community, stressing that whatever problems we have, we are the solution. He touched on “home training”, the education system, community policing, and more. We have idle power that needs to be awakened, gone stale in the time since we were fighting for basic civil rights. A dose of real talk and old school examples from this seasoned activist and leader was met with affirming “Mmhmm”s and “Amen”s from the audience. Pitcher urges those who are scared to sit down, and for those who are sitting down to stop complaining; “Can’t nobody save us for us, but us”. He ended on a positive note, that a change in our environment takes nothing but creativity to build and shape it.
Terry Simmons of T. Simmons and Company built and shaped his own change. T. Simmons is a brand development, talent optimization, and new business development firm in Baton Rouge that works with novice and large-scale clients. Part of his motivation stems from seeing the need to build a competitive workforce throughout Louisiana. He said, “Developing our potential is top priority especially since this state keeps most of its workers”. He schooled the audience on the importance of hard skills, soft skills, industries in demand, and how your social media page isn’t just for fun. He encouraged each of us to be competitive and share resources on how to get a leg up.
The Baton Rouge Speaks Event was a sight to behold. The positive energy reverberated in every guest as they walked out of the Capitol Elementary School’s doors and returned to their own neighborhood more knowledgeable and empowered. It was great to see the collaboration of community leaders, agencies, and residents gathered to discuss the critical issues that have not be addressed within our communities.
Representatives from the Louisiana Urban League, Metromorphosis’ Urban Congress, Baton Rouge AIDS Society, Employ BR, The CEO Mind Foundation, Southern University Ag Center’s Communities of Color Network, and United Healthcare shared resources. Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis and State Representative Edmond Jordan were also present. Catering was provided by Boil & Roux Southern Kitchen.
By Carmen Green