A video showing Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers Jr. calling out East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Connie Bernard has gone viral, capturing the national media attention and receiving mention from celebrities on social media.
In the video, Chambers is seen criticizing Bernard, who appears to be shopping online amid discussion of the history of Robert E. Lee during the public comments portion regarding the renaming of Lee High School. Bernard has reportedly said she simply neglected to close a pop-up ad that was on her laptop screen, though the explanation was disputed by several observers of her behavior that evening.
Since the video was posted Thursday night, popular figures such as LeBron James and Ava DuVernay have shared it on social media. It’s garnered hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and more than 1 million views on Instagram.
“The attention is a reflection of who we are and where our country is right now,” Chambers tells Daily Report. “The real question is, while the world is looking at [Baton Rouge], do we get it? My hope is that we get to work and not have these superficial kumbaya moments of hope and progress.”
Chambers today spoke on MSNBC’s Morning Joe talk show, where he discussed the incident and its significance in relation to the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement. It marks the first of what Chambers says will be several more interviews with national media that have been scheduled this week.
“What’s happening in Baton Rouge is what’s happening for black folks all over America,” Chambers told Princeton University professor Eddie Glaude Jr. during the 10-minute segment. “The frustrations exist, and you see folks showing up, advocating and leaning in on their local government because all politics is local.”
Chambers, who has amassed some 161,000 Instagram followers, says he’s been “overwhelmed” and “humbled” by the support he’s gotten from public figures, mentioning a phone call he got yesterday from former NFL player Deion Sanders. Ultimately, however, he hopes it leads to the takedown of more Confederate monuments statewide, the renaming of local streets named after Confederate generals and a Baton Rouge public school being named after a significant black person in Louisiana’s history, among other structural changes.
Chambers has called for Bernard’s resignation, and is pushing for local officials to do the same. He said he was “disappointed” that the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, despite announcing its support of the effort to rename Lee High, has not yet called for Bernard to step down. (Daily Report was unable to ask BRAC for comment before this morning’s deadline).
However, the school board cannot forcibly remove a fellow board member from office; instead, the member can either be asked to resign or constituents can sign a recall position calling for a member’s removal.
While school board members have previously expressed their intention to rename Lee High, the school system still needs to convene a special naming committee to come up with alternatives. The board plans to select a new name at its July 16 meeting.
The board is preparing a statement regarding the incident, which had not been released by this morning’s deadline.