Mini Interviews w/ Local Change Agent Gary Chambers, Publisher of The Rouge Collection
Urban Renewal: How would you describe yourself as a citizen of Baton Rouge for those who are not familiar with you?
Gary Chambers: I’m the publisher of The Rouge Collection, and a community advocate/activist those are the roles I hold. As a citizen, I’m an active one, vocal about the things that are important to me, in hopes that speaking truth will yield results of positive change from honest conversations about where we are as a city.
UR: What are some of the issues that you feel hinder Baton Rouge from reaching its maximum potential?
GC: Inequity is one of our biggest hurdles as a community. African Americans make up 54% of the city of Baton Rouge and get less than 1% of city parish contracts. The reason I bring that issue to light so often is because it’s a window into the broader issues in Baton Rouge. African Americans pay into a system that doesn’t pay their businesses or communities back at a fair value. What that tells us, is that if our government is inequitable, most of our community in the private sector of business is probably the same way. Business leaders love to say that business dictates the market, well if business dictates the market in Baton Rouge it favors white men and excludes everyone else. If at our core we are inequitable it forces everything else to be off balance and as a result we end up with higher crime, failing schools, and a divided city parish. Our issues didn’t create themselves, we did by refusing to be honest about them. However, I believe that change is coming with progressive leaders being willing to demand change. You see if our government holds the companies they do business with to higher standards of equity that in turn will help us reduce the income gap and balance the scales — at least that’s a start as I see it.
UR: What does the work of The Rouge Collection do with regards to transforming the social landscape of the city?
GC: I believe The Rouge Collection gives voice to the voiceless in Baton Rouge. Black media is few and far between and black media that authentically tells our stories without the influence of other groups is even more rare. The Rouge Collection I hope is a tool for justice and equality. In December we will be in business six years, and over that time we have reached literally millions of people. Telling stories like that of Lamar Johnson who was hung in EBR Parish Prison, or Raheem Howard most recently who was released from jail after an officer said Howard shot at him. The Rouge Collection is here to help ensure that the things important to black people aren’t just kitchen table conversations but mainstream as well.
UR: In this election season, how valuable is the African American/urban vote to affecting outcomes that will impact progress?
GC: I’ve heard it said, people wouldn’t be trying to take something from us that wasn’t of value. All over this country people are attempting suppress the black vote, because it is POWERFUL. The black vote literally has the ability to shift the power dynamics, especially in the southern states of America. In Baton Rouge we have a chance to elect the first black woman Constable of the City of Baton Rouge. Florida gets to vote for the possibility of their first black governor in Andrew Gillum, the same for Georgia with Stacey Abrams. Little black kids will for the first time be able to look at these offices and see face that looks like them on the wall. We can’t measure the power of moments like that for our babies and what it means for their possibilities to dream of more for themselves.I believe we can vent and voice or frustrations which is fine, but after we’ve vented, we must vote — because change doesn’t happen without action.
UR: Complete the following phrase: My best wishes for my community is…
GC: My best wishes for my community is a progress. To see us go from where we are to a better place. We are one of the top cities from HIV in the country, high crime, failing schools, inequity on many levels, such as food, housing, pay, contracts, and justice, my hope is to see each of these issues change for the better. To build a city that our kids dream to build a future in, not one they want to run away from.For that reason I’m committed to Baton Rouge, because if we all leave, we simply build someone else’s dream city. I’m looking forward to us being a dream city.
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