Hemelt: Community’s small, large efforts battle negative forces

Published 12:02 am Saturday, July 16, 2016

We posted two stories to lobservateur.com Tuesday detailing what police at the time felt was a suspected homicide — St. John the Baptist Parish’s third of 2016.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the headline was “LaPlace man found dead in home; authorities suspect foul play.”

St. John Sheriff’s Office officials updated us five hours later, leading to a new story and headline: “Police ask for help after LaPlace man found dead in apartment.”

The headlines and stories were grim, a reflection of the serious and grave nature of the news. They were read, according to our website and Facebook statistics, thousands of times and shared hundreds of times.

In a snapshot, it appears to paint a 100 percent negative picture of our community, certainly not a wonderful scenario for those who choose to either work or live in this community.

Upon reading the news, one L’OBSERVATEUR reader posted, “Seems like it’s only getting worse!!”

That is a common feeling lately and one I find myself battling from time to time.

However, it’s not accurate. There are plenty of positive actions taking place locally, improvements being made and numerous people and entities working each day to promote a stronger St. John Parish and River Region.

As the only news organization dedicated to serving St. John and the River Parishes, we’ll continue to publish stories about crime and law enforcement’s efforts to combat it, but we’ll also make sure to give equal effort and space to those working for good.

It’s a promise we carry out in each L’OBSERVATEUR edition. The best part about this promise is the help we’re receiving from community members.

Raven Simmons, manager of Esquire Elite barbershop in LaPlace, is one such person. She and owner Jamailar Mayho are hosting a free children’s haircut and school drive giveaway at their location this month.

The back-to-school drive starts at 3 p.m. July 31.

Call 504-275-8646 or 504-236-9587 for more information.

“We live in a demographic where there are a lot of struggling, single-parent homes,” Simmons said. “They really can’t always afford to do the things they need to do. Even if we touch a few people’s lives, that is all we are trying to accomplish. It will be on a first-come, first-served basis as something to give back to the community.”

According to Simmons, who is from the East Bank, and Mayho, who is from the West Bank, events like this are important to combat negative news, violence and “people dying for no reason.”

“We have to do more to support the community,” Simmons said.

“We have to do more to get these kids back in a place where they can understand drugs and killing are not the answer. We are brought up to change lives.”

When we spoke recently, Simmons offered a scenario of hope, adding she feels there are more clearly defined role models in our community today then when she was a child.

“I will say that (Parish President) Natalie Robottom and (Sheriff) Michael Tregre are making a serious impact in our community since they have been in office,” Simmons said. “With these two people in office, running our parish, I would say there is a lot more going on.”

Simmons said the work of local leaders and her own friends and neighbors have given her a reason for hope. She credits Andre’ Simmons and Chardey Johnson, who started D.O.P.E. Promotions (Dreaming Outside People’s Expectations), for helping sponsor this month’s family giveaway.

I appreciate Simmons’ enthusiasm and, more importantly, her willingness to share it with local readers through a plan of action.

She says we need “to constantly keep growing our community” — a great approach necessary to triumph over the region’s negative forces.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.