If Baton Rouge is to ever get serious about becoming a better place, residents must “get beyond the white noise, reject the echo chambers on either side of the spectrum, and find a place where we can all agree,” says Raymond Jetson, CEO and president of nonprofit MetroMorphosis
So how do we get there? By using data, he said this afternoon to members of the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.
“What we need most is something that is above all of the things we may have disagreements about,” Jetson said. “I believe data that is unbiased, void of an agenda, affords us the opportunity to have a shared conversation about who we are, where we’re headed and are we actually getting there.”
When it comes to data, the devil is in the details. Statistics, he says, are like swimwear—what they reveals is interesting, but what they cover up is vital. For instance, Louisiana ranks last among states on the 2017 Opportunity Index, with East Baton Rouge Parish scoring just 42.4 out of a possible 100 points.
But when it comes to opportunity in Baton Rouge, Jetson says geography matters. In the 70808 zip code, the number of children impacted by poverty is under 10%, while 64% of children in the 70805 area live in poverty. Also, he noted, of the 20,000 students suspended or expelled in East Baton Rouge Parish public schools, 18,000 were black males.
These might be numbers we want to pay attention to and agree on, he said.
“Community improvement in Baton Rouge is impossible without addressing black males,” Jetson said. “The numbers associated with African-American boys and men stand out. It’s what the numbers reveal. We spend so much time arguing about who and what—we rarely ever get around to why. What’s beneath the numbers and what might change them?”
To change this trajectory, Baton Rouge has to understand who and what is really making a difference in our community, Jetson said. Who are the actors, businesses and organizations that have a “catalytic impact” or can be an anchor to turn lives around?
Jetson pointed to Tony’s Seafood in north Baton Rouge and 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge as examples.
“Who are the others and where are they?” Jetson asked. “So often we have a deficit-based narrative—here’s what’s wrong—rather than understanding what’s already there. What can we build upon? Who are the anchors?”