A familiar face on the local political scene is part of Lifetime’s new online campaign, "Her America: 50 Women, 50 States."
East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks is Louisiana's representative in the initiative aimed to give voices to women across America.
"Who is the American woman?" The words flash on the screen in a clip from the internet campaign, which went live Monday. The promo includes clips of a seamstress, a welder, a professional horse rider, a police officer and more to emphasis the broad scope of the nation's women. They bring differing political, social and economic views to the table as well.
"It seems like to me that born female is a pre-existing condition," one woman says.
"Talking about differences makes people uncomfortable," declares another.
"The thing you hate most about somebody else is the thing that reminds you of your most vulnerable parts," says still another.
In sharing these 50 women's stories, Lifetime says it hopes "to bring women closer together and amplify the voices that go unheard and unrecognized."
Among those featured are Mazie K. Hirono, the first female Asian-American senator; a pro-Donald Trump lesbian immigrant; and a teenage Instagram star from Georgia.
Banks, serving her second term, has strong ties to the Scotlandville area, part of District 2, which she represents. The 55-year-old school counselor grew up in Scotlandville and says in her Lifetime segment that she remembers a much different place, a thriving community before environmental contamination, poverty and economic woes seeped in and still remain.
"When Chauna was growing up, Scotlandville had a solid middle class. Many families bought property and settled in for the long term, living in houses like the pink-and-brick home Chauna owns," her Lifetime biography says. "It was a tight-knit, self-sufficient, African-American community. There were stores to shop in and doctors to see, churches, jobs and Southern University, a historically black institution that has been an anchor for the area since the 1920s."
Another anchor for the community was the former Standard Oil plant. The 100-plus petrochemical plants located along an 85-mile corridor over the years have proven to be both a blessing and a curse, providing many African-Americans with steady jobs but also leaving a legacy of pollution that pegged the area as “Cancer Alley,” her story points out.
"In the late 1950s, Scotlandville began to decline as the city broke up the neighborhood with an interstate highway and demolished homes in middle-class subdivisions to build an airport and a water treatment plant," her story continues. "Poverty rose, as did crime. Property values sank. Stores closed. Many who could move did."
But Banks wants to be part of a change — a brighter future for her community.
“I have no other option but to keep pushing, keep fighting and believe that change will come,” she says.
Banks answered five questions for The Advocate:
1. How did you become part of Lifetime’s "Her America" and how does it feel to be chosen the one woman from Louisiana in the campaign?
I was recommended to Lifetime by a national newspaper staff person that has been covering environmental (issues) in the Alsen/St. Irma Lee community.
2. What inspired you to seek political office?
I’ve always stayed informed about who was in office. I didn’t consider running for office until 10-15 years ago when I went to a church service. The guest minister prophesied that I would run for office. Once I felt God was prompting me to run, I went to my pastor and he confirmed that not only would I run, but I would win. I think it is time for my constituents to receive reciprocity for the multiple sacrifices made on behalf of the entire city-parish. I-110N, airport expansion, university buyout, and Ronaldson Field to name a few.
3. What do you think was your biggest challenge in winning office?
Finding common interest among businesses, private-public community groups, and other elected officials has been fundamental in changing the “status quo.” Often times I see "politics and pride" and barriers.
4. What do you hope that people will take away from your story?
I hope people will see that I am multi-dimensional — a mother, grandmother, daughter, elected official, and career woman. Though I serve in multiple roles, I believe I am fulfilling purpose in my life and I find it gratifying.
5. What do you see as the biggest changes in Baton Rouge since you were a child, and what do you hope for your and Baton Rouge's future?
As a child of the '60s, Baton Rouge was very segregated, though I wasn't aware of it at the time. In my community of Scotlandville, I lived, worked, shopped, worshiped and played in a 10-mile radius of my home. We have jobs, but nearby residents aren't the priority hire and lack good housing options. We no longer have major retail and grocery stores, our recreation, such as the Baton Rouge Zoo, is under attack. Health-care providers are at a minimum. All of these quality-of-life assets have slowly disappeared.
To see all 50 women's stories, visit heramerica.com.