Rev. Conway Knighton has pastored St. Mary Baptist Church since 2000. A native of Scotlandville, he was raised in Greater Mt. Carmel Baptist Church under the mentorship of Dr. K.E. Popillon and Dr. Lionel Lee. After graduating Scotlandville High, Rev. Knighton studied psychology at Southern University and Washington University in St. Louis. As a bi-vocational pastor, he has continued to work in the field of mental health throughout his time in the ministry. Rev. Knighton belongs to the original group of black pastors who founded Together Baton Rouge. Because he believes the role of the church is to meet the needs of the community and make people feel at home, Rev. Knighton maintains an ‘open-door policy’ at St. Mary. Over the years, he has been eager to open the doors of the church for TBR meetings and actions.
I was about nineteen, and I had got real active in the church. These two old guys stopped me one day, they said, "Brother Knighton, you been runnin our church, and we don't know nothin about you."
Both my parents are from a small town called Clinton, Louisiana. That's about thirty, thirty-five miles north of Baton Rouge. I was born there because my mother was an only child, and she had some aunts who were close to her in age. So, whenever she would get ready to have a baby, she would go back home. There was a hospital in Clinton called the Clinton Infirmary. My older brother, my younger brother, and I were born in the Clinton Infirmary. When my mother got out of the hospital, her aunts were able to take care of them right there in Clinton.
I grew up in Scotlandville, graduated from Scotlandville High, class of '73. I grew up in a church called Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church. Reverend Lowe’s church. I was baptized at Mt. Carmel, I got married there. And I got ordained there. The late Lawyer Fields was the pastor that baptized me. And Dr. K.E. Popillon, he's deceased now, he raised me in the ministry. Until I met a fellow by the name of Dr. Lionel Lee. I learned my theology from Dr. K.E. Popillon, and then I learned pastoring, how to deal with people, from Dr. Lionel Lee.
Believe it or not, when I was a child, I was an extremely shy person. Very shy, very bashful. And people say, "Well, I don't believe that." I don't know how I got pulled out of that, but I did. Could be, you know, the church I had joined. Dr. Popillon made me a deacon. I was seventeen years old, he made me a deacon. I was the youngest deacon in the history of that church at seventeen. The church was big, about 800 people, but I was one of the few young people that was active in the upper echelon of the church. I went to prayer meetings, I went to education programs. So, when you look out, you had middle-aged and older people, but there I was, seventeen and eighteen. I was the only youth that was active. One day, pastor say, "Look, as a deacon, you gotta start praying in church." Here we are, Sunday morning, six, seven, eight hundred people out there, and I'm standing up there, seventeen and eighteen, praying.
So, the deacons pulled me out and got me talking before people. And then Dr. Lee, he would pull me out because a lot of time he would send me to represent him. So, I slowly came out of being shy. But actually, I'm still a shy and bashful fellow. I have to read a situation, read an audience, read the people before I really get involved. Cause I'll never forget, when I became a deacon, I went to every deacon meeting for a year. I was seventeen, I never said a word. Because I didn't know what the hell I was doing as a deacon. The pastor made me a deacon but they didn't have any training. They met twice a month, so twice a month I would go to a meeting, didn't miss a meeting. And after a year, the old chairman, Henry Franklin, he said to me, "Brother Knighton, you've been coming for a year but you haven't said nothin. Y’know, you’re as much a deacon as the rest of us. The pastor put you here." So, that next year, they put me on this committee, they put me on that committee, before I know it I was getting involved in the runnings of the church. And two old deacons stopped me one Sunday. One of em must've been eighty or something, another one must've been ninety, and I was about nineteen, and I had got real active in the church. These two old guys stopped me one day, they said, "Brother Knighton, you been runnin our church, and we don't know nothin about you."
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a history teacher. That was my dream. I loved history and I loved the people who taught me history, who made that impact upon me. From civics to American history, Louisiana history, you know, geography. But I had an older brother that was a sophomore in college, and he was taking a general psychology class. He had laid his books on the table. And, curious, I picked up his general psychology book and I got persuaded then. That's when I changed my area of concern from history to psychology. So, I ended up changing my career path. When I got to Southern, instead of going into history, I went into mental health and got a B.S. degree in psychology. I think I always was in mental health, because I was always an unlicensed counselor as a youth. You know, talking to my peers and talking to other people. It was a gift, I think, that God had given me on the spiritual side and all I did was move that over to the secular side.
I went to Southern University and graduated from Southern in the class of seventy-six. I worked two or three jobs and paid my way through college. I had to help support my mother and younger brother, plus pay my tuition. So, I worked on campus, I was blessed that a professor took an interest in me and gave me a job on campus. I had to raise these white rats for the experimental class every semester. Every semester, they had to have a certain number of white rats for the students, you know, so I had to make sure that we had enough white laboratory rats for the experiments in the classes. Plus, I had another teacher that I was working as a TA for in my senior year, which meant that I helped tutor sophomore students that were in psychology. I also had a job off campus, you know, so that's how I was supporting my mother and my younger brother and paying my way through college.
After graduating, I got a scholarship from a professor back then by the name of Robert Williams. He was at Washington University in St. Louis. He had wrote several books and he was working on an exam. So, he gave me a scholarship and I went to St. Louis. I never really had been out of Baton Rouge, but I ended up going to St. Louis, which was a major change in life experience for me, being on my own and going to St. Louis. In Baton Rouge, I went to all-black high school, went to Southern, that was predominantly black, and then I end up going to an all white university in St. Louis, predominantly Jewish. So you can tell I was out of my element *laughs* And my roommate was a white guy. He was an Italian from New York. And he was a law student. He told me that his grandfather drove car for the Mafia. So that was a different, altogether strange relationship for me. Here I am, a black kid from Baton Rouge living in a room with a white Italian from New York, whose grandfather drove car for the mob. And then at the university, in a lot of the classes, I was the only black, in the seventies, in my class. I had a few of the white students that would mingle with me and invite me to their study group. So, I finally started learning how to come out.
I took what I learned at Washington University, and I took what I knew from the community, I took what I learned from older people, put it together, and came up with an eclectic approach to deal with mental health, especially with black people.
I got my masters and then I moved back to Baton Rouge. St. Louis was too cold. It was cold in the winter and it was extremely hot in the summertime. About a week after they put that diploma in my hand, I came home.
When I left Washington University with all this learning I had in therapy, and I sat down face to face with my first clinical client, I tried to employ what I learned at Washington University with this client and the client looked at me like I was crazy. They said, "What the hell are you talking about?" So all that I learned for therapy, I threw it out the window. And what I had to do was create my own eclectic approach. Especially when I was dealing with black folks. You know, I had to create my own eclectic approach to therapy. And that's what was successful. I took what I learned at Washington University, and I took what I knew from the community, I took what I learned from older people, put it together, and came up with an eclectic approach to deal with mental health, especially with black people. Because what they teach in white schools just really did not apply to dealing with black therapy.
I'll never forget an experience I had, how I got my first job after I got back home. My grandmother had bought me a interviewing suit. She had bought me this tan interviewing suit and I had a briefcase to match my suit. And I had my resume typed up and everything. So, I went to meet this guy named Cal Bankston. He was head of the Department of Health and Hospitals. Cal was an old-fashioned fella, looked like a redneck. And I walked in, I was twenty-one years old—had my master's degree when I was twenty-one years old. And, you know, I stood there, because I was always raised that I didn't sit down until I was invited to sit down. So, he finally looked at me standing up and he said to me, "Sit down, boy." Now I'm standing there with my master's degree, with my briefcase, my interview suit and everything, and at that moment, you know, he said to me, "Sit down, boy". This was in the seventies. So, it was going through my mind. And I set down. I sat down and he talked with me, and I'll never forget, he called this guy that was working in his office and he said, "This young man just got his master's degree from Washington University in St. Louis in psychology. Go find him a job."
So, this guy took me to his office and he called the substance abuse people that used to be on 19th Street. He said, "I'm sending you somebody Monday." And the guy must have asked him, "Is he black?" Because I could hear him say, "Yeah, he's black." Then he said, "I don't want to hear that. You don't have no black people over there working for you. I'm going to send him there to you. You don't have no blacks. And Cal wants this man working". And I don't know why Cal took to me, but that was a favor God had placed on me.
I went there to the office on 19th Street at eight o'clock Monday morning. I was sharp. This guy put me in a room for 45 minutes, left me there. Told me, "Just have a seat." Came back after 45 minutes and said, "Look, we're going to send you to Greenwood Springs Hospital." So, I said, "Okay." I got in my car, drove to Greenwood Springs Hospital, stayed there for three months. I was doing an excellent job there. Then some lady in Hammond that worked at the mental health substance abuse place had gone on maternity leave. So, they called me, since I was last on the totem pole, and said we want you to go to Hammond and replace this lady while she's on maternity leave and when she come back, we gone bring you back here, because we like the work you're doing. So, I went to Hammond, stayed there, and when the lady finally came back from maternity leave, I thought I was coming back to Greenwood Springs Hospital to work in the substance abuse unit. But they gave my job to a guy, a white guy, who was going to LSU. He was in the PhD program and his daddy was a state senator, so he pulled some strings and they gave him the job that they had promised me. So, you know, I've dealt with racism and a lot of other stuff all my life. When I was a student at Southern University, I worked at a store called Farmer’s Market. My boss lady, her name was Cassie Baker, she had a son at LSU. I was an honor roll student at Southern, and her son, Carl, was barely making it at LSU. Carl was making C's at LSU. And I was making A's at Southern. And she said that my A's at Southern probably wasn't equivalent to a C at LSU. So, you see what kinda stuff I came under?
After I came back from Hammond, I ended up going to work for the city of Baton Rouge as a coordinator for youth programs. I did that for a while, and I did such a good job there that a federal rep from Dallas came to review our programs and he liked what I had done. He recommended me for a director's job in Shreveport, Louisiana. So, I went to Shreveport and worked there for about a year. Then I came back to Baton Rouge and ended up working at the hospital in Jackson, Louisiana. That was in 1981. I met my wife, Edith, at the hospital in Jackson. She was working there as an LPN.
I loved working at the hospital. I stayed there seven and a half years, working with acute and chronic patients. I worked at a psychiatric hospital for seven and a half years in Jackson, Louisiana, called East Louisiana State Hospital. I worked there seven and a half years as a master's level psychologist. And these things that we saw were people that were schizophrenic, bipolar and clinically depressed. Those were the three major diagnoses that we dealt with.
I had a client when I was at the hospital, was an older woman—I'm sayin 'older woman', I was young, she may have been like mid 40s—and they didn’t know what was wrong with her. She was quiet, didn't say a word to anybody. We had our multidisciplinary staffing—that was the psychiatrist, social workers, a nurse, people who do recreation—and all of us sitting around the table. They brought this black woman in, she was like from a rural place, and they kept bombarding her. Now, all these people were white except for me. All these people started bombarding this poor woman with questions and she would just—never said a word. Never said a word, just sit there. She wouldn't respond to the psychiatrist. She didn't respond to the social workers, nobody else. So, I heard a voice in my head say, Go pull up a chair next to her. I went pulled up a chair next to her and looked her in the eyes and I said, "Baby, where’d your people take you?" And she started talking.
The psychiatrist, and the white social workers wanted to know what made me ask her that question, you know, and I told her, I said, "You wouldn't understand." It was a black thing. You bombardin her with all this kinda other stuff, and this lady is not very educated, come from a rural area, you know, and don't trust white people in the first place. And now all you people sitting around a table and you white and you're bombarding her, so she ain't gonna respond to that. She needed a face that she could identify with. And the only thing I did was pull my chair up to her and looked her in the face and say, "Baby, where’d your people carry you?" And then she started talking.
I'll never forget that mother's face, and I'll never forget the sounds of those chains when they fell from him. The sound of freedom.
When Buddy Roemer became governor, he started downsizing state institutions. So then I left the hospital and went to the prison because they were looking for mental health staff at the prison. That was in 1988, and I stayed there for 14 years. I enjoyed working at the prison because I was doing forensic work. What I was doing was determining whether these offenders were ready to re-enter into society. And a lot of them, you know, I had to go to court with and go before the judge and plead their case and say, "Yes, well, we think they're ready." Or we think, "No, they haven't been redeemed enough to enter back into society." So those kind of things I did. We did all kind of psychological evaluations, educational tests.
I’ll never forget, I got one impression that's imprinted on me. I took a little sixteen-year-old youngster to court right outside of New Orleans. I forgot exactly what parish, but it was in the New Orleans area. And I'll never forget it because it's marked in my mind. He was chained at his wrists, chained at his feet, a chain running from his feet to his waist to his wrists. And we were all in a transport van going to court. He asked me what was going to happen to him. And, you know, he was nervous and scared, and I asked him if he knew how to pray. He said he only knew a prayer that his mother taught him. I said, "Well, go ahead and pray it." He said he only remembered scripture that he learned as a child from his mother, which was the twenty-third psalm. I said, "Say it, then." I said, "You keep praying and saying that scripture till we get to the courthouse."
When we got to the courthouse, his mother and some of his siblings met the van. Because he was an offender, they couldn't come close in. And I remember the look in his mother's face, how she wanted to grab him and hug him, and how she cried when she saw her child chained up like that. Because the chains were on his feet and stuff, he had to shuffle, and officers were taking him inside. So, I never forget, we went into a little small room where it was a judge, prosecutor, and I sit directly in front of the judge. And the prosecutor that convicted this boy set on the other side of the judge, and his mother sat on one side of me, the boy set on the other side of me with the officer that came from the prison.
The judge looked at me and said, "Mr. Knighton, what is your recommendation for this young man?" And I looked at the judge, I said, "Your honor, my recommendation is that you let him go." The judge looked at me. He said, "What?" I say, "I recommend you let him go." And then I said that the second time. The prosecutor jumped in and he said, "Well, are you aware of his record?" And I told the prosecutor, I said, "Well, look, he's received everything that we have to offer at the prison. Just keeping him there now will no longer benefit him. He's been in the educational program. He's been in all the other groups that we have. So, he maximized what he could get from the prison."
After the prosecutor made his statement, the judge asked me the third time. He said, "Mr. Knighton, what is your recommendation?" I said, "Your Honor. My recommendation is still let him go." The judge looked at his records. He looked back up at me. He looked down again at the boy's record and he looked back up at me. He said, "Mr. Knighton, I don't know why I'm gonna do this, but if you recommend to let him go and you think he's ready, I'm gone let him go." He called for the officers, right there, told them, "Take all the chains off him." And, you know, his mother was crying by this time. Looking at his mother, I think I almost started crying. The judge said, "Son, I'm gone give you another chance." And he said to take all the stuff off him, told his mother, "You could take him home."
That has never left my memory. He said I'm gone give you another chance. And when he asked me three times, "What is your recommendation?" You know, and I kept saying the same thing, "Let him go." And so he said, "I don't know why I'm gone do this"—cause, you know, they weren't in business of lettin nobody go. And I'll never forget that mother's face, and I'll never forget the sounds of those chains when they fell from him, you know. The sound of freedom.
Now what was interesting, my institution never told me to make that recommendation. When I left the prison that morning to go down, they never gave me a recommendation. So it was left up to me. And my recommendation was let him go.
‘Serve your generation’ means help wherever I can, make a difference in the world. That means the issues—social, political, economic, and spiritual issues of this generation—I can't close my eyes to or turn my back to those. What I have to do is be a part of making a difference.
Before I came to St. Mary, I worked at a historical church in Plaquemine, Louisiana, called Plymouth Rock Baptist Church. Its nickname was Freedom Rock, because during the 60s it was the leading church in the Civil Rights movement in that parish. In fact, the story that was always told to me was how the police invaded the church, trying to get the pastor, Davis. And what they did was the funeral home put him in a coffin and got him out of town. So, the police came up in the church with horses and dogs and everything like that, messed up the church trying to get the pastor because he was leading the movement. And so they had to sneak him out of town and they put him in a casket and put him in a hearse, and the police didn't check that. That's how they got him out of town.
So, I stayed there at Plymouth Rock for 10 years, from 1990 to 2000. And now I've been here at St. Mary twenty-one years, cause I came here in 2000. I retired from Jetson Correctional Center for Youth on October 1st of 2001 to do full-time ministry. I was pastoring at St. Mary, and the church decided they didn't want to split my time between working at the prison and working here at the church. So, they told me to go ahead and retire. I had enough years to retire, so I retired at age forty-six and came over here to work full time.
After I left the state and I was working here at the church for a while, my wife took sick. She had a heart attack and a stroke. She was on the faculty for the School of Nursing at Southern University. For a while, she couldn't work. So now what happened was I lost that income. The wolves were at my door. That was when I went to work part time for a company called Living Waters. And I stayed there almost ten years working for them, it was a substance abuse clinic. I was their clinical director. I did individuals, I did group, and I supervised unlicensed people. So, I stayed there for ten years. Eventually, they lost their grant. It was funded by the state, the state only covered it for so many years. So, when they stopped funding it, you know, I left there and came back over to St. Mary doing my full-time duties. And then the company that I work for now, called Holistic Behavioral Health System, was looking for a licensed person, a clinical director. They showed up on my doorstep and asked me to come work for them. So, I've been working for them now for about four years, doing basically the same thing—supervising unlicensed people, doing groups, doing individuals, things along that line. So, I do that part time, and I'm between the church and there.
A lot of times when I'm doing substance abuse and mental health, I see people who really just need to be in touch with a higher power. It's missing from their life. If you ever dealt in substance abuse, you get charts like this *indicates a long medical chart* Because we get em well, send them out, and they stay out maybe three months and then end up in a vicious cycle. Until they were introduced to a higher power. That would keep them out.
Most people know that I'm a pastor, they know that I'm a licensed counselor, you know, and a marriage and family therapist. So, when they come to my office—because I get people out of the community that come here to see me—and I ask them, what do they want? And you know what they tell me, huh? They want all three. They want all three to show up. I can't tell you the number of marriage therapy that I've done, the number of other kinds of therapy that I've done right here, you know, in this office. And I've also taken referrals from other pastors that didn't have the mental health background. They realized sometimes that people needed more than just Christian counseling, and they referred them to me because they realized they needed professional mental health counseling. And then when they came here, there wasn't gonna be no stigma. They would come here and I would give them what they needed.
The church has really done well. Before the pandemic, we had a food pantry. We were giving out food every Wednesday. And, you know, you just knock on the door and tell us how many people in your family. We gave you a food basket. And not only did we give you canned goods and dry goods, but we also gave you meat. A lot of places don't give meat. We gave out meat— hamburgers, chicken, turkey wings, stuff like that. And then we have a clothes closet that we open up Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you can wear it, you can take it. No charge for it. Because members do support the clothes closet. They bring things to us. Some people in the community bring things to us.
I'll never forget, one lady called me, she had a bunch of baby stuff. She just had a baby, the baby was up some sizes now. She called me and asked me, "Reverend Knighton, do you all take baby stuff?" I said, "What you got?" She said, "I got everything. I got the baby bed, I got the bassinet. I got this. I got that." She said, "I don't want to see no more baby stuff. I ain't having no more babies." So she dropped it off. I said, "Bring it to the church, then." And the next day, a 19-year-old girl showed up pregnant and didn't have anything. And she said, "Pastor, can I get some of this stuff?" I said, "Baby, God must have sent that stuff here for you. So, you take it all. Take the baby bed, take the bassinet, take the swing, take the bottle. This lady gave us everything." And I believe, you know, that's how God works. The next day that 19-year-old girl came and we gave her everything.
You know, I always was raised that the church had to meet the needs of the community. So that's one of the reasons why we expanded the clothes closet, we expanded the food pantry. We do a nursing home ministry and we do a prison ministry. We had all these things actively going before the pandemic. We go to the nursing home every fourth Saturday, had service there, take them stuff during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. We also had a relationship with Martin Luther King Community Center. They would call us for somebody that was in need, for an electric bill, medical bill. And if they cleared em, we would help em. So those are the kind of things that we've been doing.
My mentor, Dr. Lionel Lee told me two things. He said, "Whatever you do, leave the world a better place than you found it. And, also, serve your generation." Those are the two things that he told me that I still listen to in my head now. You know, and I tell other young preachers the same thing that he told me. “Leave the world a better place than you found it, and serve your generation.” ‘Serve your generation’ means help wherever I can, make a difference in the world. That means the issues—social, political, economic and spiritual issues of this generation—I can't close my eyes to or turn my back to those. What I have to do is be a part of making a difference. That's how come, at this church, we do all the things that we do, trying to serve the generation, meeting the needs of the people in this generation. I think that's one of the reasons we became active with Together Baton Rouge, so that we could do that, you know, meet the needs of the people.
Meeting here gave white people in this city an opportunity to come to a black church… And it made it easier for black folks to come to meetings because some of them may have been apprehensive about going to white churches… Because this church has a community policy, blacks were welcomed to come here and whites now were at ease in coming here to Together Baton Rouge meetings.
St. Mary has always been active in Together Baton Rouge. We were part of the initial group, along with Dr. Charles Smith, Lee Wesley, the Muslim leader, Dr. Melvin Rushing, and several others that got the organization going. Perry Perkins brought me into Together Baton Rouge. Ohh, Perry Perkins just wore me out. Somebody gave him my name. And then he came, he called me and asked if he could meet with me and told him, "Yeah, come on." And he came and he met with me and he sold himself to me and he sold me on the idea. But we weren't, then, Together Baton Rouge. Before we became Together Baton Rouge, he was collecting black pastors and churches and organizations to start off with, you know. He wanted to get a foundation started with black pastors and black organizations before he expanded it to bring in white churches and white organizations. And he wanted to get a clear foundation because he didn't want the black side to feel neglected. You know, he wanted them to have a clear voice in what was going on. So, you know, that was supposed to be his foundation.
Early on, we had a lot of meetings right here next door in the activity center. Here, Shiloh—had a lot of meetings at Shiloh and other places. Some of the pastors would volunteer, but a lot of the meetings were here, because I told Perry Perkins, you know, you got an open-door policy. Same thing I told Broderick. You have an open door, come on to St. Mary. Because when Broderick was a lead organizer, he wore me out *laughs* They would always come to St. Mary.
Meeting here gave white people in this city an opportunity to come to a black church. And feel safe and comfortable. So, I think that may have been one of the things that Broderick was looking at. Because we have the parking, we have a large church and a large activity center. It was an opportunity for whites in this city to come into a black church and see things on the other side of town. Cause a lot of times they want us to go to the far reaches of Baton Rouge, where a lot of black folks have never been. And it made it easier for black folks to come to meetings because some of them may have been apprehensive about going to white churches, you know, worried about whether or not they'd be welcome and how they would be treated. But because this church has a community policy, blacks were welcomed to come here and whites now were at ease in coming here to Together Baton Rouge meetings.
Broderick and I had a good relationship and I really hated it when Broderick left. I would talk to him honestly. I would talk to both Perry and Broderick honestly about things. And I used to be very blunt with Perry—because I think Perry's from Mississippi or something like that. You know, I'd be very blunt with him about racial relationships and other things. He and I were real close, cause he used to say, "Pastor. I know you just gone sit down and tell me the truth." I'd say, "Definitely, Perry, I'm gone tell you the truth. I'm too old not to tell the truth" *laughs*
I like what Broderick did in terms of training. You know, I liked the training that Together Baton Rouge offered. I learned a lot from him in terms of how to deal with people, how to deal with groups. One of the things Broderick instilled is that when people hear things more than once, you know, then it sticks with em. So now I learned that from him. I learned some things from Perry when we were going to these trainings that we would have, he'd have like these weekend retreats or something that we would have and I learned a lot from those things. I was going with my good buddy, he's deceased now, Rev. Ronald Williams. And then I would send Ms. Dorothy and Ms. Hermoneze from our church, they would go.
Together Baton Rouge has made a major impact on this city. You know, I would attend all the meetings that I could. Especially when, a lot of times, the meetings were here. And when they would go to other places, I attend those that I was able to because I’m still pastoring and working bi-vocational. But I would do all I could. And then Broderick and Perry would worry the hell out of me to be on these other things. Like when we had the big meetings, the gatherings, they’d want me to do something. I was just satisfied in being there, but they would push me out to the forefront right now. But my friend Ronald Williams, he loved being out in the forefront, you know, but, you know, just tell me what you need. I do what you need. You know, if you need some money, I'll give you some money. If you need us to be there—because we had to give a count of how many people from your church, you know, would be at a meeting. So, I'd try to get fifty people from St. Mary to be at these big gatherings, or twenty-five or thirty. I pushed hard for my people to support Together Baton Rouge.
Kip Holden was mayor when the bridge in North Forrest Heights subdivision was closed down. One of my parishioners, Ms. Dorothy Thomas, came to me and I called the mayor about that problem. I called the mayor because I had some rapport with him. I said, "Well, look, you know, over in this part of town, these people are having issues getting to their house because this bridge isn't safe." And he was telling me, "Well, we gone get to it—" like most politicians do, you know—"but we don't really have it in the budget right now." So, you know, and I told her, I said, "Ms. Dorothy I did what I told you I was going to do. I called the mayor, I told him about the problem, he said they're gonna get to it, they just really didn't have the money in the budget right now for that.” And I had told him how it inconvenienced those people in that neighborhood, you know, but it was far from his mind. So then when Together Baton Rouge made it an issue, then that's where they came out and fixed it. Just when the little people in that neighborhood, that subdivision, was fussing about it, he kept putting them off and putting them off. But then with his large organization, you know, both blacks and whites, Methodists, Catholics, put the pressure on em, they fixed the bridge.
Another thing we did early on was the food banks. you know, they were sayin that most people live in a food desert. If there's not a store within a mile of your house, you live in a food desert. You know, then they started doing things like this at a church in Scotlandville, they would give out food there. You know, you could go there and get fruits and vegetables. So Together Baton Rouge stepped up, trying to meet the needs of the people in the neighborhood. And across the city.
The one initiative I tried to work with was when we were working with these large companies like Dow and Exxon, about how they're not paying their fair share of taxes. You know, politicians were giving them a free ride. They were downrating the amount of taxes that they were paying. So, we were trying to get involved with, that was a major move that we were trying to do, to get them to pay taxes. The sheriff, the city, the school, were able the tax them and get more money because, you know, they could have put millions of dollars more into the community than what they were doing. That was one of Broderick's major issues that we all got behind to push that.
My old preacher always told me, "If you come to my house, I'm gone greet you. I'm gone fellowship with you. I'm gone shake your hand, I'm gone make you feel at home." Because the church has to make people feel at home.
When you come to St. Mary, I'm open. Some people don't believe in politicians, organizations, stuff like that, participating and coming to the church. My door is open to everybody. When you come here, I'm gonna recognize you, I'm gonna let you say something. Because let me tell you, when politicians come, I bring em up front. I don't endorse nobody, but anybody comes here, you know. They say, "I'm runnin for this office, pray for me." And the members of the church say, "Rev, why you do that?" And I say, "Because when your children get into trouble, you call me, and I call them. You ain't figured that out yet."
I tell you who one of my favorite people is? The sheriff, Sid Gautreaux. I love Sid Gautreaux. And he a Republican. And I love him. He one of my favorite white people, you know. I ain't got a whole lot of em, but he one of my favorite white people. He can come here anytime. And I tell you, the former chief of police, that the Mayor Holden had, Mr. White. You know, he was very good friend of mine, I loved him, he could come in anytime. He and I socialized. I would invite him to the Mason Ball. He would come with his wife, his sister-in-law—I guess he didn't want to be the only white person there *laughs* He'd buy a table and he'd fill it up with white people *laughs* And everybody in the city saw him there. And you know what that meant to them to see the chief of police at this function? So, you know, I believe in being open and talking to people. Dr. Lionel Lee taught me to be that way. Dr. Lee believed in touching everybody. You know, a lot of stuff that I learned about being active in the community, I learned from him.
Through Together Baton Rouge I met some pastors, both black and white, that I wouldn't have normally met before. And developed good relationships with them. The pastor that was at the—is it the Presbyterian Church off of government? He's retired now. A tall, slender, white fella. Used to always crack me up, telling a lot of jokes. And I got to know him. I got to know Dianne Hanley. Although I was living in North Baton Rouge, I didn't know the pastor at Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church. And several other churches that I met pastors from, I met other people from, you know, and that impressed me. You know, getting to know these people, and sharing meals with em. And when they would always come here, you know, they say, " Oh Lord, we goin back to St. Mary. We goin to see Reverend Knighton, he's gonna treat us nice." My old preacher always told me, "If you come to my house, I'm gone greet you. I'm gone fellowship with you. I'm gone to shake your hand, I'm gone make you feel at home." Because the church has to make people feel at home. You know, that's the role of the church, to make people feel at home. Even if you just visiting, you want to come back. And that's what I did with the people in Together Baton Rouge. When they would come, I'd greet them. When they'd be at the door signing in, I'd greet them.
I learned social skills from the people I met through Together Baton Rouge. Because I tell you what, now, I didn't interact very well with whites. Cause, look, racism has been rampant here in this city for a long time. I'm 65 years old and I've been burnt several times. I remember the first time when I was a child and I had white people call me a nigger. My son and daughter are totally different with whites, you know, because they're in a different world than what I was. They didn't have the experiences that my wife and I had coming up. I don't think they've ever really been called, face-to-face, a nigger, you know, and have people negate your background because you had graduated from Southern, saying that you were inferior. So that's why, sometimes, I have a reluctancy and a hesitance. If you're black and old and this city, you've had some experiences. But that was the thing that impressed me most about Together Baton Rouge. When Perry and Broderick started pulling white organizations in and we expanded, and we sit down together, we talked together, we ate together, we fellowshiped together—that changed my mind and my attitude.
When you're a leader, you have to learn how to listen. You do your best to meet the needs of the people that you're responsible for and you make yourself available. Because a lot of times when people call me as pastor, they just need somebody to listen to them. Pastor, can I come see you? I need to talk to you. So, you have to listen, make yourself available, meet the needs of people in the community, and then not forget your own family. Because sometimes when you get so caught up in being a pastor, being a community leader, you forget about home. And I'll never forget when my wife started calling me pastor and I said, "Why are you calling me pastor?" She said, "Well, I probably can get your attention then." *Laughs* So, when she started calling me pastor, that was my cue that I wasn't giving her enough attention.
Leadership is demanding. And that's why I tell a lot of youngsters who feel they been called in the ministry—because they glamorize it and they see some popular TV preachers or mega pastors, and they think they can imitate that. I say, "Look, you don't understand, being a pastor is a major responsibility. It ain't the glamor you think it is." Because you start getting calls at 2:00 and 3:00 o'clock in the morning, Can you help me get my child out of jail? Or, My child, my husband is transitioning, they about to pass. I just want you to let you know that my husband is transitioning. And they say you ain't got to come, but what that means is they really need you. So then my wife would say, "Where are you going?" I say, "They called me, so that means they need me." So, I put my clothes on, in thirty minutes I'm at the hospital. And they say, Well, pastor, you didn't have to come. But the next thing I know, that's all they needed was to see my face, hear my voice. They needed me to pray with them, hold their hands. So, leadership requires a great deal of sacrifice.