Fighting For Racial Equity And Community Power In a Changing Louisiana

From the Gulf Coast to the Northeastern reaches of the state, the Foundation for Louisiana’s TOGETHER initiative supports community power by training community residents most impacted by structural racism to advocate for policy solutions to address climate change, community development, and more.   

With funding from the Convergence Partnership, the Foundation for Louisiana (FFL) expanded their TOGETHER Initiative, a leadership and advocacy training program for community residents. The TOGETHER Initiative was first launched in 2012—supported by the Convergence Partnership’s Innovation Fund—and is a three-part leadership and training program for community residents to actively engage in and influence local policymaking to advance racial equity. First, a cohort of community residents in a specified area is recruited to participate in the Leadership, Engagement, Advocacy, and Development (LEAD) program. The LEAD program runs for six to eight weeks and builds core skills in advocacy, the local policymaking process and context, and community engagement. Next, the most active LEAD participants partner with community-based organizations in a three to four week Equity Caucus to create a community-determined policy action plan. Third, FFL provides non-competitive implementation grants to support the community residents and organizations that have gone through the TOGETHER process in advocating for the strategies and policy solutions they identified during the Equity Caucus.

Convergence Partnership support in 2018-2019 allowed FFL to augment their existing TOGETHER investments along the Gulf Coast—resulting in 18 community resident-led urban storm-water projects to prevent coastal flooding— and also launched TOGETHER for the first time in the city of Monroe. Monroe is in Northeastern Louisiana, a region that typically receives minimal philanthropic investment. Efforts focused on the Southside of Monroe, a once economically thriving Black neighborhood that has experienced decades of disinvestment, residential segregation, and systemic racism leaving it home to 90 percent of the city’s blighted properties. Rather than adapting previous models of the LEAD training curriculum, FFL co-created the curriculum directly with community leaders. Emphasis was placed on designing the LEAD program to appeal to a younger generation of resident leaders who could carry on the organizing work of Southside’s community elders. Through FFL’s investments, 22 Southside residents received policy advocacy training on urban planning, community development, and racial justice through the LEAD program. Southside’s LEAD participants include a new generation of resident leaders who are joining longstanding community leaders in advocating for sustained economic investments to benefit racial justice.