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    Baton Rouge leaders mix it up in Washington D.C.

    WASHINGTON DC—There is something to be said about leaders who push beyond boundaries to forge relationships and gain cooperation from others. For all intents and purposes, that’s what leaders from Baton Rouge are doing on a national scale following with a networking mixer held last month with leaders in Washington DC.

    A delegation of elected and appointed officials from Baton Rouge attended the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference to build allegiance around issues citizens face and find resources to bring to their Louisiana districts.

    Along with participating in many CBC conference activities, the Baton Rouge leaders attended the first “Baton Rouge Meets Washington D.C.” networking mixer hosted by the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s office, the Southern University System, and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

    One goal was “to build on national relationships and use resources to develop and fund programs and projects for Baton Rouge and Louisiana,” said Cleve Dunn Jr., chairman of the airport commission.IMG_4351

    “In particular, for the Baton Rouge Metro Airport, it is our goal to leverage those relationships to develop the land surrounding the airport, fund capital improvements projects, and enhance our air service development by increasing the number of direct flights that we offer at BTR.” As an organizer of the mixer, Dunn said he believed the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference would be a great place to start the national relationship building process for the Baton Rouge leaders in attendance.

    “Not only did I feel that our leadership team should attend the conference, but I also felt that we should create and host a Baton Rouge signature event that would promote the city of Baton Rouge, the parish of East Baton Rouge and several of the cities economic drivers,” he said.

    More than 100 leaders attended the networking mixer.

    “Governmental officials, elected officials, developers, private equity professionals, and business owners; all focused on how we can help the city of Baton Rouge and the parish of East Baton Rouge reach its fullest potential,” Dunn said.

    The Baton Rouge Airport heavily relies on grants and federal dollars to expand runways and to complete capital improvement projects. Likewise, the city of Baton Rouge, the state transportation office, and the Southern University System pull most of their resources from federal dollars and grants. Leaders in attendance said the event gave them all a platform in the nation’s capital to present upcoming projects and programs to Congressional delegates and to potential funders and partners.

    We asked attendees to tell us about what they expected from the mixer and its outcome.

    Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport’s interim director of aviation Mike Edwards and Gregory D. Pierson, interim assistant director of aviation, said: “Support for infrastructure funding and our new air service initiatives is always at the forefront when meeting with delegates from any industry. However, one key expectation was to promote the diverse development opportunities available at BTR. Through doing so, we were also able to begin some preliminary dialogue about partnerships with other institutions from other industries that can further stimulate land development and business opportunities within the North Baton Rouge area.”

    President/CEO of the Indigo Engineering Group, LLC, Delicia N. Gunn, said, “My sole CBC Conference expectation was to meet with executives of the Baton Rouge Airport Authority and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.”

    State Rep. Edmond Jordan (BR—District 29), said, “My expectation was to network with other African-American leaders throughout the nation to compare ideas related to creating wealth and building businesses within African American communities. Additionally, I was there to promote the Baton Rouge region to other attendees who are located throughout the U.S.”

    What was the outcome for you and your agency in DC?

    Edwards and Pierson said, “The Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport was able to establish some key contacts towards formulating a coalition for promoting targeted routes for direct air service. We were also able to promote our Aviation Business Park along with all the economic development incentives that accompany doing business at BTR.”

    Rep. Jordan said, “I was able to network with business owners and elected officials; as we shared ideas, strategies, and successes within our community. Specifically, there were seminars related to federal government contracting and accessing venture capital that were engaging and thought-provoking.”

    How were your outcomes met through the Baton Rouge Meets Washington DC Networking Mixer specifically and through other activities?

    Edwards and Pierson said, “Through our (BR airport’s) discussions with legislative officials and other government partners, the mixer afforded us with the platform to solicit support and funding for capital improvement projects that improve the safety, operation, and development opportunities at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. We were also able to meet and connect with Disadvantaged Business Enterprises and Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprises from other regions which will help us to continue to grow our DBE resource pool and further our outreach efforts.”

    Veneeth Iyengar, assistant chief administrative officer, at the City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge, Office of Mayor-President, said, “From City-Parish’s perspective, any opportunity that we have to pitch and export “Baton Rouge and the Parish” is a huge win for the community. The event was very important for Mayor Broome’s administration to connect with organizations and groups, whether entrepreneurs, thought leaders, folks from non-profits and the Federal Government on how we collaborate and work together. The enthusiasm we saw based on the individual and group conversations at the mixer especially in wanting to help our community was great and we look forward to following up quickly on those offers for help.”

    Gunn said, “Although my Washington DC-based firm, Indigo Engineering, has had the privilege of providing engineering and construction management services for cities across my home state of Louisiana, my biggest desire was to work with my hometown city, Baton Rouge….The mixer’s presentation of its airport and city goals provided me with inspiration and information regarding upcoming business opportunities. The casual setting afforded me an opportunity to have in-depth industry conversations that are often stifled around a business table. The event was a perfect recipe for successful networking.”

    Rep. Jordan said, “Baton Rouge was represented in a positive light and promoted throughout DC. There is no doubt that the mixer will lead to business opportunities and an infusion of capital for the city; and hopefully, a direct flight from BTR to DC.”

    What’s next?

    Edwards and Pierson said, “As with most things, the follow-up and ongoing collaboration is critical. We must ensure we build upon the strategies discussed at the most recent event to leverage those relationships established at the mixer for all future initiatives.

    Gunn said, “My next steps are to build relationships and to create partnerships with Baton Rouge Airport Authority and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. It is my desire that my firm becomes a trusted advisor and business partner to these two agencies. I seek to achieve this goal by sharing my life, work and play experiences in the nation’s Capitol with city planners to provide a unique, urban perspective for our growing metropolitan city of Baton Rouge. I also seek to leverage my established business relationships and contacts with private and government sectors to help the Baton Rouge Airport Authority and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development meet its business and planning goals.”

    Rep. Jordan said, “As this was just the first step of many to come, we must continue to cultivate relationships while implementing some of the ideas gained from the conference. We can’t become complacent or lose the focus and energy gained from the conference. Otherwise, it will be lost opportunity. We are better than that. Baton Rouge is better than that. Now let’s prove it to the rest of the country.”

    Also in attendance were Baton Rouge Councilmembers Erika Green, LaMont Cole, Chauna Banks, and Donna Collins-Lewis;Metro Washington Airport Authority Vice Chairman Earl Adams, Jr. ; State Reps. Ted James, Rodney Lyons, and Randal Gaines; State Senator Ed Price; Metro Washington Airport Authority Rep. Kristin Clarkson;‎ Federal Aviation Administration Rep. Nick Giles;‎ US Department of Agriculture Rep. Danny Whitley;‎ BREC Commissioner Larry Selders; Makesha Judson with the ‎Mayor President’s Office; Louisana DOTD Chief Legal Counsel Josh Hollins; Former Southern University SGA President Armond Duncan; Perfect 10 Productions CEO T.J. Jackson; and Rise of the Rest Fund Partner David Hall.

    By A.G. Duvall II
    Drum Contributing Writer

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    MLK III joins Urban Specialists, leaders in celebrating BR’s reduced violence

    On Sunday, October 14, 2018 a historic ceremony for the City of Baton Rouge will take place as community leaders, a host of celebrities and the entire community come together for a special CourseCon Baton Rouge “Thank You Baton Rouge” event. This first of its kind experience for the Louisiana city will take place at 6 p.m. at the Raising Cane’s River Center. More than 2,000 people are expected to attend, including students from Southern University, Louisiana State and other nearby universities, who will be brought in on chartered buses sponsored by Urban Specialists and Raising Cane’s. CourseCon Baton Rouge is free and open to the public who register at http://urbanspecialists.org/3c.

    CourseCon Baton Rouge will bring together to some of the most prominent activists, cultural influencers, corporate executives and celebrities to have a real conversation about Baton Rouge’s urban community, renewal opportunities and eradicating violence and poverty in neighborhoods. CourseCon Baton Rouge will also be an opportunity to thank and celebrate the citizens of Baton Rouge and strides that have been made in the area, particularly since Urban Specialists opened an office there and partnered with city leaders and law enforcement officials.

    CourseCon Baton Rouge will also be historic as the hearse that carried prominent civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr’s body, will be unveiled for the first time since his death more than 50 years ago. Todd Graves, owner and founder of Raising Cane’s, bought the hearse from the original owner and through its unveiling, wants to remind young people what Martin Luther King, Jr contributed to society. “It’s important that the next generation really understands how the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world,” said Graves. “These kids did not get a chance to hear MLK during his lifetime, so I am hoping they will be able to appreciate him through this tribute to honor his life.” Dr. King’s son and namesake, Martin Luther King III, will be in attendance to speak and help pay tribute to his father with the dedication of the hearse.

    Featured panelists and speakers for CourseCon Baton Rouge include, Omar Jahwar, CEO and founder of Urban Specialists; Todd Graves, CEO and founder of Raising Cane’s; Murphy J. Paul Jr., Chief of Police, Baton Rouge; Sharon Weston Broome, Mayor of Baton Rouge; LaMont Cole, Baton Rouge City Council Member – District 7; Clay Young, marketing executive, radio show host and community activist; Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, former gang leader turned community advocate; Pastor Errol Dominique, senior pastor of Elm Grove Baptist Church; James Gilmore, Ph.D., city leader and former top aide to Baton Rouge Mayor; NFL Hall of Famer, Deion SandersCortez Bryant, COO, Young Money Entertainment and Co-CEO of The Blue Print Group; Antong Lucky, director of national invasion with Urban Specialists and former leader of the infamous Bloods gang in Dallas, Texas; and Andricka Williams, widow of Alton Sterling, who was killed in 2016 in a controversial shooting by two Baton Rouge police officers.
    The moderated forum, in partnership with Urban Specialists, Raising Cane’s and the City of Baton Rouge will provide an opportunity for residents, civic stakeholders and key influencers to gather for a civil discourse. The intention of CourseCon Baton Rouge is to facilitate an in-depth conversation about shared interests, ways to promote thriving communities and stop senseless violence. Omar Jahwar is just the right person to lead this critical conversation as he is widely known all over the world for his results-driven approach to ending violence and bringing about positive change in urban areas of high crime and poverty. In Dallas, Jahwar adopted sixteen streets in one of the most crime-ridden, impoverished neighborhoods in Dallas and through his leadership, there is a 58% decrease in crime in that area. He also adopted high schools in those neighborhoods and they have seen a 72% reduction in violent incidents in just one school year.

    “We are excited to bring this conversation to Baton Rouge,” said Omar Jahwar. “We opened an office in Baton Rouge in early 2018 and have already seen significant results. We have a proven method that has worked in other urban areas and look forward to continuing to implement those strategies to further decrease violence in Baton Rouge.”

    Omar Jahwar is an expert in urban culture and the leading voice around the country for eradicating senseless violence. His efforts to revive urban culture began over twenty years ago as the first state-appointed gang specialist in Texas. In this role, he negotiated peace terms between incarcerated rival gang members. He also brought over 400 gang members together and negotiated the first peace treaty between the infamous Blood and Crip gangs in Dallas.

    Urban Specialists is taking CourseCon around the country to help activate change in urban neighborhoods.

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    PERSPECTIVE: Metro council considers marijuana policy changes to stop criminalization

    The Baton Rouge Metro Council is considering potential changes to the city’s current marijuana possession policy. The proposal, co-authored by Councilmen Chandler Loupe and Lamont Cole, would prohibit the arrest of individuals in possession of small quantities of marijuana and disallow the use of prior marijuana possession convictions to be used to justify longer prison sentences for repeat offenders. The proposed changes are an example of sensible, progressive policy and bipartisan cooperation that seem to be more common coming from the council recently.

    The move towards decriminalization of marijuana is happening in cities all over the country as attitudes regarding marijuana have changed and more attention is being focused on the potential adverse effects of current drug policies. In 2016, the New Orleans city council passed an ordinance that decriminalizes marijuana possession by providing tickets, not arrests, and reducing the penalties to modest fines.

    Unlike the New Orleans ordinance, the proposal currently before the Metro Council retains current penalties; a fine of up to $300 and/or 15 days in jail for possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana and a fine of $500 and/or 6 months in jail for possession of more than 14 grams. However, the proposal ends the practice of using prior marijuana possession convictions to compound penalties for repeat offenders which prevents misdemeanors from turning into felonies with lengthy jail sentences.

    The proposed changes are smart policy and a good first step for several reasons. No longer arresting for marijuana possession eliminates potential hurdles and financial barriers individuals with arrest records face. Despite the rate of marijuana usage being roughly the same for across racial lines, Blacks are much more likely to be arrested for possession. And thus for a single marijuana charge, more young Black men and women will be denied jobs, school loans, housing assistance, and promising futures.

    Aside from impacting inequity in the criminal justice system, there is also a strong fiscal argument for making these changes. The proposed policy would not only save the city money, but it would free up resources in an already stretched thin police force.PSN BR logo

    At the Jan. 24 Metro Council meeting despite Cole’s requesting that the item be deferred for two weeks, several concerned citizens and advocates expressed their support for passage of this ordinance. We think that this is smart policy that benefits the community as a whole and hope that it will receive the full support of the council when it comes up again at the next meeting.

    Perspective By Progressive Social Network of Baton Rouge
    Special to The Drum

    Progressive Social Network is a grassroots advocacy organization promoting the progressive values of equity, inclusion, and accountability in the greater Baton Rouge area. ONLINE: www.psnbr.org

     

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  • CAUGHT YOU: Making Rounds

    Businessman W.T. Winfield of WTAA Engineers in Baton Rouge spent the past week visiting with longstanding friends in the public servant sector, including council members LaMont Cole, Donna Collins Lewis, Tara Wicker, and Chauna Banks.  “Since I do not have an opportunity to get out too often it was really great to get caught up on what is going on or coming up in our beloved city,” Winfield said.
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