It takes little effort these days to find editorials written to address concerns about the millennial generation. These pieces often focus on how 22-37-year-olds are having children later, or not buying houses, or being lackadaisical when it comes to taking initiative as productive members of society. These articles, however, are often baffling to me: a fellow-millennial who has, for most of my life, been surrounded by passionate, competent, change-oriented peers committed to the betterment of our city. Here are three who are giving me hope right now by making more space for more people to connect and grow:
As you drive south on Gilbert where the new bike lanes are being utilized more and more with the reemergence of Spring temperatures, you’ll notice a mural (designed by Highland neighbor Danielle Miller and painted by the students of the Highland Youth Club) in the alley between Dalzell and Prospect. “We Love Highland,” it reads on the fence above a conglomeration of diversely colored houses.
Directly behind that morale-building mural sits Community Renewal International’s Highland Youth Friendship House, home of Operation H.O.P.E. Director Deidra Lewis-Robertson and her family. This is one of five locations (for teenagers to gather in the afternoons) where Deidra works to help youth establish their paths post-high-school.
“My job is bigger than helping teens find a career. It is helping them to overcome generationally low expectations and hopelessness,” Robertson says of her work.
Operation H.O.P.E. (which stands for Helping Our Pupils Excel) was a program created by CRI in 1997 to serve under-resourced youth throughout Shreveport and Bossier City. Even though the vision first launched when Deidra (now 36) was in high school, she feels as if the position was created with her in mind. Each week, Deidra travels between Allendale, Barksdale-Annex, Cedar Grove, Highland and Queensburough meeting with students and working with them to develop environments of love and trust, establish career paths, and overcome obstacles that may be keeping their expectations of their futures low and limited.
Robertson, who grew up in the MLK neighborhood, feels uniquely equipped to speak with understanding and empathy to her younger, fellow Shreveportians about the inner-city settings in which they live. She believes that, “As we continue to work consistently with these students, we are confident that we are empowering leaders of tomorrow that will become engaged civically and realize their potential to effect change. I would like to see students take an interest in their community and be educated to return back home and invest in our city.”
MLK Health Center & Pharmacy
Just a few blocks west, on Olive Street, is the MLK Health Center and Pharmacy with its welcoming garden gate that leads to an array of green plants suggesting that someone in the neighborhood cares. It is clear that many do, and one of them is Jordan Ring.
Another Shreveport native, Jordan (27) serves as the Director of Public Relations and Strategic Partnership for the oldest free clinic and pharmacy in Northwest Louisiana. With a passion for people and her city, Ring says that she believes “we are called to bear one another’s struggles.” She has found a home at MLK which, as evidenced by their work, seems to share in her sentiments.
MLK Health Center and Pharmacy, founded in 1986 by Dr. Robert Jackson and the late Sister Margaret McCaffrey, was created as a response to the fact that there was a population in Shreveport who struggled with chronic conditions without a healthcare safety net. Since its opening, MLK has expanded its efforts to incorporate prevention strategies (such as health screenings) and community-building approaches (by way of grouping patients into scheduled visits based on shared conditions).
“MLK is privately funded, and all of our services are provided at no cost to our patients,” Ring shared. “We are a one-stop shop. Our goal is to close the gaps in healthcare. Our patients (uninsured and underinsured) see their doctor, get a nutrition counseling session, get all lab work done, and leave with all their prescriptions in one appointment.”
Jordan—whose dad broke his neck when she was a child and who experienced first-hand the suffering that a family can endure when someone with a chronic condition lacks proper healthcare—says that she witnesses much of her personal story in the stories of those patients whom she interviews on a daily basis.
“I do this work because I understand that sometimes doing your best and trying your hardest isn’t enough to make ends meet. I do this work because I believe that Shreveport has the potential to be a city where people want to stay or come back to. But to continue becoming that city, we have to have healthy families.”
Common Ground Community
“As a place of unconditional acceptance, we value and honor diversity, knowing that embracing those unlike ourselves unifies the body by debunking the perceived need for separation. There is a deep human longing to be fully known and fully loved,” Bryce Williams (25 year-old Youth Program
Assistant Director) says of Common Ground Community which has been serving the neighborhood of Cedar Grove for almost twenty years.
“We help with basic necessities such as food and clothing, and look for opportunities to support, educate and empower. We focus much of our time on the children as we believe we have the best chance to break the cycle of poverty with them,” he continued.
Common Ground (which incorporated in 2004) began as an outreach program of Grace United Methodist Church in 1995 under the leadership of Brian Hunter and others. Overtime, the Common Ground property that expanded across all four corners of the intersection of 68th and Southern grew to include a weekly community meal, after-school program, food pantry, clothing closet, community garden, chapel services, food market, and youth programs.
Williams, who is deeply devoted to equality of all kinds in our city, has found a place to plug in his energy through working with the Common Ground Youth Program which he says offers him the chance to provide “educational, emotional, and recreational opportunities to people whom those resources are not readily available.” The Youth Program (started by Matt and Vicki Whitehead) began five years ago and currently picks up teen boys from their schools and provides them with a snack, homework help, reading comprehension and math skills development, counseling, hours of basketball, and a warm meal at the end of the day.
“I believe we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done,” Bryce ended our conversation by saying, “Through learning about others’ experiences, our world widens and softens as we learn to empathize and care for another. Faces and names add value to stereotypes and stigmas, and I consider honest dialogue the key to ending division and allowing unity to flourish. I envision a world where all people exist in harmony, and I believe the work I do helps to remind just a handful of youth of their inherent worth.”
One might gain great hope for our city while reading stories about these individuals who are dedicating their gifts and hours to drawing a wider circle and inviting more people into it. They—like so many young adults similar to them—are serving our community by infusing encouragement and opportunity into the lives, systems, and neighborhoods around them. A common thread running through the stories of each millennial interviewed was that they do the work that they do because they’re inspired by their faith to love people and to believe that a better Shreveport is possible for us all.
They’re getting to see it take shape and they’re working passionately to ensure that it continues to.