With one week remaining before early voting for the Gubernatorial Primary Election, a group of local young professionals are rallying in support of Governor John Bel Edwards and hosting a fundraising event to deliver impact.
“Baton Rouge Young Professionals” isn’t a formal organization. They don’t have a membership roster or even membership fees. The politicos, business owners, influencers, attorneys and creatives who are unifying insist that it’s simply an intentional union, of sorts, that formally came together over the last few years around common interests.
“I think it kind of just happened naturally,” said Makesha Judon, Director of Special Projects and Legislative Liaison at the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). “ Many of us are friends. We kind of just travel in the same circles, working on both the state and local levels.”
The members, to use the word loosely, eventually came into elected and appointed leadership roles within the Baton Rouge community. Leaders like Judson, State Representative Edward “Ted” James, Councilwoman Erika L. Green, Councilman LaMont Cole, Courtney Scott, Chief Service Officer in Mayor Broome’s office and Joshua Hollins, the Executive Counsel at Department of Transportation and Development, consider themselves part of the collective.
Judson described them less in terms of members and more as “a host of young professionals who share the same beliefs.”
Last year the union hosted a watch party for the November 2018 election results at Indigo Hotel in Downtown Baton Rouge that brought out over 100 people as well as a community town hall hosted by political analyst, Angela Rye that engaged over 500 people. However, the foundations of the union date back further than 2018. Many of those who are bridging together are childhood friends, longtime members of the Baton Rouge community and graduates of the same universities and law schools, specifically Southern University Law Center.
Their common interest in politics and social issues was a founding principal in the collective’s formation. Many of the group that would come to form the union would make repeated trips to Washington D.C. to meet with congressional leaders, attend national conferences and network with other influencers across the country. During these trips, they began to realize how impactful working together could be.
So why not form something in Baton Rouge that would focus its full attention on empowering their peers through service, financial giving and thought leadership. More importantly, they saw how crucial it was to engage young voters, not only in the voting process but in policymaking.
To affiliates like Judson and Hollins, these focus areas are more important now than ever.
“We wanted folks in our generation and our age to really get involved in the civic process,” Hollins said. “Hopefully this can spur our generation into civic engagement and social action. I think the idea was as social justice issues have been happening across the city and the state, we found ourselves in positions where we could influence and impact social issues.”
Although the collective does not consider itself a formal organization, as of yet, many of the group see foresee a variety of ways this collective can ensure that the best interest of their sphere of influence is impactful.
State Representative Edward “Ted” James noted that his main focus was to let future political candidates know the power of young professionals’ financial support and influence.
“I see a more formalized process where we start to actually endorse candidates,” State Representative James said. “a political PAC that will educate the community to financially support those who they believe should be in office. It would allow more people to run who would not have done so otherwise due to lack of funding. “
The first few projects have focused on politics, but this group knows how impactful they would be in other sectors like media, technology, and education.
Collective cultural impact was an idea that was especially important to Jennifer Ashley Mitchell-Carter, one of the original organizers of the group and Staff Attorney on the General Government Affairs Committee at the Louisiana Senate, who passed away earlier this year.
Carrying on Mitchell-Carter’s interest became even more important to this group of friends after her passing which influenced them to move more intentionally. A future project will be to work with her family to raise funds for the Reaching Our Dreams Foundation that houses Mitchell-Carter’s “My Passion My Purpose” initiative and Southern University Law School’s J. Ashley Mitchell-Carter Scholarship Fund that was created in her memory.
Other members of the collective have also started scholarships, digital platforms and educational non-profits that the group will continue to mobilize and stand behind.
The possibilities that this group of young professionals envisions are endless but, the most pressing issue for the collective is the reelection of Governor John Bel Edwards.
Judson, Hollins and Rep. James expressed how fundamental Gov. Edwards policies have been to the improvement of the economy in Louisiana.
“Over the course of Jindal’s two terms he left us in a 2 billion dollar deficit,” Judson said. “It was deplorable how none of his policies really worked for the people and so for Gov. Edwards to come and in four years leave us with a 500 million dollar surplus that’s a huge win.”
Rep. James and Judson both expressed how the increase in the economy has helped the people of Louisiana.
“He’s done some great things for the state,” Rep. James said. “When you look at teacher pay raise, Medicaid expansion and, infrastructure funding it’s clear that we have progressed.”
The Baton Rouge Young Professionals Bash benefitting Governor John Bel Edwards, who is also scheduled to attend, will be held this Monday at The Grind from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.