Expanding Our Roots: Global Conversations With 821 is an online interview series hosted by The 821 Project. The purpose of the series is to showcases the cultural diversity, global connections and social consciousness of the people of southeast Louisiana as well as those who work to expand southeast Louisiana’s roots to the world through works that promote social justice and global citizenship.
The series presents community organizers, community leaders and residents living in southeast Louisiana who come from different parts of the world or who work to promote global citizenship, multiculturalism and social justice in our regional community.
We will post a new interview twice a month.
List of Conversations
Alejandro: Poet, President of the Poetry Alliance
Alejandro is a queer black woman living in Louisiana. A poet and lesbian fiction writer, she is dedicated to exploring the vast culture of black lesbian love. Alejandro is also the president of the Poetry Alliance, an arts organization that facilitates a monthly poetry reading and open mic for the local community in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Dr. Alejandra Torres: Community Engagement Director For Humanities Amped
Dr. Alejandra Torres is a bilingual educator and immigrant youth advocate. She is the Community Engagement Director for Humanities Amped and holds a PHD in English from Louisiana State University. Her dissertation and advocacy work address the educational needs of immigrant youth, particularly undocumented adolescent English learners. She serves on the Baton Rouge Immigrant Rights Coalition, Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants, and ICARE Advisory Board. She has worked with Humanities Amped since 2015.
Dauda Sesay: President of the Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants
Dauda Sesay is a refugee from Sierra Leone who lives in southeast Louisiana. He serves as the Vice Chair of the Refugee Congress as well as the President of the Louisiana Organization For Refugees and Immigrants.
Dr. Fevzi Saraç: Board Member of the Atlas Foundation
Fevzi is a Turkish-American who has lived in Baton Rouge since 2013. He first moved to the United States in 2007, spending 6 years in New York before coming to Louisiana. Since coming to Baton Rouge in 2013, he has attained his PhD in Political Science from Louisiana State University and teaches courses in political science at the university. He has served as one of the board members of the Atlas Foundation, a non-profit intercultural and interfaith dialogue foundation based in Louisiana, since 2014.
Laura Siu Nguyen: Event Coordinator of Laura Siu Planning & Events and Communications Manager at New Schools for BR
Laura is the Owner and Event Coordinator of Laura Siu Planning & Events, an event planning and social media marketing company based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She also works as the Communications Manager at New Schools for Baton Rouge. Born and raised in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, she looks for ways to get her culture involved in all her events.
Letrece Griffin: Marketing & Communications Specialist for Knock Knock Children's Museum in Baton Rouge
Letrece Griffin is a highly lauded communications professional and community advocate who works extensively in a variety of media. She is the Marketing & Communications Specialist for the extremely popular, Knock Knock Children’s Museum, and Executive Producer for Melanin3 Media. She is the author of three books, an event curator, public speaker, and public relations specialist.
Donney Rose: Teaching Artist, Poet and Community Activist
Donney Rose is a poet, teaching artist, essayist and community activist from Baton Rouge. He is the creator of THE AMERICAN AUDIT, a multimedia spoken word project detailing 400 years of Black American life using the extended metaphor of America as a business being audited. His work as a performance poet/writer has been featured in a variety of publications, including Atlanta Black Star, Blavity, Button Poetry, All Def Digital, Slam Find,  Magazine, Drunk In A Midnight Choir, Mocking Heart Review, University of New Orleans’ Bayou Magazine and Nicholls State University's Gris-Gris literary journal.
He is a 2018-2019 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow and a member of Baton Rouge Business Report's 2017 Forty Under 40 Class.Donney also contributed two scholarly articles to the St. James Encyclopedia of Hip Hop Culture, 1st Edition (St. James Press, February 2018) and works as a contributing writer for The North Star.
Colleen Kissel: Community Activist With Progressive Social Network of Baton Rouge and BR Votes
Colleen Kissel leads BR Votes, a nonpartisan voter guide for Greater Baton Rouge. BRVotes.org is a project of Progressive Social Network aimed at increasing voter turnout by educating voters on the issues that matter. Colleen has lived in Louisiana for the last ten years and enjoys watching local politics and science fiction movies.
Paromita Saha: British PHD Student, Scholar and Journalist
Paromita Saha is from the United Kingdom with twelve years of industry experience working as a news journalist/producer for major British broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV News. She has also worked as a strategic communications lead on major public campagigns for the British government and nonprofit sector. She is completing her PHD with the Manship School of Mass Communication. Her research interests include newsroom diversity and media leadership from the standpoint of intersectionality, critical race theory and organizational behavior She is also a music journalist who writes extensively about the Louisiana and Mississippi music scene for the British blues magazine, "Blues Matters."
Maria Harmon: Co Founder and Director of Step Up Louisiana
Maria Harmon is from Lake Charles, LA. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Southern University A&M College of Baton Rouge, LA. During her time at Southern, Maria built a network of over 2,000 students to become civically engaged while working with the Louisiana Democratic Party. She helped in starting up Democracy Prep Public School of Baton Rouge as a Community Organizer by helping enroll 192 students for their first school year 2015-2016. She has worked for the Micah Project, a federation of the PICO National Network/Faith In Action, in 2016 as a community organizer working in education and civic engagement. Maria is now the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Step Up Louisiana a grassroots membership based organization that advocates for economic and education justice across the state of Louisiana.
Arnaud Leclercq: Language Teacher From Brussels, Belgium
Originally from Brussels, Belgium, Arnaud has been a language teacher for the past 11 years. He has taught Dutch in his native Belgium while also teaching Spanish and French here in southeast Louisiana. He describes himself as a 33 year old who loves to meet and learn from people, discover new cultures, and travel.
Dianne Hanley: Founder and Executive Director of Spirit and Justice
Dianne is the Executive Director of Spirit & Justice, an organization that brings together deeply spiritual people who are drawn to justice work. For over 10 years, Ms. Hanley has been a leader with Together Baton Rouge, an organization that strengthens faith-based and civic institutions by deepening relationships across lines that normally divide and building leadership capacity to affect change on concrete issues.
Dr. Anna West: Co-Founder and Executive Director of Humanities Amped
Anna is the co-founder and the Executive Director for Humanities Amped, a nonprofit organization that ampflies youth well-being, critical literacy, and community minded problem solving in East Baton Rouge Parish public schools.
Dr. Leslie T. Grover: Founder and President of Assisi House, Inc
Leslie T. Grover, PhD is President-Founder of Assisi House, Inc. She is certified in Community Storytelling, Story Exchange Facilitation, and Narrative Medicine. She is a community-based participatory research expert, and she works with graduate students to conduct research, organize community-based research designs, and create programs. She is a writer for PushBlack, the largest source of information for Black voices across the nation. An avid scholar-activist, her work is widely published on issues associated with health disparities, community polarization, and vulnerable populations.
Jonathan Mayers: Louisiana Creole Visual Artist and Writer
Jonathan is a Louisiana Creole artist from Iti umma (Baton Rouge), Louisiana. He paints familiar landscapes framed with mud from specific locations. Mayers champions fantastic and representational narrative painting by addressing consequences, both natural and inflicted by humans, through personification in mythological beasts. His work represents a facet of the Creole community. By writing in French and Kouri-Vini, he encourages the acquisition of heritage languages in Louisiana. His poetry reflects the culture, environment, identity, and worldly experiences of contemporary life in Louisiana. You’ll find this in his poems La Latanière and Traka pa konné gouvèné.
Dr. Jose Torres: Sociology Professor at Louisiana State University
Jose is a sociology professor at Louisiana State University. Prior to becoming a professor, he was a police officer in his native Virginia from 2009 to 2012, working mostly in low income communities with the Norfolk Police Department's public housing community policing unit. His experiences in law enforcement have shaped his research and teaching in the areas of urban policing, community policing, policing and social control, police legitimacy, and race/ethnicity and policing. He has a PH.D in Sociology from Virginia Tech University, which he obtained in 2016.
Rev. Nathan Ryan: Associate Minister For the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge
Rev. Nathan Ryan serves as the Associate Minister for the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Meadville-Lombard Theological School in Chicago. He began his ministry with the church in 2012. When he was ordained by the congregation in 2013, he made history as the church’s first ordination in its 61-year history.
Chancelier Skidmore: Director of Community Engagement for the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge
Chancelier is the Director of Community Engagement for the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. In addition to this, he is a percussionist with the Michael Foster Project, a Baton Rouge based brass brand that performs a variety of musical genres, a teaching artist that has mentored young people across the Greater Baton Rouge area through the literary arts, and a former poetry slam competitor who has obtained several national and international poetry slam competition titles.
Frankie Robertson: Founder and President Of The Amandla Group
Frankie is the Founder and President of The Amandla Group, a social justice consulting firm dismantling structural barriers by focusing on the social and political determinants of health through policy, research and advocacy.
Melissa Yarborough: Voter Education Organizer For the League of Women Voters of Greater Baton Rouge
Melissa is an educator specializing in teaching Spanish and English as new languages. She has an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from LSU Shreveport and a B.A. in Spanish from Bryn Mawr College. She currently serves as the president and voter education organizer for the League of Women Voters of Greater Baton Rouge, which aims to empower voters and defend democracy.
Andrew McLean: Classical Indian/Indo-jazz Musician
A native of New Orleans, Andrew has been playing music in New Orleans and beyond since his childhood. He studied ethnomusicology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and is a pioneer in the New Orleans indo-jazz and classical Indian music scene. His compositions can also be heard in documentary films and shorts including including “Foster Care” for Sesame Street, “Just Breathe” for Wavecrest Films which was featured on a mindfulness episode of Oprah Winfrey’s Super-Soul-Sunday. Andrew operates Adorasound Recording Studio and the Adorasound Publishing label. He has engineered, mixed or produced recordings for Shringar, The Plum Magnetic, Braintree, Neela, Olfactory Hue, the New Lemurians, Shantaya as well as the soundtracks for award winning films: Just Breathe, Peleas de Gallos and the PBS documentary film Time and Tide.
Maxine Crump: President and CEO of Dialogue on Race Louisiana
Maxine Crump is the President and CEO of Dialogue on Race Louisiana, an organization that aims to promote a great understanding of systemic and institutional racism. In the past, Crump has served on the board and as a three-term president for the YWCA, and she's also had an illustrious career in news, public relations and media development. She began her broadcast career as an announcer at WXOK and WFMF radio. She worked 15 years in news at WAFB TV, one year for BET News, eight years covering local programming in Ascension for APTV and produced her own program called Ascension on the Move.
Christopher Bailey: English Teacher at East Ascension High School
Christopher was born and raised in Baton Rouge. He currently works as an English Teacher at East Ascension High School in Gonzales, Louisiana. Before teaching, he worked in the nonprofit world for about two and a half years. He holds a Master's Degree in Peace Building and Conflict Transformation from the School of International Training (SIT) Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Laquitta Bowers and Wankeeta Jackson: Racial Justice Program Officers From Foundation For Louisiana
Laquitta Bowers is the racial justice program associate at the Foundation for Louisiana ( FFL) in Baton Rouge. She is a committed social justice advocate who spent her early years working for the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition; AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families; in the Greater Washington DC area. She earned a Master’s in Management from the Heller School of Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University. Wankeeta Jackson is the racial justice program officer at the Foundation for Louisiana (FFL) in New Orleans). She is a passionate racial justice advocate whose work has spanned both the public and private sectors. Before her work at the foundation, she served as Grant Research and Evaluation Associate at Go Propeller. Currently, she serves on the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition board as Co-chair working towards a safer, decarcerated New Orleans. Keeta earned a Bachelor of Science in Marketing Management from Virginia Tech and later a Master’s in Human Services.
Jason Andreasen: President/CEO of the Baton Rouge Gallery
Jason Andreasen has served as the Baton Rouge Gallery's (BRG) President/CEO since the summer of 2008 (having joined the gallery in 2007). A Miami, FL native, he relocated to Louisiana's capital city in 2005, two days before Hurricane Katrina. He continues to work to grow both BRG and the arts in Baton Rouge area. He has led the organization to new heights in programming, charitable giving, art sales and more. Prior to his work at BRG, he worked as a freelance entertainment writer, having interviewed artists of all disciplines ranging from George Clinton to Robert Williams, D.L. Hughley to Jason Isbell.
Rev. Christopher Golding: Australian Ex-Pat and Former Associate Priest of St. Luke's Episcopal Church
Rev. Christopher Golding is an Australian ex-pat and vegan priest and is currently discerning new full-time ministry opportunities with The Episcopal Church in the United States. Christopher is a spouse and parent of two and has been an ordained minister for ten years, working in rural and urban contexts in Australia, Hawaii, and Louisiana. Having a love for pastoral ministry, school chaplaincy, and environmental and interfaith spirituality, Christopher was most recently the Associate Priest of St. Luke’s Church and School, Baton Rouge.
Bea Gyimah: Founder of the America My Oyster Association
Bea Gyimah is an Associate Professor of English at Baton Rouge Community College. She is the founder of America, My Oyster Association, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve the diverse histories, recognize the various struggles, and celebrate the victories of all individuals residing in America. Ms. Gyimah has been recognized for her diligent efforts to further multi-cultural awareness within Louisiana, receiving the Louisiana Role Model Award by the Links Incorporated (2019), the BRCC Excellence in Diversity Award (2013), the Jane French Manship Endowed Professorship (2017), the WAFB News and Capital Area United Way’s Power of Nine Award (2016), and a feature story in the “I AM 225” column of 225 magazine.
Dustin LaFont: Director of Front Yard Bikes
Dustin LaFont is the director of Front Yard Bikes, a workforce development program and community bike shop that teaches a variety of skills and life lessons for youth ages 6-22. He previously taught 6th grade history and served as a full time tutor with City Year Baton Rouge. He has his Bachelor’s in History and Masters in Teaching from LSU. As the representative of Front Yard Bikes, Dustin was a featured TEDxLSU speaker, awarded the Blue Cross Blue Shield Angel Award, Baton Rouge Business Reports 40 under 40, and was recently awarded the Dorothy Richardson Award in Chicago. Along with such accolades, Dustin credits his faith, family, and wonderful youth, who collaborate daily in the Baton Rouge community.
Kina Reed: Curator Of The AntiBlackness Reader Project and Educator
Kina is the creator and curator behind the social media platforms, The AntiBlackness Reader Project and Hug Your White Friends. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Communication Studies and is a published researcher, conference presenter and public speaker. Her public advocacy is largely inspired by her academic research relating to social power and race and gender identity constructions. She currently holds a dual faculty administrator appointment at Louisiana State University.
Scott Tilton: Co-Founder and Director of the NOUS Foundation
Scott Tilton is the Co-Founder and Director of the NOUS Foundation. Scott was born in New Orleans where he grew up learning French and Creole. He lived the past several years in Paris where he worked as a public sector consultant at EY France, notably on projects for the European Union and the French government. While in France, Scott launched an initiative that saw Louisiana become the first US state to join the International Organization of the Francophonie. Scott holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia as well as a master’s degree in International Relations from Sciences Po Paris.
Irene Ziegler: Program Director For UNO Innsbruck
Irene B. Ziegler has worked in International Education at the University of New Orleans (UNO) since 1992. She has developed and managed several study abroad programs, and currently directs UNO’s flagship program abroad, the UNO-Innsbruck International Summer School. Of particular importance to her are increasing diversity in study abroad, and offering experiential learning opportunities, such as the AFS Global Competence Certificate. Born and raised in Austria, she attended the University of Innsbruck, where she majored in Foreign Languages and Education. She earned her M.A. in English at UNO and her Ph.D. in American Literature at the University of Graz (Austria).
Erica Chomsky Adelson: Founder and Executive Director of Culture Aid NOLA
Erica Chomsky-Adelson is the founder and Executive Director of Culture Aid NOLA, a nonprofit organization that aims to "serve the culture of New Orleans by directing no-barrier, stigma-free aid to underserved members of the hospitality and cultural community, and to do it with dignity, grace, and compassion." She has worked in non-profit disaster response for 12 years with a variety of organizations. She has a B.S. in Planning and Urban Studies from The University of New Orleans.
Casey Phillips: Co-Founder/Director Of The Walls Project
Casey Phillips describes himself as a creative futurist with 20+ years of experience forecasting and launching entertainment, technology, and arts brands. He is a prominent brand strategist specializing in the cultural economy and nonprofit sector by implementing innovative strategies based on global best practices, data analysis and future market trends. He is also a proponent of creative placemaking and smart growth principles to reactivate communities through collaborative community development. Casey is the Founder of The Force Agency in Los Angeles, California and Co-Founder/Director of The Walls Project 501c3 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Alicia Cooke: Co-Founder of 350 New Orleans and Teacher at New Harmony High School
Alicia Cooke is the co-founder of 350 New Orleans, a volunteer-based organization dedicated to uplifting grassroots climate justice work across southern Louisiana. In her day job she teaches Social Studies at New Harmony High School, a wonderful place that frames its curriculum in a greater social and environmental context and particularly focuses on the impact of coastal loss and restoration in Louisiana. Her climate justice work with 350NO informs her curriculum, as she seeks to help her students find their own place within the incredible ecosystem of social and environmental justice work happening in New Orleans and beyond.
Kaitlyn Joshua: Community Organizer For The Power Coalition For Equity and Justice
Kaitlyn Joshua is a Community Organizer for the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice. On her path to becoming a medical physician, she stumbled upon several different social justice organizations that sparked her interest and led her to follow her passion, ultimately leading to her work as a faith organizer with the Power Coalition. Before joining Power, Kaitlyn served as the statewide organizer for Step Up Louisiana. As a Louisiana native, Kaitlyn is passionate about making this state a better place to live for everyone. She believes that through activism and organizing we can build a more equitable community, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. For her, that is the real work of the Lord. Disrupting systemic oppression starts with making sure everyone has an opportunity to make a living wage, attend great schools, and ensure that their vote is counted.
Gene Meneray: Co-Founder of The Ella Project
Gene Meneray is Co-Founder of The Ella Project, a pro bono legal, business development, and cultural advocacy organization. A native New Orleanian and graduate of Tulane University, Gene worked for more than a decade as Director of Artist Services at the Arts Council of New Orleans. He has also worked for Thomas Mann Design and for Young Aspirations/Young Artists (YAYA). He has served multiple times as a grant reviewer for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Louisiana Division of the Arts and as a juror for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Festival Internationale de Louisiane, and numerous other art shows and festivals.
Angel Chung Cutno: Founder of Re(ad) TREAT/Community Activist/Queen of Black Seminoles Black Masking Indians Tribe
An Afro-Asian Louisiana native, Angel has always been passionate about community involvement. With over a decade in non-profits and youth mentorship; she continues to gain experience through serving on the boards of Front Yard Bikes Baton Rouge, the Asian Pacific American Society, the Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association, Rotary Club of New Orleans, and most importantly as a culture-bearer as Queen of the Black Seminoles Black Masking Indians Tribe. Angel founded RE(ad) TREAT- a literacy program and “nomadic library.” Angel’s goal is to connect with all communities being the difference and building bridges of healing.
Eric Dexter: Director Of Business Development For Civil Solutions Consulting Group
Eric Dexter is the director of business development for Civil Solutions Consulting Group, a Baton Rouge-based Black owned civil engineering consulting firm. In the day-to-day, Eric leads the organization’s marketing and business development initiatives while managing new and existing client accounts. A strong community advocate, Eric is a leading figure in the development and work of a number of local nonprofits and associations, ranging from business, education, and economic development to the arts and social good.
May Wen: Founder of Asians For Justice NOLA
May Wen is a native New Orleanian who has spent much of her life exploring the themes of home, family and identity. After investigating those questions in Boston then China after Hurricane Katrina, she came back to New Orleans to lay down her roots and strengthen her bonds to the only place that ever felt like home. In 2020, she created Asians for Justice in the aftermath of George Floyd and has been leading weekly meetings to assist other Asian-identified people in empowering and emboldening them to speak their truth and to tell their story.
Saachi Chugh: International Student From India at LSU, Member of the Baton Rouge International Relations Commission
Saachi is currently in her last year working as a research neuroscientist and obtaining a minor in Mass Communication at the Manship School, LSU. Saachi has enthusiastically been a part of student leadership at LSU, serving as the former President of the International Students Association and International Cultural Center, and with the Indian Students Association as the Cultural Chair for the year 2018-2019. Saachi is currently working on an organization called “The Speaker’s Forum," a platform for global leaders to interact with students. She is a member of the Baton Rouge International Relations Commission.
Dr. Amy Pan: President of the United Nations Association of Baton Rouge
Dr. Amy Pan is the President of the United Nations Association of Baton Rouge. Established in 2021, United Nations Baton Rouge is the first United Nations Association in the state of Louisiana and is connected to the United Nations Association of the United States of America.
Maggie Conarro: Program Director of Serve Louisiana
A Baton Rouge native, Maggie Conarro is a community organizer, an educator, and a facilitator. She is a facilitator for Dialogue on Race Louisiana, having facilitated a series with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, Baton Rouge Public Defender's Office, and countless community groups. She is a leader with Together Baton Rouge, a broad-based coalition of institutions that effectively works to address the pressures on families in Louisiana. She currently serves as the Program Director for Serve Louisiana - an AmeriCorps program that connects emerging leaders with full-time, paid opportunities in Baton Rouge and New Orleans non-profit organizations.
Sarina Mohan: Executive Director of Global New Orleans
Sarina is the Executive Director of Global New Orleans (formally known as the New Orleans Citizens Diplomacy Council). She has nearly two decades of non-profit and cultural management experience including eleven years in program management, education, and fund development at the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. Sarina has worked in the fields of architecture and heritage preservation, cultural tourism, and museum and art education across the country in Miami, New York City, and Portland, Oregon, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Tulane University and her Master of City and Regional Planning degree from Rutgers University.
Julie Yael Ward and Lilian Alvarez: Co-Directors of Home Is Here NOLA
Julie Yael and Lilian are both co-directors for Home is Here NOLA. Julie is an immigration attorney and has been an advocate for immigrants and refugees for almost 20 years. She spent much of her early career working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees domestically and abroad and has served as the Louisiana State Refugee Coordinator, as well as a Pro Bono Coordinator for attorneys representing unaccompanied immigrant children. Originally from Guatemala, Lilian has lived experience being a newly arrived immigrant and understands the complexity of learning to navigate systems and cultural nuances. With over a decade of experience working in the non-profit sector, Lilian has dedicated her career to connecting and empowering others, challenging equity practices, and providing a space for understanding and solidarity – all while safely and intentionally increasing the visibility of seemingly invisible communities. Lilian managed traditional refugee resettlement programming for seven years. Prior to that, she was the Director of a small Kinship Care program and worked with at-risk youth in a counseling and group empowerment setting as well as through a national mentoring program.