Leadership River Region strengthens the tri-parish area

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, June 10, 2020

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LAPLACE – COVID-19 couldn’t stop the Leadership River Region class. While similar programs across Louisiana paused operations when the world turned upside down, the bright and savvy leaders of the River Region opted to complete their classes virtually.

Twenty-three individuals graduated from the third-year class of Leadership River Region last week during a ceremony conducted via Zoom. The graduates have persevered and become more well-rounded individuals while learning how to drive the future of the River Parishes.

Class topics, facilitated by guest speakers from various industries, covered education, community and economic development. Participants celebrated the arts, culture and tourism that makes the region unique. They also reflected on how diversity, equity and inclusion can be upheld in the workplace to make the tri-parish area a place where everyone can thrive.

Leadership River Region program coordinator Diane Jackson said the nine-month program starts with an opening retreat to build camaraderie among class participants.

The retreat sets the tone for topical sessions that have a two-pronged approach. The first goal is to encourage community leaders to get involved in their parish. The second is to build a strong foundation for the future of the River Region Chamber of Commerce, the group that organizes and manages the leadership program for the River Parishes.

“What makes unique is that we use it as a pipeline to leadership for the future of our chamber,” Jackson said. “We’re looking at who will be able to take over the reins.”

Classes were held at different locations around the River Parishes, including but not limited to St. James Parish Hospital, Louisiana Federal Credit Union, Denka Performance Elastomer and Marathon Petroleum. Seats were arranged to facilitate a round table discussion where everyone could see and interact with one another.

At the beginning of the class, PJ’s Coffee co-owner Ali Vicknair felt intimidated by all the unfamiliar faces in the room. Being the youngest in the class at 21 years old, she feared she wouldn’t be respected by her peers.

“About five minutes in, I immediately felt comforted to know that all these different personalities were so welcoming,” Vicknair said.

At the end of the course, her peers voted her Class Speaker for the Leadership River Region graduation.

While Vicknair took to heart lessons from each speaker, she realized the people she learned the most from were not those behind the microphone, but those sitting beside her.

Each participant received an in-depth Emergenetics personality profile to complete before the first session. Members of the leadership class were immediately grouped by their dominant trait – analytical, structural, social or conceptual. Soon after, they were grouped with their polar opposites.

“These people have a different way of thinking than you, but we are all business professionals. We were teaching each other,” Vicknair said. “This class teaches you to work with your weaknesses. Being around people who excel in the areas you are weak in helps you overcome that obstacle in your business mentality. We were able to become so much more flexible, which resulted in better work performance.”

The course covered topic’s that are particularly relevant in today’s world, namely the fight for racial equality that has impacted every community in the country.

Jackson said the crux of the Leadership River Region’s diversity, equity and inclusion series was to create a safe space for deliberative dialogue. The series is intentionally placed near the end of the course so that participants are already bonded as a cohort when they delve into difficult and uncomfortable conversations.

“We want you to be open. We want you to be honest. We want you to speak from a place of authenticity,” Jackson said. “We ask that participants do not share stories that are not theirs to tell. We want to focus on them as individuals and the view from their seat.”

No one walked away from the class feeling singled out or guilty. Participants viewed insightful presentations from Ramona Graham of CASA Jefferson Inc., Deacon Martin Gutierrez of Catholic Charities and Monica R. Sylvain of IBERIABANK.

Graham led a discussion on cultural competency and how to uncover some of the vices human beings have in the way we think about different cultures.

Gutierrez examined mindsets surrounding immigration. He discussed how immigrants come to America, what resources are at their disposal and the distinction between “undocumented” and “illegal.”

Sylvain talked about meeting diversity and inclusion from the front, using a workplace perspective.

After the presentations, the Leadership River Region class opted to add one more week to the diversity, equity and inclusion series. The fourth session saw classmates sharing their thoughts, ideas and experiences concerning diversity and inclusion in the tri-parish area.

Class participant Ali Vicknair said the perspective she gained was mind-boggling.

“The situations going on right now are a prime example that people are not always going to have the same opinion, but I think the leadership class represents so much unity between people of different backgrounds,” Vicknair said. “The conversations were hard hitting and not comfortable, but I think if you want to be a successful person, there needs to be learning involved.”

The leadership class closed out with a virtual session on arts, culture and tourism, followed by the closing retreat and a Zoom graduation ceremony.

In her recorded speech to the Leadership River Region Class of 2020, Vicknair said success is at the peak of a mountain we all must climb. It doesn’t matter if you climb it rapidly or ever so slowly.

Vicknair believes Leadership River Region provides the tools needed to climb that mountain and grow as a person in the process.

Another featured speaker at the graduation was River Region Chamber of Commerce 2020 chairperson Aspen Murphy.

“I was honored to speak to the Leadership River Region class. I am a graduate of the program and greatly appreciated the depth of the class and the bonds formed amongst classmates,” Murphy said. “Graduating from this class put me on the path to be the first person under 40 and the only person of color to ever lead the board of the chamber. I can’t wait to see what this class accomplishes in the future.”

Jackson expects to open applications for the next Leadership River Region class by mid-to-late July. Classes may begin between late September and early November, keeping in mind social distancing requirements and when it will be permissible to meet in person.

Leadership River Region is open to anyone who lives or works in St. James, St. John the Baptist or St. Charles parishes.


Leadership River Region Graduates


Egypt Awanbor, Dow Chemical Company

Robin Bailey, St. John District Attorney’s Office

Ashley Brossette, Valero

Ryan Deis, IMTT

Tracy Esquivel, Ochsner–River Parish Medical Complex & St. Charles Parish Hospital

Jordyn G’sell, Child Advocacy Services

Ray Grubbs, Express Employment Professionals

Willma Harvey, River Parishes Tourist Commission

Kelly Hedges, Marathon Petroleum Co.

Kelli Hymel, Shell Oil Products – Convent Refinery

Dayna James, United Front Transportation Services

Monica Joseph, St. John District Attorney’s Office

Shari Knowles, St. Charles Printing and Fastsigns

Marrill McKarry, St. James Parish Government

Melissa Perrier, United Way of St. Charles

Brandon St. Pierre, St. James Parish Hospital

Tyren Snyder, Teche Action Board, Inc. d/b/a Teche Action Clinic

Robert Tamplain, Bayou Ford

Tricia Thompson, PHR, Denka Performance Elastomer LLC

Keri Walker Tramonte, St. James Parish Government

Tiffany West, Marathon Petroleum

Ali Vicknair, Advanced Marketing & Promotions/PJ’s Coffee Laplace

Regina Vicknair, Louisiana Federal Credit Union