Beyond the Crisis and Beyond Black History Month A People’s Story: The Renaissance Parishes

Published 8:44 am Wednesday, March 8, 2023

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ceremony in St. James, Louisiana, A People’s Story: The Renaissance Parishes.

The keynote speakers were Dr. Earthea Nance, EPA Regional Administrator, and Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., President &CEO of Hip Hop Caucus. Dr. Nance reinforced one of President Joe Biden’s earliest commitments to environmental justice and touted the EPA’s new $21M grant in research funding to investigate cumulative health impacts of climate change on underserved communities. In a fervent speech, Reverend Yearwood encouraged all generations to get involved in the work of environmental justice. Yearwood eloquently made the connection between vinyl chloride, the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, related pollutants in Cancer Alley, and environmental injustices faced by Black, Brown, Indigenous, low-income, and rural communities. He charged RISE St. James to continue fighting the good fight of faith.

This year’s program honored schoolmates that integrated St. James Parish Schools 55 years ago (February 1966). Under the guidance of Mr. Milton Cayette, the Chairman of the Campaign, member of the Voter League of St. James, and founder of the St. James Parish NAACP, (7) seven courageous parents enrolled their children in what was formerly an all-white school. The parents were Mrs. Margarite Dennis (son, Steve); Mrs. Laura Mitchell (daughter, Lorraine); Mrs. Anita Lewis (daughter, Audrey); Mrs. Dolores Jones (son, Rodney); Mrs. Annabel Cooper (daughter, Patricia), Mrs. Juanita Pearly (daughter, Janis); and Mrs. Elois Jones (son, Samuel, Jr.).

The winners of the Black History essay contest are 7th – 12th grade: Kennedy Pelitier, 1st Place Brayden Williams, 2nd Place, Kennedi Adams, 3rd Place; 4th – 6th grade: Elijah James, 1st Place. Each winner was awarded a trophy and a cash gift card.

“Beyond Black History Month, there are still unmet needs in our community for public health and local government infrastructure, modern infrastructure resilient to climate change, protecting our cultural heritage, and more, but we cannot just focus on the crisis,” Sharon C. Lavigne.

The Renaissance Parishes (a multi-media campaign) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redress issues and usher in the revival of culture, environmental stewardship, achievement, economic inclusion, art, scholarship, and unity throughout the River Parishes. We will continue to instill pride in our heritage, evolve our social connections, and write our own narrative for the future and beyond.

RISE St. James is now engaging a Louisiana-based planning organization to help coordinate research & regional planning efforts and is planning for public input this Spring.


Led by Sharon Lavigne, 2021 Goldman Prize Recipient North America, Rise St. James is a faith-based grassroots organization that is fighting for environmental justice as it works to defeat the proliferation of petrochemical industries in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Nicknamed “Cancer Alley” for the above-average rates of cancer there, the area is home to a high concentration of polluting industries. Despite this, the state has plans to expand this chemical corridor with dozens more factories. The group is currently fighting to prevent Formosa Plastics from building a massive multibillion-dollar plastics plant in the parish.