Coming Together: A TBR Oral History with Janifer Peters

Janifer Peters is a 32 year member of Greater Mt. Carmel Baptist Church and currently serves as Assistant to the Dean, College of Sciences and Engineering at Southern University, where she has worked since 1997. Prior to that time, she was an Instructor of Mathematics from August 1984 through April 1997.  Growing up in segregated Bogalusa, Louisiana, she excelled in her studies and won a scholarship that she used to attend Southern, where she majored in Mathematics.  After her late husband, Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt “Rosy” Peters, completed two terms of service in the Vietnam War, the two spent several years moving across the country, from Bogalusa to Hawaii, on different military assignments. Janifer continued pursuing degrees and taught school in each place they lived. When she returned to Baton Rouge, Ms. Peters brought a great deal of experience with integrated living from the years she had spent in mixed military communities. She applied this experience as an early-on recruiter for the Industrial Areas Foundation sponsoring committee that was uniting Baton Rouge citizens across lines of race, religion, neighborhood, and political affiliation.  

 

                                                                                                                 Photo by Lily Brooks

Growing up as a young child, even in elementary school, I did very well, to the point where my teachers would say, “Okay Janifer, you understand. You work with this one over here, ‘cause he or she is having trouble.”  I would relate to them and they could understand, especially the math. I didn’t know then what tutoring was, but I was tutoring! 

Well, I’m from a little town called Bogalusa, Louisiana. When I was there, growing up, it was about twenty-seven thousand people, but now it’s half of that. The town is going down to a ghost town now, but it was booming during my days. Crown Zellerbach, from San Francisco, California, came in and took over that sawmill town and all that area and brought in lots of money to Bogalusa. All the males worked at the mill and they really took care of all the families. The people who were in charge were very good to the families. Because I remember my dad working there and he had a terrible case of asthma so he couldn’t always be at work. He was basically either working or sick for most of his life. But they saw that need, that my mom was struggling, trying to raise four kids, and somehow they would make sure that he got a payday. At Christmas time, they would have the men bring their families and they would deliver to all the children a huge bag of Christmas gifts and toys, and we were always so very, very happy about that.

Growing up as a young child, even in elementary school, I did very well, to the point where my teachers would say, “Okay Janifer, you understand. You work with this one over here, ‘cause he or she is having trouble.”  I would relate to them and they could understand, especially the math. I didn’t know then what tutoring was, but I was tutoring!  We had excellent teachers in the black schools; we were taught very much like college students. I lived on the north side of town, where there was an elementary and a middle school. On the south side of town, there was another elementary and a middle school, and the only high school was on the south side. When we got in eighth grade, everybody who was considered a good student was tested for our intellectual ability, IQ and all of that.  We all enrolled from both sides of town to the high school.  As a result of the testing, twenty (12 boys and 8 girls) were placed into the advanced group of new high school freshmen.  Our teachers took us through a college curriculum. We did everything: chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, advanced algebra, trigonometry, calculus—all of that, okay? There were twenty of us in that group, twelve boys and eight girls. The twelve boys stayed throughout the curriculum. By the time we made it to chemistry and physics,  most of the girls dropped out. They said, We ain’t takin’ this. So only two of us girls remained in the group.

My whole family, all of them were hard workers.  My father, Willie Lee Broome, died young because of his asthma and how depressed it made him. Back in those days, when they put you in the hospital with asthma, they would put a huge, white tent over you, with all the apparatus and breathing stuff.  It was isolation and that was so depressing to him;  he had to live with that condition all of his life.  At one point, he became an alcoholic, and so his family sent him for rehabilitation in Jackson, Mississippi and he did well from the treatment.  He came back home and lived for a while then the asthma returned.  He returned to coping with his situation with alcohol.  Again, the family sent him back to Jackson for treatment.  He went back and forth about three times.   In 1965, he seemingly was doing well, and I was in the process of planning my wedding, which was on February 6, 1965.  He and my Mother, Audrey Barnes Broome, who I called “Madear”, separated because Daddy had become so irritable and abusive to her.  He moved into his father’s vacant home, a few blocks away from our home.  My baby brother, Caesar Aubrey Broome, would go check on Daddy every morning before catching the bus for school.  He would go to see him regularly throughout the weekends.  So, one morning, he went by to see Dad, exactly a month before my wedding, and Dad had died of a massive heart attack in his sleep at forty-four years old.  Caesar was 13 when it happened and I don’t believe that he ever got over it.  We were all shocked!  

My mother, Audrey Broome, basically reared us because Dad was just so unhappy and so depressed.  At the time she graduated, in 1939, she was one of four black graduates from Central Memorial High School. She was very smart, at the top of her class. Upon graduation, she went to a certification school for nursing. When she finished, a doctor at Desporte’s Clinic hired her to do small tasks.  He saw that she was able to understand medicine really well so he taught her how to do the shots, blood pressure checks, preparations for examinations, and everything that would assist him, and she loved it!  She'd come back home in the evenings and the people in our community would call her to come give them their shots, check their blood pressure and temperature, help them with dressing their wounds following surgery, and aid them in understanding their medical prescriptions.  She was a little “Nurse Nightingale” in our community. 

When I graduated from college and came back to Bogalusa for a teaching position, Madear was selected to go to Touro Medical Center in New Orleans for further training.  There she was put on a job and trained to become an EKG Specialist, and she really loved that.  She was hired and worked at Touro for 10 years.  She later moved back to Bogalusa and landed a job as EKG Specialist at St. Tammany Medical Hospital in Covington, Louisiana for twenty years. She traveled every night to that hospital because she had a night shift. She ended up staying there for twenty years and then retired.  Still able to get around and do things, being called on more and more in the community because that community had gotten older and a lot of those people didn't really have the transportation to get to the hospital, so the doctors would entrust my mother to go and help with their health care needs.  She did so cheerfully and never refused her service to anyone in need.  So, that's the way she lived the rest of her life, by helping others there in the community.

                                                                                                                     Janifer and her brother, "Bubba"

Madear and Daddy had four children. My sister, Wilhelmina Regina Broome Harris, is younger than me by six years. She became an Airline Stewardess with American Airlines following graduation from high school and remained for fifteen years.  She lived in Alexandria, Virginia during that time.  She later moved to Los Angeles, California with a ground job for the Airlines, married the late William Harris, and has remained in California throughout this time.  She lives with her immediate family in Southern California and loves the area.  She will not leave California!  My younger brother, Caesar, joined the Army after graduating from high school.  He was in the Medical field and had great assignments during his twenty years of service.  He retired in Southern California and passed March 26, 2011, while hospitalized due to serious illnesses.  My brother Willie Edwin Broome, we call him “Bubba”, is a year and a half younger. We grew up close together.  He should have been two grades behind me but at an early age they skipped him, so he was only one grade behind me.  And with him being right next to me, our teachers tended to compare us, which was not good at all. He was a boy, I’m a girl, y’know, boys are mischievous and all, and they put that stigma on him—Oh, he’s a smart boy, but he’s terrible, he’s into this and that! And Janifer, she does everything you say she’s supposed to do *laughs* So, they really branded us from the start. While he was a year and a half younger, in size he was bigger. So, all the while growing up, he was like, “That girl don’t know nothin’, I’m the smartest,” y’know, “blah, blah, blah.” But after he grew up and we got older he would say to our friends, “Oh no, she’s the older sister. Janifer’s the older sister” *Laughs* Like I said earlier, my Dad passed a month before my wedding, so we had to revamp our plans.  We had already done the invitations and everything we had planned to do, and, in his bedroom, Dad had his black suit hanging up and all his attire ready for the wedding.  But my brother Bubba, who was in the Air Force at the time, came home and escorted me in place of my father.

My late husband, Lt. Colonel  “Rosy” Roosevelt Peters, and I, we were in school together. We were sweethearts and we were both in this advanced group at Central Memorial High School. He was smart, but I was at the top of the class. He was like number three. We were very competitive in high school. When we got to our senior year, in advanced mathematics and trigonometry, we had this teacher who was Chairperson of the Mathematics Department, and she liked boys. There were twelve boys in the class and us two lil’ girls. So, she would sit at the desk, and they would circle her and us two lil’ girls would sit in the back of the class. She was teaching them and ignoring us. So, I would start crying, and Rosy would say, “Oh girl, don’t cry, I’ll come over by your house tonight and I’ll teach you everything she taught us.” So, that’s how we got together *laughs*

That teacher, Mrs. Mary Chatman, who favored the boys, did it all the way through that school, and everybody knows. But, lo and behold, after I graduated from Southern, I went back to Bogalusa to teach for a while and I was there working with her. She was promoted to assistant principal and she said, “Okay, I want Janifer to replace me as the Chair.” 

I graduated from Central Memorial High School in June of 1960. I was fortunate to graduate while Crown Zellerbach was in Bogalusa. Since I was at the top of my class, they gave me, the Black Valedictorian, a boat of money to go to college. They also gave a big sum of money to the White High School’s Valedictorian, a girl. She went to LSU.  At the time, I couldn’t be admitted to LSU because of my color, so I came to Southern in the fall of 1960. 

I’ve always been an active person. But I’m also a sleepyhead since I'm always on the go during the daytime hours.  During college, what I would do, in order to stay on top of everything, I would go to sleep at about 10:00 pm, but I’d wake up about 5:30 or 6:00 am, and while everybody was sleeping, I would get my work done. And I still do that.

My uncle, JC Crump, was a staunch alumnus of Southern and he knew everybody, financial aid people also.  So, he brought me to them and he said, “Now, she has a lot of scholarship money, she’s not gonna need all of it but we want her to use all of it.” He said, “She’s only gonna be here eight semesters, so let’s take these thousands of dollars and divide it by eight.” *Laughs* So, they gave me a passbook, and each semester I used it up. I went to conferences, I paid for Madear’s gas money  to pick me up when I needed to go home, all my clothes went to the cleaners, I went to the beauty shop, I had all my books, I went to Conferences in state and out of state; I just did everything *laughs*

Going to Southern was like going to a bigger family, because a lot of us from my high school came there, also.  My husband was there with me, too.  So we all knew each other and then we met others as we learned our way around campus and everything. I got involved by joining a sorority, AKA, and then with the student government association as a senator, and then by being an usher because we would have vespers every Sunday—I was just involved.  I was inducted into “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities”, that was great. 

I’ve always been an active person. But I’m also a sleepyhead since I am always on the go during the daytime hours.  During college, what I would do, in order to stay on top of everything, I would go to sleep at about 10:00 pm, but I’d wake up about 5:30 or 6:00 am, and while everybody was sleeping, I would get my work done. And I still do that. When I pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, it took a lot a time, but there was a lady in the SU Library, Mrs. Helen Jackson, who took a liking to me and she knew I had this big scholarship and I sure didn’t want my grades to go down.  So, she let me have a room in the library.  When pledging would keep us up all night, then, in the morning and between classes, I’d go to the library and that was my place all day. When I returned to the dormitory, I would have completed all that needed to be done.  I did well in classes and finished in  Mathematics as Magna Cum Laude and got a lot of honors *laughs  My husband and I, we both graduated in mathematics.  He graduated with Honors as a Distinguished Military Army ROTC commissioned as a 2nd. Lieutenant in the United States Army.  I took the teaching route and loved every minute of it. 

                                                                           Janifer and her late husband, Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt "Rosy" Peters

Rosy did two tours to Vietnam and that just cut out three years of our marriage. He had a first starting point at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and I went there with him for about a month. He was sent for duty to Vietnam, June 1965, and I went back home to Bogalusa to teach.  Exactly a month before completing his tour in Vietnam, he was shot and almost lost his left leg.  He had several surgeries before returning to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, Texas for more surgeries, rehabilitation, and recuperation.  After a year or so of recovery, he was assigned to Ft. Bliss, Texas in El Paso.  I was teaching mathematics in Bogalusa so I had to join him later.  I did so, and we lived two wonderful years together from 1967-1969.  Then, he was sent back to Vietnam and served from 1969-1970. Those were challenging times in our lives.  So, we learned that—What they say? “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” *Laughs* We did a lot of writing to each other. I guess that kept us together, we were so happy to get back and have each other. 

I was teaching in Bogalusa from ‘64-’67, when the schools were still segregated. In the black schools, we always did more with less, that’s what it was. When I was a child, we were so in love with our teachers!  They lived right in the community with us, they helped us to grow up … like a village.  You didn’t just act up and act any kind of way, because they would handle the situation.  By the time you got home, your parents would know about it and they would do the rest of the handling.  It was like a big community of people looking out for you.  When I was teaching, we didn’t let our students say what they could not do.  The only option was to go and better yourself with an education.  Now, with my teachers, personally they’d let you know, you’re doing good, you keep going; but you right here, you need to go to the military because you got a lot to learn yet. Or they’d say, you’re on the lazy side or you are gonna be a housewife. They would let you know that, but they would push you to do your best and to push on and don’t look back, just keep going. Keep going.  They had tolerance and patience with us.  As soon as we went into integration, it was zero tolerance. So, if somebody acted up in a white school, you were out!  That is still happening today. A lot of children go to a charter school, but if they act up, they are out and into the public schools.  My late husband, after retiring from his military career, taught mathematics at Baker Middle and Baker High Schools.  Many times he had to accept children into his classes who had been suspended from the charter schools.  

They had just started trying to integrate Bogalusa Schools when I left in 1967. 1968 -1970 it really hit hard.  I had joined Rosy at Ft. Bliss, Texas by that time.  My younger brother, Caesar, was still in school, though, and he and other relatives were pulled out of the black school and put in the white school and went through all of the integration issues… to be guarded, escorted to classes, to lunch, recess, and to the school busses. I was now in an integrated society as an Army wife.  

I can remember what it was like when they started trying to integrate because our families would keep us abreast of the happenings.  A lot went on in Bogalusa.  During my time there, all blacks worshipped together, they did everything together, it was okay.  But, when I left, unrest, riots, and ugly things started happening.   They started having crosses burned in the yard, and a black man, Mr. O’Neal Moore, was elected Deputy Sheriff—it’s in the history book—and all hell broke loose!  So, somehow, he was ambushed. He was called to an area to do something and was shot by some white men. When that happened, “The Deacons For Defense” formed to protect the blacks in Bogalusa.   We had family friends who were involved with them.  My cousin, Sam Barnes, had a cab stand and drove those yellow cabs, for transportation as well as patrol cars. They operated 24/7 and didn’t go to sleep. They had some kinda system I guess where they were really connected—‘cause, you know, we didn’t have technology and all of that—but they were patrolling all over the place. They drove these cabs all over town with a shotgun on the front seat. They said, “They killed Sheriff O’Neal, but they will not kill another one.” And so, not another person was killed. Not another one. I mean, they protected everybody around Bogalusa. 

In the military, we lived with all kinds of people, like a melting pot. And my kids went through that, too, growing up. It just gives you a different perspective. Like, you know, you can live with everybody. You just get there and you make the best of it. You form relationships, you find some people who like you and some people who don’t, and then you keep on going.

Once my husband returned from Vietnam, we continued in the Army. He had a career of twenty-five years. He had a real good career. His promotions were right on time and he went from 2nd. Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel in the ranks.  We had great experiences everywhere we went because and we didn’t move that often. We moved about every four years, so having that time, both of us were able to get our master’s degrees in Counseling and Guidance from Marshall University while he was assigned to West Virginia State College as Professor of Military Science. While I was teaching school there in Charleston, West Virginia, I was selected to run a mathematics program on Saturdays at a TV station in Huntington, West VA.  So, that was enjoyable and lots of fun with the new math.  Everywhere I went with my husband I taught school. Along with my mathematics degree from Southern, I had the counseling degree from West Virginia, then a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from Southern.  My husband earned a second Master’s Degree in Administration and Supervision +30 hours at Southern University during his assignment as Professor of Army ROTC there from 1984-1989.   

Everywhere we went during our army career, I taught mathematics.  Once I received my counseling degree, I would indicate it as my first choice.  Those interviewing me at the time would often say, “We don’t need no counselors, we need math teachers.”  So, I didn’t ever have any trouble getting on as a math teacher and I loved it!

We didn’t have any kids at first and I didn’t try to have any. We just enjoyed life, okay? *Laughs* We waited eight years before having children of our own.  And look, I was doing teaching, gaining post-graduate college hours, enjoying new places, traveling, and all of that. As I look over everything I’ve done and put all the stuff together it’s like, Gee, I have lots of hours, I could have definitely had the Ph.D. long ago.  But I told everybody, “Look. I was having too much fun, I was seeing the world, I couldn’t stick to just studying, okay?” It was so much fun, it was just a wonderful life! 

Just prior to having our first kid, we inherited a teenage God Daughter, Lorraine Brumfield. I tell you, that was something, a young couple with a teenager. Her mother was killed in a car accident and there 5 of them left with their father as young children.  It was really sad because they had gone on a vacation trip to Knoxville, Tennessee with five children in the car and the father fell asleep on the way back and hit an embankment. The mother was killed, all the other children except Lorraine ended up with broken bones and in the hospital. She was thrown out of the car and was not injured.  But it was just a long journey after that. Family members were trying to help with the children, but the father wanted no help and was stuck on keeping his children together.  Things didn’t go well, so he placed the children with their grandmother.  We wanted to adopt Lorraine, but he would not agree.  However, he said that she could live with us.  So, at fifteen years old Lorraine moved to live with us at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. We got her through Lawton High School. In 1974, she graduated from high school, just in time for us to move on to our new assignment at West Virginia State College where Rosy would be Professor of Military Science.  Lorraine moved with us and attended West Virginia State for one semester.  She did not like being in West Virginia at all. So, we transferred her to Southern University and she did very well.  She graduated from Southern with a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology in Spring 1978.  She married, has a son, Phillip Baker, and taught school in Bogalusa for 3 years before moving on to Dallas, Texas. There, she landed a job in the automobile industry.   She is doing great as a Manager of Toyota Motors, living in San Antonio, Texas, and happily married to Dr. Stan Jackson, an Engineer in Texas. 

My daughter, Kendra Michelle Peters, was born on September 29, 1973, in Lawton, Oklahoma, during Rosy’s assignment at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma—about an hour from Oklahoma City.

While raising my children, I was truly blessed, because we had formed friends (extended family) who loved children and I didn’t have to have a babysitter. When we moved to West Virginia, Kendra was about 11 months old. I got into grad school in the evenings and was teaching at Stonewall Jackson High School in Charleston, West Virginia while my husband served as a Military Science professor for Army ROTC at West Virginia State. So, one of his female cadets, Barbara Green, just took over my daughter.  Kendra thought that Barbara was her mom, okay? Barbara had been in the service, had her own trailer, and her own car. She was an Army Veteran who had returned to college.  She was mature, dependable, trustworthy, and just like family, and she just took over Kendra.  When we left West Virginia, Kendra was now almost five, and we moved with Rosy for his assignment to Ft. MacPherson in Atlanta.

That entire area has now been purchased by Tyler Perry for his Grand Movie Studios!  That was the Army base, Ft. MacPherson. We lived in that location for three years.  Kendra made six years and Kristopher “Kris” Scott Peters was born on October 7, 1979.   So, there, my girlfriends took care of Kendra and Kris.  When Kris was two years old, we left, and went to Hawaii, so both of our children enjoyed living and attending school in Honolulu, Hawaii.  

I tell you, the place that really spoiled us of all the places were we lived or traveled, whether in-state, out of state, all over the world, whatever—was Hawaii. We were there for three years. We were located right there on the island of Oahu, and Rosy was Inspector General, so he got to go to all the islands, Guam, and all around. I was blessed to be able to go to all those places as well and then we took our children to some of those places, too. I also taught school, because we wanted to make sure we had enough money to enjoy all that was available.

In Hawaii, I taught at Pearl City High School, right there near Pearl Harbor. And it had an enrollment of 4,000 students. It was like a college. Most of the schools where I taught at were large like that.  Hawaii was our last army assignment before coming back to Baton Rouge. We had great experiences that will last for a lifetime!   I had to learn how to get laid back, because I was going to teach every day, all dressed up with high-heeled shoes and all that, and those teachers said to me,” Jan, you look real cute every day, but get real! You wearin’ stockings in this weather? *laughs* It was very casual. We had  Aloha Fridays where you wore the mumus and the flip-flops. Casual dressing was fun!  Everybody would bring their swimming gear to school and when classes ended at 2:30 we would go to the beach. Lay out, have fun, go home about 9:00 pm, because it didn’t get dark until then.  During that time, I also had lots of family and friends that came to visit, because we had a big house, our Army place was large, and we told them, “If you wanna come and you don’t wanna pay for a hotel and all of that expense, then come while we wre here.” And they did. So, I was basically like a tour guide, too *laughs*

During our time in the Army, I immediately learned how to get along with others who didn’t look like me. To form lifelong relationships with them and to live with them. Because during my service life and all, a lot a times we were the only ones, my husband, and me, the only blacks.  We lived with all kinds of people, like a melting pot. And our children went through that, too, growing up. It just gives you a different perspective. Like, you know, you can live with everybody. You just get there and you make the best of it. You form relationships, you find some people who like you and some people who don’t, and then you keep on going. But people will always remember you. They’ll always remember you. I can remember early in the service, we went to El Paso, Texas, the first time he got back from Vietnam. At the time we arrived, the military wives, a lot of them didn’t have jobs, but I was there working *laughs* And they said, “Jenny!” And I said, “Wait. I’m not Jenny, okay?” *laughs* I say, “My name is Janifer,” and I spelled it for them. I made sure they didn’t cut off my name. ‘Cause everybody liked to have nicknames, but not me. So, they had to learn my name, and they would call me Janifer, okay? Now, my friends could call my Jan, but I wasn’t going to start with them. So, they would say, “Oh, Janifer, we gonna have the coffee at 10 am, but you’re working…” I said, “Yes, I am working”. So, as we moved on up into the years, then they started having coffee at night, because they saw the need that they needed to be out working, too *laughs* Because it was happening that everything was getting more expensive. You want to travel and you want to do this and you want a nice home—so they had to get out of the houses, they had to go work, too. So, we started having’ the coffees at night, I remember that. And almost everywhere I went, the coffees were at night. We’d have maybe an evening outing or whatever, but they didn’t stick to the coffees at 10 o’clock in the morning’ *laughs* 

After Hawaii, our last assignment sent us back to Baton Rouge.  Rosy had four more years left in the Army, so while we were in Hawaii he made the trip to Baton Rouge to talk with the president and chancellor of Southern University to see if there would be an opening for Professor of Military Science.  It was always his dream to return to Southern and give back to his Alma Mater! And yes, it came true. The chancellor said, “Pete, when are you gonna be able to leave the island?” He said, “Next year.”. He said, “Well you will be coming at the right time, ‘cause the Professor of Military Science that we have now, he will be leaving out, so you can move right on in.” So that’s how we got back to Baton Rouge. 

Once my husband knew he was coming for the assignment to be head of ROTC, he went to the math department, from where we had graduated, and he told the Professor who was Chair at that time, he said, “Dr. Crawford, next year we are  coming back and we’re gonna be here at least four years in Baton Rouge.” And Dr. Crawford said, “Well, what about Jan? What’s she gonna do?” And he said, “Well, she needs a job.” So, Dr. Crawford followed with, “She doesn’t need to go anywhere. Tell her, when she comes back here, come straight to my office, we need her teaching math right here.” And so, that’s how I got on, and I've remained at Southern since. From August 1984 up through March 1997, I taught mathematics in the Department.  Then, in April  1997, I interviewed for a position to be Assistant to the Dean for the College of Sciences and Engineering. On April Fool’s Day, April 1st, I got that position. So that’s where I am now, working as an administrator. But I still teach, I’m using my counseling and technology skills, all that. And recruiting skills *laughs* I’m still touching students, and when I accepted the position as Assistant to the Dean, I didn’t exactly know what it would entail. But I did know it was a position up and that I would do better in compensation. And so, with teaching, we were always the last to get a raise in salary. Things are better now, and I’m still here, enjoying working with the students as a counselor and mentor. I also served as the Director of the Engineering Summer Institute (ESI) for pre-college students from 1997-2018. It was complete joy to see the students come here and return following graduation to become world-class engineers!  As Director of the College of Engineering Scholarship Fund, we recruited thousands of students who excelled here at Southern and have gone on to great jobs in industry, academia, and government.

So, when we moved here, and Rosy was head of ROTC from ‘84 through ’89, I was in my late forties, our children were five and eleven. When they got back here to Southern and they saw all the happenings that were here on the campus—they were going to the football games and to the Bayou Classic and all of that—there was no way we were gonna move them. So, we bought a home and have been here ever since. The children are now grown and gone, but I’m still here.  Kendra is married to Pastor John Ross and they have four children—Raquel, Tyler, Ryan, and Trystin.  They live in Frisco, Texas.  Kris has three children, Nijah (in Kansas City, MO), Mateo (in Austin, TX) and Mattheus (in San Francisco, CA).

                                                                                                                                   Photo by Lily Brooks

From my time in the military, I was used to living, working, and being among all nationalities, all people and all, and it was just natural. So, when I came back to Baton Rouge, I just wanted to continue living like that. 

I tell you, Broderick Bagert is indeed a recruiter for all times. He came here as Organizer of Together Baton Rouge. He had gone around to all the churches I think, and in each area he wanted to know, I guess from the pastor or whoever, who can touch the people in the community and bring them in? At Greater Mt. Carmel, somebody told him, “Oh, Janifer Peters, get in touch with her.” So, I came in, and I really enjoyed it because I liked the way we were all coming together from all areas across the city. Brod reached those pastors, and the priests, and the rabbis, and all those who have great influence over the persons that were in their congregations. As I got in, I started recruiting others to come in with us. I was telling them how much we were working to come together, to make Baton Rouge better, to work across racial lines, across denominations and gender. Brod had so much energy! Now, I don’t think he ever slept. I mean, that energy, it was radiating through all of us. And I had a lot of energy, too!

So eventually, Brod brought us together, and he started us in these contextual scriptural study groups. We must have had about 200 people at that point, at least. He called us together and he said, “Okay, we’re going be in study groups and we’re going to study the scriptures.” He knew everybody had some common knowledge and wanted to learn more about the bible. Randomly, he put us into twenty groups of ten-to-twelve, made up of people from all across Baton Rouge. Then he said, “Y’all decide when and where you’re gonna study. Just make it once a month” *laughs* So that’s, truly, the beginning of the Together Baton Rouge House Meetings. Because, as we formed our groups, some people met in the libraries, some people met in recreational facilities, some people met in churches, and a lot of people met in homes. 

In my group, Group “C”, I was elected as a facilitator. Then we had Willistine McKnight, who was selected as our recorder. We were from different parts of Baton Rouge and we didn’t necessarily know each other. Male and female, white, black, and one another nationality. We decided, since we were working people, it was best for us to meet at Goodwood Library in the evening. So that’s where we met, once a month at six o’clock, on a Thursday. Each month, Brod would give us our assignments.

We started in the Old Testament with First Kings, where it tells about those rich Pharisees and Sadducees who had all this money but they were show-offs. In giving their offering to God, they would make the money clang, dumping the coins in the pot and then marching around so everyone would hear ‘em.  But then this little lady comes with one mite, but she gave it from the heart and she gave all that she had, so the Lord was pleased with what she had done. So, Brod would have questions formulated for each group and he sent them to the facilitators. They were questions, like, “When y’all discuss this, what effect does it have?” “Does this relate to real life?” “Does this happen today?” “How do you feel about that?” So, we would meet and we’d have a good time. And after each group, he would call us all together for a big assembly and each facilitator would share with the whole group, What effect did doing this have on you?  Where are you going from here? And all that type of stuff. It kept us going. 

We went with those contextual scriptural groups for approximately five months into the springtime. So, coming up towards Easter, we started studying in Acts about the people from all over in different areas, speaking together in different tongues but with one mission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. In Acts it says, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” So, Brod had the idea that we would culminate our contextual scriptural groups by having a celebration on Pentecost Sunday. Flyers and announcements were circulated across Baton Rouge and surrounding communities: Come celebrate with us at Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church Family Life Center. So, everybody was working toward this big celebration and all persons were invited to come, whether they were members of Together Baton Rouge or not. It was a huge event and a beautiful affair. There had to have been over one-thousand people there, and the newspaper people were there to write it up and put it in the paper. 

By coming together, we learned a lot about each other. As we gathered having those meetings, we were able to get to know each other a little better. And that’s what Brod did for us. Because otherwise, we wouldn’t have come together. You know, you run in your own circle. It’s just like when you’re born to your parents, they don’t know what they gonna have *laughs* They don’t know you, but this is who God put there for you, right here. So, you have to do the best that you can with what he gives you *laughs* 

It was like fast and furious, because we’d have to get there and get our strategy together and then everybody would be going to a different house, or to the Senate rep, or wherever… And talking to the legislators was interesting because some of those people were my former students. I had taught math in college and all, so then I was getting to hold them accountable *laughs*

After that Pentecost Sunday meeting, we kept together and then there were other items that came forward. We were going to continue with the contextual scriptural groups, but other items started creeping in, like the St. George issue, ITEP reform, health equity, criminal justice reform, and all of that. We used to have meetings and workshops and things every so often. I remember we basically had something going on every Saturday at the late Reverend Charles Smith’s Church, Shiloh Baptist. Yeah, we always had something going on. I can remember Chauna Banks was in one of those meetings and nobody had even heard of Chauna Banks. But it was an issue dealing with the school system, and she spoke out about that and brought up some excellent points. Then, the next thing you know, she was running for a Metro-Council position and she won.

A lot of us who attend Greater Mt. Carmel Baptist didn’t live there in the area. But that’s our church home. So, if you don’t spend much time in the area, you come and go, you look at it and say, “Oh, that’s a shame. Something should be done there.” But I believe everybody’s trying to do better with working on community issues. My interest is really to get a grocery store there in North Baton Rouge. It is needed for the community and for the students who come to go to Southern University.  A lot of them are just eating fast food, that’s unhealthy.  Before the 2016 flood, Together Baton Rouge helpers would distribute fresh food to the community that was donated from Farmer’s Market. We would serve from Edgar Cage’s Church, St Michael, in the parking lot. I would always work with that project.  We had to start at five in the morning and persons would come in droves, hundreds and hundreds of people would come. I can remember on Thanksgiving the food was bountiful with everybody getting a turkey, people were so happy *chuckling* So, we looked forward to doing that on Saturday mornings. 

I used to enjoy going to talk with the legislators as a part of Together Baton Rouge. I’d just take off from school and go *laughs* We were working with issues in the schools, about the teacher pay and all. And they were doing those budget cuts, they were really sticking it to LSU and Southern, so we just wanted them to do something about that. Especially if they were going to be up for re-election.  It was like fast and furious, because we’d have to get there and get our strategy together and then everybody would be going to a different legislative meeting, then we’d make a plan to follow-up with individual representatives. I even took my kids down, even before Together Baton Rouge, I used to take them down to see what was working, what was going on.  Talking to the legislators was interesting because some of those people were my former students. I had taught math in college, so now I was getting to hold them accountable *laughs* And we did end up making progress on the budget cuts. Southern had really gotten in bad shape, at one point it looked like we were going lose Southern. We had a good president at that time, though, Dr. Dolores Spikes, who really kept us afloat. She stayed down there with ‘em at the Capitol. Yeah, she made them quite aware of the need. So, we were able to get more funding and stay afloat. 

To me, Together Baton Rouge has been a new commitment.  I enjoy the commitment of being able to be with the organization and to interact with those persons across racial lines. I really enjoyed working with the phone bank when I went to the office before the coronavirus hit. We did the phone bank right there at the Together Baton Rouge site, it was wonderful. Then I did a virtual phonebank after the virus hit, and that’s where I met my friend Dr. Rick Moreland. He’s retired now, from LSU. He said, “Oh, Janifer you sound so good. I’ve already given, but after talking with you, I’ll give more!” I said, “Thank you!” So, we have a thing going. We hadn’t seen each other ever in person or anything. I don’t know what Zoom call we were on recently, but I said, “Hi Dr. Moreland, it’s me. I’m the one who called you.” He’s like, “Hey Janifer!” *laughs* So he’s really been with us ever since. He was supporting us, but he wasn’t really with us. He said the other day that he had learned so much and this has meant so much to him. See, I’ve been committed to Together Baton Rouge from the beginning, since 2010, because I like the idea of the mixed group of people working together. After leaving Bogalusa, that was my life. I’m a people person, I enjoy working with people and I’m able to encourage, motivate, and persuade people to, Come on let’s do this. Let’s do that. 

When I think of being a “leader”, I know that you can’t stand there by yourself. I like to get others to work with me. I’m not in this boat alone, we all work together. Everybody will have their share. And so, as you lead, persons are alongside of you. Not following behind you, y’know? Because if you push yourself out front—I’m the leader of this, I’m the leader of that—then you turn your head and you don’t have any followers. So, I think it’s a conglomeration of help and support, working together, and having somebody there for you. 

Being a “leader”, quote-unquote, *laughs* I feel I’m strong enough to move out of the box, to do things. I’ll say what I feel is right in my heart and if I’m right I’m not going to back down. I’ll listen to you, I’ll learn from you, and most of all I really want us to work together. If you see that something’s not right, just be frank with me, let me know. Because if I see something’s not right with you, I’m going to let you know. Simple as that. And I use the quotes because, when you say “leader”, people think, Oh, they’re the ones who are going say what’s to be done. They’re the ones who you’re gonna either do what they say or you gotta get out the way. I’m not of that make-up.  “Working Together is Success”!






 

Showing 3 reactions

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  • Glenn Linzer
    commented 2021-06-01 11:00:47 -0500
    Thanks Mrs. Peters for sharing your story. It’s inspiring.
  • Aldreamia Omar
    commented 2021-05-29 19:58:52 -0500
    Excellent story shared; most enlightening! I liked.

    Aldreamia Omar
  • Phillip Norman
    published this page in News 2021-05-29 10:22:35 -0500

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