Local Leaders Honored: Church Meets Government marks a special era in St. John history

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, October 9, 2019

LAPLACE — It started with an encounter at Smoothie King.

When Bishop Antoine M. Jasmine saw Parish President Natalie Robottom waiting in line, he felt called to honor her, Sheriff Mike Tregre and District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut for their leadership in a historic era of local African American history.

That calling came to life Sunday in a four-hour honorary Church Meets Government event, held at Choice International Family Outreach Center in LaPlace. In addition to giving the highest level of local leadership their flowers while they are living, Jasmine said Church Meets Government started the conversation on a greater goal.

Jasmine believes church and government work best when encouraging one another, instead of working against each other. He pledged his church’s responsibility to not beg government for grants, but to help government serve St. John the Baptist Parish, especially in retaining businesses and training the youth to be entrepreneurs.

The evening started off with song and prayer, followed by a reading on the history of St. John Parish. The history traced back to the early 1720s with a settlement by a group of Germans, eventually leading the area to be known as the German Coast.

An influx of French influence from the Acadians changed many surnames. For example, Wickner became Vicknair, Huber became Oubre and Traeger became Tregre.

Choice International Ministries’ SeLah Productions further expanded on the history of the region in a skit that mentioned John Webre as the first black sheriff in St. John Parish. Elected in 1876, Webre was St. John’s only black Sheriff until Tregre was elected in 2012.

“That skit, that production, needs to be done more often to people who don’t know the bottom line history of St. John Parish,” Tregre said. “That was pretty informative because a lot of people thought I was the first African-American sheriff.”

Through ancestry research, Tregre learned Webre is part of his family tree.

The darker times in history were also discussed. The first ship of captive Africans arrived in Louisiana in 1719. By 1795, the German Coast population had grown to 8,776 enslaved. Even after emancipation, African-Americans had to wait decades upon decades for voting rights and equality in educational opportunity.

Jasmine said it is amazing to see the progress that’s been made.

“This not a pro-black program,” Jasmine said. “It is a productive recognition of what God has put in place. We are a nation, and LaPlace is a forerunner.”

Louisiana senator Ed Price, District 57 representative Randal Gaines, former NAACP State Chapter president Ernest Johnson and Starlette Gordon of the Delta Sigma Theta River Parishes chapter were on hand Sunday to give thanks to the three leaders.

Price and Gaines said changes in government began in the church, both in hymns sung by the enslaved and in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement that Dr. Martin Luther King helped ignite.

“The eyes of the whole state have been on St. John Parish, not just because we have industry here or because we have economic development,” Gaines said. “The voters in St. John Parish have realized they have the power to elect diversity. They have the power to elect leaders who look like them and think like them. One hundred and fifty years ago, a slave only dreamed of this moment.”

Representing the NAACP, Johnson encouraged those in attendance to exercise those rights, flock to the polls Saturday and “vote like you have never voted before.”

Gordon had a lot to say about her fellow Delta Sigma Theta soror, Natalie Robottom, describing her as humble, loyal and a courageous go-getter.

Each of the honorees were treated to heartfelt video messages from those close to them. Speaking on behalf of Robottom were Peggy Joseph and Chief Administrative Officer Laverne Toombs.

Robottom is a role model for Toombs, who praised her intelligence. Joseph said that when she first met Robottom, she felt she had met a kindred spirit.

“Every time I see her, she’s working like it’s her first day on the job,” Joseph said. “She taught me you keep moving until it’s over. It’s not over until you finish, and she’s not finished yet.”

Robottom was appreciative of the support.

“I am committed to this parish and the people of this parish,” Robottom said. “It’s always pleasant to see a culmination of your service. When you serve from your heart, these kinds of things come. I didn’t run on being the first African-American or female in the office, but I am and will always be.”

Tregre heard kind words from his daughter, Jasmine, and his wife, Tanyia Tregre. Jasmine thanked her father for always being authentic and instilling strong morals within her. Tanyia said her husband balances her out by encouraging her to take a step back and think before reacting. She said Tregre is a man of his word who will go out of his way to attend events in the community.

“Tonight is truly humbling,” Tregre said. “To run for office, you need to have your family and God first. You’re going to have rainy days, but you’re going to have sunshine, too.”

While District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut couldn’t be present due to a family obligation, her assistant, Robin M. Bailey, represented her at the event. Bailey said, above all, Dinvaut believes in the fair administration of justice.

“I see her reading her law book, consulting and researching to make sure she is administering justice for criminals, but she also has a compassionate heart for the people who have committed the crime,” Bailey said.

Darryl Isom of the DA’s Office thanked Dinvaut for giving him an opportunity to grow and excel. The honorees also received a special video message from Prophet Dr. Bernard Taylor, who praised their good works all the way from Africa.