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LSU Shreveport's BLM Panel Series Encourages the Cultivation of Positive Change

October 13, 2020

Black Lives Matter Townhall
BLM Townhall.

“We believe that everyone has the right to live in a society where they feel safe and where they have an equal voice. We believe that there is a real opportunity at this time to look at where we are as a country, how far we have come, and how far we still need to go. At LSU Shreveport, we have an opportunity to look at ourselves, and each other, and reaffirm our commitment to stand up for what is right for all."

This quote is an excerpt from an open letter by LSUS Chancellor Larry Clark in the wake of the national response to the death of George Floyd. The letter set the tone for diversity initiatives at the university, challenging faculty, staff, students, and stakeholders to work toward a more inclusive climate across the board. This coincided with the conclusion of the search for the university’s first Assistant Provost for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement, which had begun in late 2019. Dr. Kenna Franklin was chosen for the role, and one of her first initiatives was hosting a Black Lives Matter Town Hall at the University Center on September 10, which was broadcast live on Facebook.

The town hall consisted of two moderated panel discussions on disparities and inequities in the public education and healthcare systems as they relate to minorities. Dr. Franklin initiated the event as a resource and catalyst for progressive change, with the goal of doing multiple town halls during the fall semester.

“My goal was that we would engage an audience that was dedicated to bringing positive change to the community,” Dr. Franklin said. “We also want to show that our university is here to better serve. There are so many elements in our society that harp on the negative, and we’re at a point where we don’t debate the negative, but we grow a community that wants to cultivate a positive response.”

Dr. Theron Jackson, Pastor at Shreveport’s Morning Star Baptist Church, moderated the panel of community leaders on the topic of education that included:

  • Mrs. Crystal Barnes— High School Principal, Booker T. Washington
  • Dr. Terrance Vinson— Faculty, SUSLA; Caddo Parish School Board
  • Dr. Helen Wise— Faculty, LSUS
  • Dr. Michael Hicks— Faculty, Centenary College
  • Dr. Norcha Lacy— Principal, Bossier Elementary School
  • Mrs. Ilene Fraser—Educator; National Endowment forf the Arts The second panel, which focused on the topic of healthcare, included:
  • Dr. Wanda Thomas—Assistant Dean of Admissions, LSUHSC
  • Mr. Willie C. White—Chief Executive Officer, David Raines CHC
  • Dr. Dennis Wissing—Dean of College of Education and Human Development, LSUS
  • Mr. Hasim Jones, MS— Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor (PLPC), Clint Davis Counseling

When asked to address the major challenge facing African American students, the panel agreed that there is no simple answer, and that this multifaceted problem does not come with a one-size-fits-all solution. Parental involvement, diversity in curricula and leadership, training for education professionals, engagement, discipline and more were all discussed, with the recurring identification of the need for inclusive and diverse representation in educational professionals.

“Our black students need to see teachers in their classrooms that look like them,” Bossier Elementary School Principal Dr. Norcha Lacy said. “They need to see leaders that look like them so that they can have something or somebody to aspire to be like. My daughter is in the third grade, and this is her first year having a black teacher, and when she found out, she said, ‘Mama, I have a black teacher!’, and so for her to feel that way, that lets me know that it’s needed.”

“It’s about having diversity of experience and culture for all children,” Ilene Fraser of the National Endowment for the Arts added.

Dr. Helen Wise added, “It’s about creating a culturally responsive classroom, and that classroom is created with the parents, it’s created with the curricula, it’s created with the students.”

During the Healthcare panel, participants discussed disparities that come in a variety of forms, including access to providers, insurance, transportation, prescriptions, procedures and resources. Again, there was a consensus that diverse representation is critical.

“The panel before talked about education and the importance of having teachers that look like you. I think it’s also important to have doctors that look like you, to have therapists that look like you because they’re going to understand and maybe have a little bit better understanding of the conditions that you have been raised in and can therefore give you a more accurate diagnosis,” Hasim Jones of Clint Davis Counseling said.

The panel acknowledged that addressing inequities in healthcare begins with trust, role modeling, and effective training in medical professionals.

Dr. Wanda Thomas of LSU Shreveport Health and Science Center said, “I believe in creating a safe space for them (medical students) to ask questions and to learn medicine as a practice, and I often say to them that we must acknowledge our implicit biases before we can be a better healthcare provider. Everyone has implicit bias, I truly believe that. It comes from your background, it comes from what you have learned growing up, things from your peers. It comes from the education you’ve received.”

Thomas later added, “I always enter a room knowing that until I gain your trust, it’s going to be difficult for me to render the best healthcare possible for you… If people see you as human, see you as flawed, see you as somebody who is scared or concerned—it makes them think that maybe you would walk a mile in their shoes.”

Dr. Franklin expressed gratitude toward the panel for their willingness to share ways to build a community that is dedicated to positive change.

“I wanted to create balance in the panel to fairly represent our community,” Dr. Franklin said. “I thought the panel was a rich cross section of those who can speak from what they do every day. That’s what I wanted to come across. We want to move in a positive direction and engage an audience that wants to move in that direction too. I salute all the panelists because they were very much on board with doing so.”

The next LSU Shreveport Black Lives Matter Town Hall Panel will be held on October 29. It will cover topics of voting and economics and will be live streamed on the LSU Shreveport Facebook page.

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