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OneRouge Friday Community Check-In (Week 89)

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in EBR, The Walls Project has been hosting weekly video calls with leaders of nonprofits, foundations, city government, and local businesses from a

cross the parish. The intention of these weekly community check-ins is to share information and resources to help the Baton Rouge community respond and recover from the pandemic. Weekly topics range from access to basic needs such as food, medical care, and safety to thought-leaders' insights on equitable opportunities for youth enrichment, nonprofit financial solvency, surge in unemployment, and the disproportionate impact on impoverished neighborhoods in regards to accessing fresh food.


Education + Workforce Development

Meeting Notes Prepared by Samantha Morgan (Walls Project)

  • I’ve been here in Baton Rouge since January 2019. We started the transition and in 2020 I became the only organizer and the lead organizer for Together Baton Rouge and I’ve had that position since then. I’m originally from Chicago, Illinois, but I’ve lived all over the place.

  • Together Baton Rouge is an affiliate of the Industrial Area Foundation (started in the 1940s). It’s very different from the organization it started. We focus on how to develop people as public actors. The goal is not for me to be on the front page of the local news. My goal is to help local folks to prepare them to go to battle for the things they really care about. That’s the tradition we try to maintain.

  • I feel like in the time of Together Baton Rouge we haven’t dove into schools. We’ve been focused on a lot of other things. I feel personally this is a very important thing that needs all hands on deck.

  • For more than 100 years, a project has been underway to deny Black political power in East Baton Rouge, particularly as it relates to schools. Our goal is to restore proper representation and end suppression of Black political power.

  • In the 1980s, reapportionment of the school board. It allowed for three African American School board members.

  • In 2003, Zachary and Baker split off.

  • In 2010, Central splits off and the school board shrinks from 12 to 11.

  • In redistricting the council shrank from 11 to 9.

  • When we’re talking about the school board it does not represent the whole parish.

  • In the 1980s, Blacks 31.4%, whites 67.7%; 1990: Black 34%, white 63%; 2010: Black 47% white 46%; 2020: Black 46% white 41% other 9% - That’s removing Zachary, Baker and Central

  • Election results in 2020 was 60% for Biden almost 70% for Governor Edwards, so very Democrat

  • From 1978 to today there is a strong, conservative white majority on the school board.

  • Hiring and firing the superintendent: We just hired a new superintendent. This is year 1 and he’s making some very significant changes.

  • It’s going to be an uphill fight, because one side has all the votes, but if we can appeal to them to get 4 firmly African American, 4 firmly white, and 1 that is flexible to shift, then you can get more equity.

  • The goal is a winnable, equitable districts. It’s an uphill fight because one side has all the votes.

  • The goal is to have everything approved by March 17, with three public forums between now and then.

  • The right thing to do rarely moves people to power to do the right thing. There has to be something pushing against them.

  • We’re in the infancy stage of this Workforce ecosystem. It’s a culmination of the Board of Regents and LCTCS. It started in October of last year. We had our first meeting and then each region of the state has teams it pulled together.

  • How do we all fit into the attainment goal. From K-12, from community colleges, from higher eds, from meaningful and non-predatory private players in educational space and progressive non-profits. One thing is defining what that goal looks like and how do we capture that information so that it’s transparent. More importantly, having a goal is key, but we are collectively discovering what those barriers are and how we eliminate those barriers.

  • Right now we have the we have the Workforce Ecosystem for the Capital Region. I am co-chairing it with Casey, but everybody is leading it.

  • We are fleshing out what those attainment goals look like. We are leveraging tools that are in place. What other jobs are there out there? What are the populations going into BR Works? And so forth.


Can you talk about the long term ripple effects of redistricting and what it can change generationally?

Khalid Hudson - We need true visionaries to emerge. It can’t just be academics. We have to think about the parish, the state, and that’s where the natural connection between workforce development comes in. Baton Rouge has broken the record for murders in the last two years and we’re on track to do it again. That does connect to education. All these things are connected. Not all children, when they graduate high school, want to go to a four year university. What are the other programs we have available? The goal is to create a space for productive citizens.

Your last population map seemed to indicate that the "other" population has grown. Can you dig deeper into that group and how are they represented in the proposal you've mentioned (4+4+1?)

Khalid Hudson - The “other” category is going to be tricky politically. You have the Bonafede growth of the Hispanic population in the city, and I would question the numbers because I would say there’s a lot more than even represented in the census count. The other issue is folks that are categorized as having a mixed background fall into the other space. We brought that up with a school board member and he asked how do we know “other” couldn’t tip the scales for the white majority? As far as Together Baton Rouge is concerned, we are trying to develop a strategy to engage the immigrant community to lift up their voice. There are some schools that have seen a drastic increase in English as a second language schools, and they were not prepared. Those are the conversations they should be having. There’s a lot of work to be done and we’re nowhere near where we should be.

How does the redistricting plan incorporate concentrated poverty, % of felons unable to vote, and low voter turnout in some communities into their plans for how they draw the lines?

Khalid Hudson - When you’re dealing with the lines for redistricting it doesn’t account for who’s voting, it just counts for who’s there. It’s a direct headcount of who is in the district. They are just going to count heads and make sure the districts are within each other. I don’t believe those that aren’t able to vote are going to be considered in the lines that are drawn.

Dr. Sarah Barlow

  • I wanted to share what’s happening with the credit side and adult basic education at BRCC that’s in alignment with regional attainment goals. All of the programs that can are embedding industry-based credentials at exit points along the path in our programs.

  • Between a partnership with Gerard and I at BRCC, individuals that are seeking assistance with their high school equivalency, formerly GED, are able to gain workforce training with Gerard’s team or with our credit technical programs to earn concurrently, both the industry-based credential certificate of technical training or their associates degree and their high set. We don’t want people to think it’s one before the other. Overall, the way we think about training is changing for the better. We’re seeing a much better streamline path between crediting and non-crediting, because ultimately we’re providing a path for individuals to have access and remove barriers to those training opportunities. We also have a lot of federal funds coming in to get money directly to those students to help with their training opportunities for those expenses outside the education system.

  • One of the initiatives we did in the fall was Erica Burrel has taken on a liaison role between us and Southern University Law center to help those individuals when they come to us on the front end to begin to explore expungement, specifically around those programs that would require a TWIC card, so that when they are done they are ready for employment. We’re trying to serve the entire individual.

  • We are also launching this spring some food insecurity support. We’re offering a food pantry, which has been a long initiative to finally get in place.

Manny Patole

How does apprenticeships and unionized labor options mentioned work in a “Right to Work” state?

Girard Melancon

The majority of our crafts are an open shop system. They have unions and an open shop hiring practice. What we try to do is have high quality training that meets people where they are. Making them have true ownership of their skills and educating them about their pathways. There’s a whole thing of the gig economy and employee-owned companies. At the end of the day for us, do you have meaningful, transferable skills? Getting people from underemployed, working three jobs, to one job.

SK Groll

I’m thinking about the way tech companies and other businesses are paying for some of these certifications and workforce development programs. We know that tech companies are not paying for workers to develop specific education and workers’ rights education because it’s not in their best interest. How do we build that into other institutions such as BRCC, Southern and LSU, so people are understanding what are my rights as a worker, what strategies can I use. What I fear is that we’re skilling up people, but we’re not preparing them for the ways the economy and workforce are changing. How can we build up communal power and communal education? If companies are not going to pay for that, how are we as a community building it in?

Leslie Clay

Are there any statistics available about how long it takes the students to graduate? I took a few courses there a few years back just to sharpen some skills and I would talk to students and some are taking a long time to graduate.

Dr. Sarah Barlow

Across the country the notion of a two-year degree has extended to many more years. Half our population are taking part-time. We have done a lot to shorten from a four semester to a three semester. We assess annually the cost and the rate to completion. Every program we have a number on, but it’s definitely not the same for every program. It is a number we look at, it is a number I’m focused on.

Rev Anderson

One of things I know personally, is that oftentimes, community colleges serve a particularly important function that allow people to upgrade in ways that has nothing to do with graduation. There is no understanding that within the community college system is where the new industries are the training programs. I think one of the things I would get concerned about is the metric that we most consider with a community college system is a degree. I’m more interested in the number of people who participated are getting a living wage job.

Are they working to get any workforce development grants?

Girard Melancon - BRCC has been working with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber on EDA Good Jobs Challenge Grant. I think they submitted it last week.

Jennifer Carwile

My question is related to aptitude testing. I’m concerned about whether there is enough guidance and support for students in high school. My little buddy says all her family works in fast food. She doesn’t know what else is out there. I can direct her a little bit, but I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know how to direct her.

Casey Phillips - I have some resources I can share LELA - helps high school students and their families and their guardians through the FAFSA process. I agree there’s not as much emphasis on that in the high school years as there should be, but I’m sure there are some schools and programs doing it well.

Girard Melancon - On the BR Works job portal they have an interest inventory. You can see where your skills are and your interests. If you like an occupation and you’re missing some skills, it points you in the right direction.

Casey Phillips - Nothing should ever be sold as the magic bullet solution. Everybody needs guidance and mentorship.

Pat LeDuff - I want to commend Jennifer for continuing to be a buddy. We are really serious about comparing or matching a student at Southern University with every student in Scotlandville. Just think what it would be like if you have a student with every student in Scotlandville. Just yesterday we have done probably about 50K students - I saw one of those students the other day. She was at Wendy’s, her sister is at McDonalds, her mother is at IHOP. I do believe that the buddy system, showing them something different, is the right thing to do.

Rinaldi Jacobs Sr. - I’m going to put on my black chamber of commerce hat. I hope that this program will tie into the small black businesses, which tend to be one or two people. The people who could use the help are the small black businesses that don’t have the big budgets. As we uplift employment, we uplift the community.

Tatiana Begault - What I heard is how education is important. For anyone, we’re so concerned with repairing the damage, we forget about prevention. The action steps start in early learning. When it comes to the adults, they need something that is more comprehensive and that’s where the certificates come in. One of the things I do acknowledge is that they put people to work. Even though you have the training you might not be able to get the licenses if you have a felony.

Verna Bradley-Jackson - Louisiana MJ Foster Promise - This program is for people coming from incarceration to help for training.

There are 55 different charges that will prevent them from using this program.

Casey Phillips - If you’re not familiar with the MF Foster Program, it’s basically TOPS for adults to encourage community college degrees. It’s awesome and I love it and I can’t wait for it to take place on July 1, but does anybody know why those 55 counts were added?

Girard Melancon - I’m not familiar why those 55 charges were put in place, but I think this is one of those things for attainment goals. We can put that on the table and ask. I’m just suspecting it’s tied to licensing, credentials.

Dr. Barlow - they identified the programs that this funding can be used for. It’s for anyone 21 years or older with a high school completion. I believe the frameworks were put there for the programs that are eligible. Not all programs are available, it’s specific training opportunities. It’s a first-come-first-serve. It’s a limited pot of money. People need to start inquiring. Now is the time to start thinking about that and getting individuals ready.

Rev Anderson - Almost all bad law is made from one situation or circumstance. Sometimes we use these big phrases when we’re not looking into the weeds. Right now we are flush with federal money and yet we are not throwing every dollar and every ability to enforce reading in pre-k to 3rd grade. We’re treating it as if it’s the education community's job, it isn’t. In lots of countries, when you are a kindergarten they had programs where people came in and talked about their jobs. It was exposing children to different opportunities. Same for civics, none of our schools have spent time training our children about what is going on with redistricting. Our children don’t know what these things are. That worries me. We are pushing things that could be learned at such an early age into this post high school world. There’s no reason kids couldn’t graduate with these certifications. Why are we making this something you have to pay extra money for? Why can’t we pay a living wage right out of high school. We are not willing to start from birth and say that our biggest investments are in our children. We are going to pay for that.

Pat LeDuff - Generational wealth - there’s a lot that we already have in property. We are going to have to get the families thinking about wills and trusts.


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