By James D. Kirylo
The place to be on April 23rd was The State of (Dis)Repair and Higher Education forum, which was held at St. Albert Catholic Church in Hammond, Louisiana. The many people who attended witnessed the insightful voices of forum panelists who have been tireless in moving the state of Louisiana forward.
The diverse range of panelist participants included activists, bloggers, budget policy analysts, politicians, and university professors from around the state. To be sure, the participating panelists were not invited because of their political persuasion; rather, they were asked to participate because of the strong voice they have demonstrated over the years: speaking loudly, boldly, and consistently in support of higher education.
There is something about leadership, voice, and presence that are intricately linked. Take for example, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, or Cesar Chavez—all very different leaders—yet they all boldly voiced, giving them presence, letting us know exactly where they stood, what they were advocating. Certainly on a different scale, but with the same principle, each of the panelists has been steadfast in exhibiting their leadership, voice, and presence on behalf of Louisianans, particularly during this seven year state of (dis)repair crisis that has been unfolding right before our eyes.
Like the spirited prophets of old, the invited panelists have been warning, cautioning, and exhorting in their attempt to wake Louisiana up, to courageously fill in for the massive legislator-leadership-vacuum that exists in Baton Rouge–particularly when it has come to pushing back on the direction Gov. Jindal has taken the state.
After all, it has been under Jindal’s watch that we have gone from a billion dollar surplus to a 1.6 billion dollar deficit; that somehow $500 million has disappeared from the Office of Group Benefits; and, that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch Brothers, and Grover Norquist hold more influence in Louisiana than the 4.65 million citizens who reside here.
It has also been under Jindal’s watch that the expansion of Medicaid was refused; that higher education is at the brink of decimation; that numerous unqualified K-12 teachers are staffed in our schools, chiefly in those with high poverty; and, that Louisiana has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the country.
Finally, it has also been under Jindal’s watch that we have the highest incarceration rate in the country; that Louisiana ranks 50th among the states in overall health; and, that we lead the nation in the highest infant mortality rate.
It was these previous issues and other deep concerns that the panelists spoke truth to power, forcefully and clearly. Indeed, it is their voices that give Louisiana hope for a brighter future, unlike most of our local elected officials—even most in university leadership positions—who have not urgently done that over the years. If they had, they would not have allowed to happen what has happened under Gov. Jindal’s watch. In fact, their silence has been palpable, contributing to the condition in which Louisiana now finds itself.
Leadership is about being both out in front and behind the scenes, leading, galvanizing, challenging, inspiring, and pushing back. The panelists at the St. Albert Forum did just that.
Part I of the forum with a focus on issues related to the budget, OGB, and suggestions to fiscally move the state forward [Speakers L-R: Lemar Marshall, Tom Aswell, Steve Spires, Mary-Patricia Wray, and Bob Mann], see here:
Part II of the forum with a focus on issues related to higher education, academic freedom, and HBCUs [Speakers L-R: Kevin Cope, Albert Samuels, Justin DiCharia, Dayne Sherman, and Sonya Hester] see here:
Part III Interview with Dayne Sherman, see here:
Video footage courtesy Action News 17 and Ken Benitez.
James D. Kirylo is a professor of education. His latest book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dayne Sherman, Writer & Speaker
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