North Baton Rouge has somethings we can be thankful for this year. Over the course of the past few years, I’ve written a lot of pieces challenging the progress of our community. From lack of economic development, to health care, crime, equity, and police misconduct I’ve addressed it on The Rouge Collection and social media. Often that can be overwhelming and give the impression that nothing good is happening, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our issues aren’t that good doesn’t happen, its often just far more difficult than it should be for those good things to manifest.
So this year for thanksgiving I wanted to share with you a list of things we can be thankful for in North Baton Rouge, understanding Baton Rouge as a whole is better because of these things.
1. New Airport Director
One example of a good thing happening that took far too long, we finally have an aviation director for the Baton Rouge Airport. Under the leadership of Airport Commission Board Chair Cleve Dunn Jr., a successful transition of power has taken place after two years. The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council wanted to lock Baton Rouge into an airport director succession of sorts, by just appointing the previous assistant director. Wiser minds pushed for a national search. The search was conducted successfully, and turned into a train wreck when it came before the metro council. However, Mike Edwards who served as interim director during the confusion I believe proved to those in leadership he was capable of doing the job, and showing signs of success already. Having guys like Mike Edwards and his assistant aviation director Gregory Pierson take the controls of the airport at this point I hope will bring new thinking to the Airport and in turn economic progress for north Baton Rouge.
2. New Executive Director Baton Rouge North Economic Development District.
Jerry Jones is coming to north Baton Rouge. Not the Dallas Cowboys team owner, but the new executive director of the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District is 35 year old Jerry Jones. A native of Alexandria Louisiana, Jones was hired at the November 1st meeting of the economic development district. Jones most recently was head of economic development for St. John the Baptist parish, he’s a graduate of Southern University and was hired with unanimous support. As someone who serves on the economic development district board, I can tell you this is good for north Baton Rouge, because now the district can begin to build a vision for economic development in north Baton Rouge. What excites me about Jerry Jones, is his ambition. I don’t always trust what people say, but I trust their ambition. People who are set on going some where are usually more effective at trying to get things done. Jerry isn’t ending his chapter in north Baton Rouge, he’s just getting started and that will hopefully yield some progress for the people of north Baton Rouge.
3. A Better Chief Of Police.
Mayor Broome hired a chief of police that’s willing to step up and do his job. While I feel it is my job to help hold police in Baton Rouge accountable, I must also give credit where credit is due. Chief of Police Murphy Paul firing officer Yuseff Hamadeh was a step in the right direction for Baton Rouge.
Yuseff Hamadeh shot at 21 year old Raheem Howard, and lied and said that his reason for firing a single shot at Howard, was because Howard had shot at him. Audio footage later revealed that Hamadeh lied, there was only a single shot fired. While I believe the chief could do more, I have to give him credit for firing this cop. Previous leadership including District Attorney Hillar Moore allowed Hamadeh to remain a Baton Rouge police officer after he shot Jordan Frazier in the back in June of 2017 killing him. While transparency is still an issue I will push the Chief Paul on, firing Hamadeh was the right decision. A decision I don’t believe would’ve happened with any other chief. Chief Paul has also attempted to hold other officers accountable this year for their actions. Firing Blane Salamoni was a big deal, being willing to discipline the officer caught plotting to lie on tape, as well as some of his shifts in leadership in the department that will hopefully yield a more fair department. This is a sign of progress, and a credit to Mayor Sharon Weston Broome for hiring a chief willing to hold officers accountable. This is a major win for north Baton Rouge, however we must still push hard for change. I will continue to push Chief Paul to release body cam footage in all cases, including several I’ve written on this year — but I must commend the chief and mayor for steps in the right direction.
Mayor Broome pushed and delivered on getting the Disparity Study conducted for the city of Baton Rouge. This is something Mayor Broome hasn’t received a lot of praise for, but getting the majority republican council to agree to have the study done, to see if the city of Baton Rouge is discriminating in any way in how we do business is a big deal. While I took issue with adding in some of the other categories for the sake of republicans, I believe the data from the study will reveal how bad the city has been at doing business with minorities. The study had to be conducted in order for the city of Baton Rouge to consider having a set a side ordinance in place. Set asides are funds in contracts “set aside” for minority and women owned businesses. This is important because currently Baton Rouge is 54% black in the city limits and 48% black in the parish, yet our city parish government spends less than 1% with black, women, and minority owned businesses. The study Mayor Broome is having conducted will give the city the data to look at and decide will we continue to discriminate, or will we change for the better. This is good for Baton Rouge, because it allows us to decide who we will be as a city and how the world sees us concerning equity in business.
5. Courageous Leadership.
We saw leaders stand up for the people. Council members Donna Collins-Lewis, Chauna Banks, Erika Green, and LaMont Cole stood up to try and prevent a legacy appointment to the Baton Rouge metro council. Over the summer these council members took heat for attempting to have a neutral party appoint someone to a vacated council seat. What these council members did attempting to have balance on the metro council for the first time in history took courage and leadership. Baton Rouge is a city that has far too often choose to do what is comfortable, rather than what is right. We the people of north Baton Rouge should be proud to have leaders who were willing to stand for a more democratic process to fill a vacated council seat.
6. The Zoo Stays In North Baton Rouge.
The Baton Rouge Zoo is staying in north Baton Rouge and with it, the potential of over $100 million in investment in north Baton Rouge. The magnitude of this moment can’t be slept on. Moving the zoo was a bad idea and would’ve been bad for north Baton Rouge economically but for Baton Rouge as a whole. Stopping its move was a victory for Councilwoman Chauna Banks especially and all those who stood to advocate that it remain. We can’t continue to move everything south and believe that our entire parish will grow equitably. Seeing white residents from Santa Maria and black residents from Park Vista subdivisions standing in agreement against the move of the zoo, was probably the best show of bi-partisan support. Even if the reasons for support were different, the outcome was a victory for north Baton Rouge, with the potential for a major community win with a new zoo in the north.
7. Black Business Support.
Black business support is becoming electric in Baton Rouge, that’s something we should all be thankful for. This year The Rouge Collection and Abstract partnered together to do Black Restaurant Week, and through these lense I can tell you that black people in Baton Rouge are beginning to step up and support each others businesses. This is so powerful and necessary. Dozens of people went to black restaurants and spent their dollars. I watched Ellen McKnight of The Maxine Firm share a video about the Southern Grind Cofe’ shop earlier this year, followed by weeks of people posting their pics at the coffee shop. Horacio Isabel the owner of Southern Grind took a bold step opening in north Baton Rouge right near the gates of Southern University, and a little exposure has helped us to know it exist. Supporting black businesses is how we begin to revolutionize black communities and build black wealth.
Baton Rouge has a list of challenges and much more to be thankful for than I listed. I could’ve talked about the success of the unanimous jury coalition in passing constitutional amendment 2 this month. Or Councilman LaMont Coles passage of decriminalizing marijuana in Baton Rouge, or Councilman Coles passage of a ITEP package this year that will give us a process to review and approve industrial tax exemptions. And still bright days are yet ahead, because if you go vote on December 8th Baton Rouge will elect our first black woman as city constable by voting for Terrica Williams. We also get the opportunity in the same election to begin to address our traffic issues by supporting the MovEBR plan for roads on the ballot. I believe we are taking some of the right steps toward progress. It is still too hard to get things done in this city, but if we #KeepPushing, I promise things will keep getting better. Happy Thanksgiving #LetsBuild.