Dorothy Thomas is a fifty-year member of St. Mary’s Baptist Church. After growing up on her father’s farm in St. James Parish, she moved to Baton Rouge to raise a family and ended up finding a career as a nurse. She first became involved in Together Baton Rouge by spearheading an effort to reopen the Blue Grass Bridge that leads into her neighborhood, North Forest Subdivision. Since that action, she’s stayed involved as one of our most consistent and committed leaders. Whether she’s making hundreds of turn-out calls, working with neighbors to canvass her whole precinct before an election, or pressing the Mayor and City Council for better infrastructure maintenance, Ms. Dorothy simply gets things done. In her narrative, she reflects on her growth as a leader during the Blue Grass Bridge campaign and describes what it means to belong to the Together Baton Rouge family.
Photo by Lily Brooks
I was outside, mostly. Not like most girls, I used to be out with my father, out in the fields. Most of the time, really, when we weren’t at school, I helped my dad in the fields because he had a big farm… And even right now I do a lot outside ‘cause that’s what I’m used to doin’. I work in my flower beds, sometimes cut my yard.
I grew up in St. James Parish. My dad was a farmer, my mom had fourteen children, had two sets of twins but they all died except one. We went to school in Lutcher, that’s a couple of miles from where I lived. For elementary, I went to St. Martin, that’s a smaller school, then from there to Cypress Grove High, where I played basketball, I was a cheerleader, and I was Homecoming Queen one year.
So, I grew up on a farm. I was outside, mostly. Not like most girls, I used to be out with my father, out in the fields. Most of the time, really, when we weren’t at school, I helped my dad in the fields because he had a big farm. When I was growing up, all of us siblings wasn’t there together, because the older ones had gotten married and moved. So, about four of us that was there, we helped our dad, and then he had a few others that worked for him. I was outside most of the time, doin’ stuff on the farm. And even right now I do a lot outside ‘cause that’s what I’m used to doin’. I work in my flower beds, sometimes cut my yard.
On Friday, November 13th Together Louisiana and Together Baton Rouge organized a rally at the Board of Commerce and Industry meeting. This action came in response to the revelation that Marathon Oil had altered public records in order to circumvent new, stricter regulations on ITEP applications. Despite the recent defeat of Amendment 5 and other, recent ITEP victories across the state, this latest request was yet another example of the staunch opposition and corruption that we are facing in our fight against corporate welfare.
The news about Marathon Oil’s fraudulent actions came to us with little time to act. I myself had not heard about the rally until Thursday afternoon. With little time, my colleagues and I had to make sure there were going to be enough people to make a powerful statement to the Board that enough is enough. On top of that, our Mayoral Accountability Assembly was coming up, and we were scrambling to make the final touches on the agenda for that meeting. Despite the workload, we scrambled into action, reaching out to our list of faithful Block Captains.
As the nation held its collective breath on election day (and for another four days afterward), members of Together Louisiana were able to let out a small sigh of relief over a major, local political victory. Constitutional Amendment 5 would have granted hundreds of millions of dollars in future property tax exemptions to the richest corporations operating in Louisiana, further diverting funds from the state's cash-strapped public services. The people of Louisiana need that funding, so they fought for it. And they won.
A few participants in our "Vote No On 5" Campaign have offered their thoughts on what it felt like to be a part of this victory:
On October 20th, we celebrated the birthday of our Senior Organizer, Mr. Khalid Hudson. Although we are in the thick of election season, COVID-19, and a whole host of other important issues, it is important to remember that relationships are at the core of everything we do with Together Baton Rouge.
There could be no stronger testament to the strength of these relationships than the celebration we organized for our Senior Organizer. Phillip, Abel and I came up with the idea to gather a group of leaders from our member institutions via Zoom. One member, Ms. Dorothy Thomas, exhibited her baking prowess by preparing Khalid’s favorite 7-Up cake! Despite his only being in Baton Rouge for a relatively short time, over a dozen leaders from throughout the city gathered on Zoom and expressed their gratitude for the support and guidance they’ve received from Mr. Hudson.
This raises the question – why do we focus on relationship building? When Saul Alinsky began the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council and, after that, the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), he was largely focused on issues-based organizing. Although he brought diverse groups together around certain community issues, once those issues were resolved, that was it. As a result, many IAF organizations dissolved after a few years once their organizers left and there was no longer a common cause to fight for. Since then, IAF organizations such as Together Baton Rouge have become much more focused on relationship building as the main avenue for achieving long-term change.