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 each week.

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.

 

Ed Daras: Director of the American Journal of French Studies 

Ed Daras is the director of an LSU based academic journal called the American Journal of French Studies (AFJS). As Director and Member of the Editorial Board, Ed has built partnerships with multiple high schools, universities and public institutions throughout the United States to promote French language and culture.

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, [225] 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.