“Be very thoughtful about where your gifts, talents, abilities, resources and passions fit — and go join in. It may be with your faith community, as a volunteer or at a nonprofit.”
I have lived most of my life in Baton Rouge and I have been a state legislator, a nonprofit executive and a pastor. I created MetroMorphosis to transform urban communities from within by connecting people and organizations in ways that allow them to co-create a Baton Rouge in which all of its citizens feel it is a vibrant, thriving place to live, work and succeed. Foundational to this work is my fervent belief that inner-city neighborhoods are teeming with assets and resources that can be activated or repurposed. My oft-repeated mantra: “The resources necessary to transform urban communities cannot be imported exclusively, but must begin with identifying and nurturing what already exists.”
The problem I’m trying to solve
For almost every challenge here in Baton Rouge — for instance, the low rate that African Americans boys graduate from high school — there is a corresponding government or nonprofit entity, yet these challenges continue. The systems and structures that were designed to enhance their lives are not as effective as they could or should be. That’s what keeps me up at night. Doing more of the same is not going to create change. The issue’s not money. It’s how we allocate it and how we hold people accountable for what we do with it.
The moment that sparked my passion
I worked 3 years with people who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. I was on my way to my mom’s house one day and I had an epiphany: I was traveling around the country helping people, I realized, when the community I grew up in was going to hell in a handbasket. I knew I needed to focus on home. MetroMorphosis came out of realizing that my neighborhood was in serious decline, then being connected with the ALI and learning better how I could make a difference.
What I wish other people knew
Part of our work is changing the narrative about Black and brown people who live in inner-city communities, and the narrative about those very communities. Rather than saying, “Here’s what’s wrong; here’s what they need,” we at MetroMorphosis believe in focusing attention on the vast array of assets and resources that already exist. I wish folks knew that there are people who wake up in inner-city Baton Rouge every morning, working to make their families, their neighborhoods, their communities stronger and better.
Why my approach is unique
MetroMorphosis doesn’t set out to create new programs or services, but to lend our expertise and partnership to existing ones. This way, we make it possible for the local community and people to define their own issues and identify their own solutions. Here is an example of how we approach community change: We thought about African American males and health care, and we asked: What is an asset in our community that could be engaged? We came up with barbershops. So we trained barbers to check customers’ blood pressure. Of the hundreds they checked, 91 percent had high blood pressure and most didn’t know it. Now we’re in a second phase, where these shops will be repurposed as community hubs and will connect with the resources that are supposed to serve the community.
Advice to others who want to make a difference
Be very thoughtful about where your gifts, talents, abilities, resources and passions fit — and go join in. It may be with your faith community, as a volunteer or at a nonprofit. Just as important, take the time to learn who in your community is undertaking what could be meaningful change and become their biggest cheerleader and supporter. I have two people who send $20 or $30 a month to MetroMorphosis. They bring a smile to my face because they really believe in what I’m doing and want to demonstrate it. Become a supporter! Lift up that work and tell your friends, neighbors, coworkers, golf buddies. Raise it before them: This is something we need to support.