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This blog series will focus on the Baton Rouge community and issues we, as a young professional organization, can make an impact or start a discussion on.


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Top tags: baton rouge  community  diversity  inclusion  mental health  voting 

There are no small, unimportant elections

Posted By Jessica Keasler, Wednesday, October 31, 2018

“There are no small, unimportant elections,” said Michael Victorian, member of 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge, Ltd, to a full room on LSU’s campus Tuesday morning. I was already planning on voting in this election but hearing his words I was compelled to go the polls for early voting.  


As a leader of Forum 35, I was invited to attend the Civic Engagement Breakfast, which featured a panel of community leaders. The breakfast was part of a symposium put on by LSU: Behind the Ballot: Examining the Influences and Trends Driving Modern Elections, featuring two days packed full of topics and amazing speakers.


The overall message was clear among the panelists, civic engagement begins with voting. Donald Cravins, Jr. of the National Urban League echoed that message saying ‘Some of you will be disappointed when your candidate doesn’t win. Some will be disappointed when your candidate wins but turns out to not be who you thought. Civic engagement isn’t just one vote. It’s showing up and engaging in conversation.' This really resonated with me, especially upon hearing the statistics that half of millennials aren’t voting. I used to be part of that non-voting cohort.


As the largest workplace, and group with the largest buying power, millennials should be a proportionally large influential group when it comes to politics. So, here is my challenge to you: vote on November 6th. Vote again on December 8th. Go to the polls every time there is an opportunity to. Don’t let the results of the elections stop your engagement. Let your elected officials know where you stand on issues. Go to public meetings, council meetings and use other venues to find out information on issues that matter to you. Get engaged.


As members of Forum 35, we all want a better Baton Rouge, it’s in our mission statement after all. Exercising your right to vote and following that up with civic engagement is definitely a way to work toward our mission. We may not all agree on every issue/candidate, but I strongly believe we ought to not only be the voice behind change, but be the action that causes it.




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Tags:  voting 

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Proud to Progress

Posted By Angela Schifani, Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Since the New York Stonewall Riots in 1969, activists, advocates and allies have been fighting to improve inclusion, protection and equal treatment of LGBTQ people in the U.S. While those initial protests began in the Big Apple, activities such as Pride Month, occur in cities across the country—even in our very own Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


Baton Rouge is the capital of Louisiana, a conservative state. Politics aside, conservative ideals have been historically associated with a delay in accepting the LGBTQ community. As expected, Louisiana does not necessarily have a reputation of being particularly “gay-friendly.” Since Forum 35 works to improve the city of Baton Rouge for all of its residents, we hosted a Pride Month survey! For this survey, we polled our members and other locals on their thoughts regarding how our city treats the LGBTQ community.


Disclaimer: we only received 31 responses to our survey, so we won't dive deep into the numbers. But we will take a look at a few statements given in the comments section, because I think they could shed some light on why Forum 35 felt the need to create the survey in the first place.


“We have many great progressive community organizations and events like BR Pride to create this culture of inclusiveness. However, city policies to actually protect citizens and thereby attract economic opportunities are greatly lacking.” -Anonymous survey respondent


We know that times change. New discoveries, ideas and technology move us forward through social and biological evolution. We as people have to change too in order to fit in the growing landscape around us. Much of Forum 35’s efforts focus on Baton Rouge’s ability to attract and maintain residents who can help keep the city relevant and progressing. In order to compete with other cities, we need to consider changing some of our “old fashioned” ideologies, practices and legislation.


“I think many business leaders and younger generations realize the importance of inclusivity and want to preserve it. Our elected officials are the ones that seem to have a harder time coming out in favor.” -Anonymous survey respondent


We keep saying that children are the future. We don’t have to develop existential dread right now, but we have to face the facts: as we age, we get closer to not being around anymore. So, quite literally, youth are the future. If younger generations are focusing on inclusivity, the rest of us should probably listen.


So what does that mean? We, the residents of Baton Rouge, should examine our landscape! What types of public events do we host for each other? Which venues and spaces are welcoming to everyone who lives in Baton Rouge? What laws do we have in place that protect or hurt our neighbors? Which services and resources could be helpful to those that are disenfranchised?


We want to hear from you! We want to know what Baton Rouge is doing right, and what we could improve, in terms of being inclusive to our LGBTQ residents. Forum 35 will start the conversation by providing a list of local groups that serve those who identify as LGBTQ, as well as other resources that have LGBTQ-informed services. This list may not be comprehensive, so please feel free to add to it in the comments below!


Advocacy Organizations

Baton Rouge Pride Fest

Capital City Alliance

Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of Baton Rouge

Pride 1

Progressive Social Network


Student Groups

First Contact at Louisiana State University

Gay Alliance for Legal Equality (GALE) at Southern University

OUTlaw at Louisiana State University

Spectrum at Louisiana State University

The Student Equality Project at Louisiana State University


Health Services

HIV/Aids Alliance Region II (HAART)

Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response Center (STAR)

The Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center


Self Defense & Safety

Operation Blazing Sword


Recreation & Social

George’s Place

Red Stick Roller Derby

Splash Nightclub


Tags:  diversity  inclusion 

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A Courageous Conversation: Building an Inclusive Community

Posted By Monique Harris & Chelsea Borruano, Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I don’t see color.” This statement is often said in an attempt to showcase an appreciation for diversity and acceptance of those that may be different from one’s self, but by the end of this blog post I hope you’ll think twice before using it again.

At this year’s Diversity Summit, Building an Inclusive Community, the panelists tackled inclusion’s role as the second wave of diversity and its importance.

About 15 minutes into the panel discussion, I regretted not being able to record it. The dialogue between our esteemed panelists was so authentic, vulnerable and insightful, both Chelsea and I knew we had to somehow capture the takeaways. So, we did that by getting together on a beautiful afternoon and having a real talk about diversity and ultimately, inclusion in our community.

I could dedicate this post to simply recapping who said what, but instead I’d like to share the insights that all seem to hinge on a central theme: diversity is being invited to the a party, inclusion is getting asked to dance.

One of our panelists shared a story in which he and his best friends were on their annual guys trip when his friend said, “man I don’t see you as black.” The panelist replied to his friend that there wasn’t a day that he didn’t know his friend was white. He injected that for someone to be colorblind means that you can’t fully see another because who you are is a direct result of your experience, and part of that experience is a result of your culture, your background.

The panel echoed this sentiment, and suggested that we grow together and we grow as a community when we give people the space to be themselves, their whole selves. Not having to check part of their identity at the door; that is what inclusivity is.

This matters to our community because, when there is a brain drain of people leaving for other places they feel more accepted, we all lose. We lose talented people, we lose prospective jobs, we lose solutions, and we lose community enrichment. For our city to continue to blossom, it is imperative we become inclusive to all of our residents.

Through multiple examples, the panelists shared ways in which they leaned into difficult conversations with an open mind, and simply kept asking questions without judgement.

How do you create inclusivity? You ask questions. You seek to gain more understanding of someone else’s experience. The starting place is acknowledging someone’s story without judgement; listening to seek to understand, not to offer a rebuttal. “I can't hear you when you’re screaming.” The core is being vulnerable to one another’s humanity. This challenge is what they left us with.

And now I’d like to challenge all of us to do the same. I hope that in your daily conversations you’ll lean into what can sometimes be the discomfort to learn more about someone else. I hope that you won’t work to be colorblind (or gender blind or any other type of blind), but rather work to see people as they are and as they share themselves to be. I too, am working on this daily. When I hear someone offer an opinion varying from mine, instead of immediately rebutting, I default on asking them follow up questions on why they hold that belief. In the short few weeks of practicing this, I’ve found myself growing to understand those around me on a deeper level than I expected.

We should all be having these conversations, with our peers, and with people who are culturally different from us. If you’re interested in learning more about this initiative and continuing the discussion, let us know by emailing  

Tags:  baton rouge  community  diversity  inclusion 

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“I am still in the middle of my story. I fear it will never end.”

Posted By Chelsea Borruano, MESH & You Aren't Alone Project, Wednesday, June 13, 2018

“I am still in the middle of my story. I fear it will never end.” -Mental Health poll respondent   

May was Mental Health Awareness Month. May was also followed by June, and the deaths of two prominent, influential, driven and passionate people who took their own lives. It's heartbreaking. It’s painful. It’s shocking—hearing about public figures, people who we've adored, committing suicide. But it shouldn't be a reminder that depression is one of the most dangerous of diseases. It shouldn't be the only time we consider what our cities and states are doing for mental and behavioral health. It shouldn't be the only time we think to look out for the "signs" which, by the way, are often hidden behind that smile or passion or drive.


Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain—they committed suicide last week, but let's not forget the average of 123 neighbors or classmates or loved ones each day that see no other way out of this desperate fight. Each year 44,965 Americans die by suicide. For every suicide, 25 others attempt it. Being kind to someone who is sad may cheer them up and brighten their day, but just being kind to someone with depression is not enough. They—we—need actual professional, possibly medical, and maybe holistic help. And sometimes we need someone to take that step with us, because depression is a lonely, dark, hopeless road that none of us should have to travel alone.


In May, we also asked you, the young professional community here in Baton Rouge, to give us your feedback, thoughts and experiences with mental health in our city. This is what you told us…


“Including federal matching dollars, the total cuts to the Louisiana Department of Health would amount to over half a billion dollars, compromising mental health services and substance abuse treatment programs when temporary revenue measures expire on July 1.”


Out of 24 respondents, 83% of you do not support these proposed budget cuts.


100% support health insurance coverage for the treatment of behavioral health.


96% of respondents answered yes to the question, “Do you suffer from or know someone who suffers from a mental illness?” and one respondent was “unsure” (we get that).

That same percentage has sought or knows someone who has successfully sought treatment for a mental health condition.


And lastly, only 8% feel Baton Rouge is adequately supporting behavioral health and addressing these issues among our community—that’s 80% who answered no and 12% who are unsure.


We also touched on the key factors that may keep someone from seeking treatment:

“money, being stigmatized
cost of treatment if insurance was unavailable
Cost and lack of knowledge on knowing where to go for help
lack of available resource
quality of treatment
and fear of disclosure
there are few options for holistic health in Baton Rouge


There is definitely a theme. Stigma, cost, lack of resources – we all see the same issues, so the question now is, what are we going to do about it?


Since this survey, there’s been at least one positive mental health initiative for our city. Last week Mayor Broome announced the creation of an EMS mental health program, CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management). According to Broome, the CISM team will assist medics in coping with day-to-day work stresses and other mental health burdens that can arise from the workload, call volume, and the nature of certain emergency response situations. We challenge the community to expand on that. Bring this team out to the public as a Mental Health EMS squad. Obviously we’re just throwing ideas out there, BUT we’d like to see the young professionals in this community do something more with their ideas.


If you would like to be a part of this discussion and make an impact on mental health in our community, get in touch with us by emailing

Tags:  baton rouge  community  mental health 

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