A Pillar of Justice and Beyond

            Five years after its inception, Justice and Beyond (J&B), shifted from a coalition founded and led by two men – Dr. Dwight Webster and Pat Bryant – to a “pillar” organization where leadership functions as a team with people representing pillar or membership organizations. It remains Black-led and continues its well-attended weekly forums to discuss, problem solve, and plan actions in areas of local interest such as housing, youth empowerment, public safety, the criminal legal system, health care and women’s reproductive rights, the struggles of culture bearers, reparations, education, and utility injustice and oversight. Meetings, currently on zoom, are Monday evenings at 5 after the August break.

            In 2018 with new co-moderators Ninth Ward activist Sylvia McKenzie, Pastor Gregory Manning of Broadmoor Community Church, and youth moderator Trevor David Bryan III, J&B continued to occupy a unique niche in the local public sphere where anybody and everybody can come together in a respectful space to ask questions, hash out problems, and connect with each other around mutual interests.

The Women of Justice and Beyond  

            Maybe because J&B had once been male-led, or maybe because we women pillars are so genuinely fond of each other, we felt moved to carve out our own little identity within J&B via a women’s caucus. Here comes my female chauvinism: We felt that as in many areas of life, we were the dependable work horses. We needed support for our tasks. We had some actions in mind as well.

            A few examples: We created a code of conduct. Haven’t women always done that? The code for pillars includes such things as how we communicate, our values, steps for setting up a forum, and the role of the women’s caucus. We didn’t know the dismantling of Roe was about to come down, but when it did, we formulated the J&B response via a J&B Women’s Rights Platform. We made sure the J&B reparations petition (https://sign.moveon.org/p/nolareparations) included the female voice.

            On the surface, we couldn’t be more different –all ages, backgrounds, and talents, Black and white. So of course there was a need to hold each other accountable in a myriad of ways. And we are managing to do that lovingly. We met a few times at Bethany Bultman’s magical French Quarter abode, laughing and talking and eating with no particular agenda. My husband drove me down for the gathering and we wouldn’t let him come anywhere near our kitchen conclave.

At first, some of the J&B men were a bit skeptical.

What were we talking about? I’ll never tell. Would our caucus create division, they wondered. But being the wise men that they are, they didn’t object. (My husband says, “We didn’t dare!”)

            So here’s our latest project: I cannot tell a lie. When Pastor Manning informed us that he felt called to run for the Louisiana Public Service Commission, some of us were deeply concerned. Who put him up to this, we wanted to know, and why? If God had called him, I asked, who else heard the call? Also, we didn’t want Pastor Manning to get hurt in the political fray. The bottom line is that we didn’t want to lose our extraordinary co-moderator and we knew that a firewall would be necessary between J&B and the campaign. Accordingly, he stepped away from any official role with J&B as soon as he qualified.

            But it soon became clear to us that he was in this race because he is passionate about environmental stewardship, about utility equity, and about the responsiveness of lawmakers to their constituents – all of which appears to have been in short supply from the current District 3 Commissioner of 17 years who gets about 90% of his financial backing from entities that the Commission regulates. (Details about the incumbent’s contributors are available on the www.manningforchange.com website.) When we J&B women got our minds around this, we were all in. We hastened to get up to speed about what the Commission does, and how important it is.

            While we do not speak for J&B, we wholeheartedly support Pastor Manning’s candidacy. We have known him over the years to be a strong leader, and at the same time fair, respectful, wise, and an extremely good listener. We trust that as Pastor Manning makes himself known to the larger community, all of you will come to know and admire him as we do.

            What I’ve seen with our women’s caucus is that it has helped us develop our skills as leaders, strengthened our sister-bond across race lines, and increased our energy and effectiveness within the J&B coalition as a whole. If we can be of use to your organization, just let us know.

            And if you want more information about Pastor Manning’s campaign, go to www.manningforchange.com. If you want to join our pillar group, contact Brooke Randolf at  gbrandolph2@gmail.com or Sylvia McKenzie at  sylviamckenzie79@gmail.com.   

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