Weary of the toll crime and violence is taking on Baton Rouge’s black community, about 50 people marched from McKinley High School to the McKinley Alumni Center on Saturday calling for change.
Organized by the Louisiana chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the event kicked off a “Unity in the Community” effort in which organizers are hoping to get people from around Baton Rouge to work together to reduce violence in the community, especially violent crime involving young black men.
Walking down Thomas H. Delpit Drive, some participants sang the civil rights era standard “We Shall Overcome” and chanted, “down with violence, up with love.” The marchers carried signs that read “Don’t Kill, Rebuild” and “Turn to Each Other, Not on Each Other.”
“We’re getting mobilized to get organized,” the Rev. Reginald Pitcher told marchers as they gathered in front of the high school.
Pitcher, president of the Louisiana chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he wants to form a “coalition of the willing” that will work to build relationships in the community as a way to reduce crime and poverty and improve education. He plans to hold a town hall meeting sometime soon that will focus on identifying solutions to those issues.
In front of the alumni center — the former location of McKinley High School — unity was the theme of remarks made by a litany of pastors, elected officials and others, who encouraged people to take an active role in improving their community.
East Baton Rouge School Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson said Louisiana’s budget woes and partisan divides have dissuaded some people from getting involved in the political arena.
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“There’s all kinds of black-on-black crime, other than the blood that’s running in the streets,” she said. “…We’ve got to stop fighting and killing one another, killing the character of people you haven’t spoken to. You’ve got to be able to talk to people and find out what they’re about before you start a negative campaign killing their character.”
Those kinds of divisions add to the suffering in the black community, Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker said.
“But there are more of us than there are of them, meaning there are more individuals who believe in the assignment, the call, the anointing to be in this work, not for selfish gain, not for the next level in politics, but for seeing lives change,” Wicker said.
Many speakers talked about the importance of people taking responsibility for some of the problems confronting Baton Rouge’s black community.
State Senator Yvonne Dorsey Colomb recalled a billboard she posted in town about two years ago that read, “Don’t Kill Your Mama.”
When young men kill someone — even if it’s not their mother — they bring pain to their families and those of the victims, which has negative ramifications for the community, Colomb said.
Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, a gang leader-turned-community activist, encouraged church leaders to be more involved in crime prevention, saying there is a church on almost every street corner in some parts of Baton Rouge, yet shootings regularly occur on the streets around them.
Everyone must try to make a difference, Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said.
“If we’re not going to do it for ourselves, we can’t hold anyone else responsible,” she said. “We can look at white folks all day long and say it’s their fault, they’re not doing anything for us, and then we go home at the end of the day.”