Leading with Curiosity: A TBR Oral History with Glenn Linzer
Glenn Linzer is a TBR leader from University Baptist Church (UBC). A native of New Iberia, Louisiana, he initially connected with UBC during his time as a student at LSU. After growing up in a close-knit small town, his move to the city offered Glenn a fuller perspective on life in the United States and around the world. Taking on a new mentors and making friends from all over the world, he had the opportunity to sharpen his curiosity about people in the place that he would come to call home. Shortly after graduating from LSU, Glenn took on a job teaching at Istrouma High School. This experience was a formative one that would go on to inform his future work organizing and educating for equal opportunity across East Baton Rouge Parish. Now employed in real estate, Glenn has a passion for working with minority investors, helping them to accumulate generational wealth and push back against stereotypes. As a TBR leader, Glenn has learned a great deal under the mentorship of folks like Dianne Hanley and Edgar Cage. In his oral history, Glenn reflects on faith, justice work, and his growth as a leader.
Photo by Lily Brooks
They really did go out of their way to be nice to everybody. To extend kindness to everybody. They never tried to force someone into believing what they did, or never tried to shutdown anybody who believed differently.
I was born in Lafayette, but I grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana. Cajun country. Small-town, still is. We had one public high school. A very racially integrated environment. It was a great experience. It seems like everybody in New Iberia was Catholic except my family and maybe one or two other families. I was raised Pentecostal, so we were the odd family out *laughs* But it was a good environment. A sheltered environment. Now as a grown-up I look back on those years and realize just how sheltered my life was. I had great parents who were ever present. Doing the usual things parents do. Working and taking care of home life and pushing us to be the best we can. I grew up thinking that my parents were very strict, but in hindsight maybe not so much. There were rules and behaviors to follow and consequences when they weren’t.
My dad only had a first-grade education. He began working at 9 years old in the sugar cane fields of the plantation where he grew up. He later worked at sugar mill and then at Amoco Corporation, a company that provided fertilizer to the owners of the sugar cane fields. New Iberia and the surrounding towns have lots of sugar cane fields. And my mom was a nurse. My parents had eleven children. Their oldest child died when she was about a year or two old. I have learned that the mortality rate of babies among African Americans was very high in families of my parents’ generation. Years later, in 2019, I would experience the loss of a younger sister. So, there's nine of us now, including myself. I have eight surviving siblings, five brothers and three sisters. There is a four-year gap between me and my four oldest siblings and a five-year gap between me and my three youngest siblings.Read more
Doing Good Work: A TBR Oral History w/ Ms. Mary Mikell
Mary Mikell is a lifelong member of University Presbyterian Church. Growing up during the Civil Rights era, she saw her home church divided over the issue of integration. While many members left the church, most remained. Led by then-pastor Arch Tolbert, the congregation worked for issues of social justice. Grateful for her upbringing in an institution that stood for justice no matter the consequences, Ms. Mikell would go on to devote much of her adult life to equity work. Her volunteer involvements and career in social work have seen her serve in various capacities—as a listening ear to the suicidal, an emotional support to Leprosy patients, and a counselor to students in under-resourced public schools. Together Baton Rouge has helped Ms. Mikell become a more effective agent of change by working among a diverse community of fellow civic leaders. In addition to supervising an LSU social work intern for the past two academic years, she serves on the Criminal Justice Action Team and remains engaged in ongoing legislative work.
I remember my mom would always say, "Use your best judgment." And I thought, "Ooh, that's a hell of a thing to strap on me. How do I rebel against that?" [..] She wouldn't tell you; it was up to you to decide. Which was great practice.
I grew up in University Presbyterian Church (UPC). My parents met in grad school at LSU but they're not from here. My parents came, met, and then my dad worked at LSU. So, growing up in the fifties, my family was odd. Everybody else had cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents for the holidays and we didn't. We basically just had this church which became our local family. UPC was very formative in my growing up. Even though it was the '50s and the '60s, I grew up very socially aware and very socially conscious and because of that was a little bit odd with my friends. They were used to kind of the Southern ways. Southern parents, Southern attitudes, Southern styles, and mine just weren't like that. Those of us who were odd—there were a couple of us families at the church—we gravitated together.
I grew up during the Civil Rights Era. This church was different. My parents were different. They were very pro-integration and pro-Civil Rights and talked to us openly about the way you treat people and the way you don't treat people. What you say and what you don't say and that a person's worth is not contingent on where they come from, what they look like, or what they do.Read more
'Serve Your Generation': A TBR Oral History w/ Rev. Conway Knighton
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.Read more
Community-Minded: A TBR Oral History w/ Press Robinson
Dr. Press Robinson is the Lay Leader of Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church, where he has been a member for some fifty-five years. The first African American to be elected to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, serving three separate terms as its president, Dr. Robinson is a longtime community activist who believes in equity for all in every segment of our lives. He has demonstrated his interest in impacting the lives of people in our communities through a number of civic and political activities, and more than 42 years of service in the Southern University System as a professor, administrator, campus chancellor, and system vice president.
When the emancipation came along, a lot of those people didn't leave the area where they had been enslaved because they didn't know where to go. They needed to make a living and to eat and to survive. So, they stayed right there, even though they might not have been in slavery anymore.
I can remember back to probably around 5 or 6 years old. My mom and dad were farmers. We lived between Florence and a place called Claussen, South Carolina. Claussen was just a crossroads with one store. But it was where my dad, and mom and all those were born, you know. A lot of the ancestry that I'm trying to do right now with my family, a lot of people were born and raised in Claussen, died in Claussen. Some of them and/or their descendants still live in Claussen. Our church, Salem Methodist, was and still is in Claussen.
I don't know a lot about my grandparents, but from what I can find, they were pretty much born and reared around Claussen, too. Of course, in those days, many of my ancestors were born, lived, worked, and probably died on what was called the McMillen plantation. They called them townships, but there were plantations. That's what they were. There were white owners and there were black slaves who worked the fields and houses of the plantation. And when the emancipation came along, a lot of those people didn't leave the area where they had been enslaved because they didn't know where to go. They needed to be to make a living and to eat and to survive. So, they stayed right there, even though they might not have been in slavery anymore. And many of their descendants are still in those areas.
Still On Fire: A TBR Oral History with Dianne Hanley
Dianne Hanley holds a Master of Pastoral Studies from Loyola University New Orleans. She was trained by the Sisters of the Cenacle to facilitate groups in Ignatian Spirituality. Dianne has served as a leader of Together Baton Rouge and Together Louisiana since 2010. She is an Associate of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. She has served on the Congregation of St. Joseph Anti-Racism Committee and worked with the Diocesan Racial Harmony Committee. She is the former Executive Director of the St. Joseph Spirituality Center, which provided spiritual development opportunities for adults in the Baton Rouge area.
I surprised myself, because I wasn't encouraged in my family to go to college. I was kind of scared. But my older sister had worked her way through college. So it was like, “Ok I can do this. I guess I can do this.” It was an eye-opening, blossoming experience. And I ended up graduating Magna Cum Laude from LSU.
My name is Dianne Hanley and I am with an organization called Spirit and Justice that I helped found about two years ago. I have also been with St. George Catholic Church, a former member institution, and St. Paul Catholic Church, a current member institution of Together Baton Rouge.
I was born in Donaldsonville. My dad’s uncle was the family doctor who delivered me. But I grew up in New Roads until 5th grade where I went to a Catholic school run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. That had a huge impact on my life. My father came from generations of Cajun Catholics and my mother was a convert to Catholicism. When I was in 4th grade, my parents actually signed up to do missionary work in Guatemala and moved our family with 7 kids there. My dad’s missionary work was to do dentistry for the poor. We didn’t proselytize; we evangelized more with our actions than with words. This was a powerful experience for a 4th grader. I was put in a classroom where no one else spoke English. This really affected my view on things.
When we returned to Louisiana for my 5th grade year, the nuns decided to integrate the Catholic school. So, I saw the impact of integration on a lot of my friends. My closest friend's parents pulled out all 6 of their kids from the school. The parents started a new private school that was not integrated. And that made me wonder about why this Catholic family would leave a Catholic school and form another private school rather than be in a Catholic school. And of course, I learned that it was because black students were being brought in through integration and these families didn't want their kids in school with them. My parents believed that integration was the right thing and so we stayed.Read more