Building community in Baton Rouge, one garden at a time
Last month, StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to downtown Chicago, Illinois, to record the stories of chief service officers from city administrations across the nation. CSOs described the impact that different community development initiatives have had on their cities as part of Cities of Service, a coalition of mayors from metropolitan areas that represent nearly 20 million Americans in the United States.
Kia Bickham, the CSO for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, spoke about the Love Your Block Initiative, a program that distributes small grants to citizen committees for the greening and beautification of city blocks, work that is mainly carried out by community volunteers. Kia explained how the implementation of that initiative has changed the urban environments of many historically black Baton Rouge neighborhoods that have been affected by decades of urban decay.
In response the needs of different communities, neighbors, local leaders, and students from Louisiana State University volunteered to build community gardens around the city. Kia remembers “getting the chills” at the site of a mob of volunteers on a day of service that was reminiscent of the civil rights marches of the 1960's in the South. Today, these gardens are prime gathering spaces for people in the neighborhood and have provided opportunities for at-risk youth, teaching them about responsibility and keeping them off the streets.
Reflecting on the success of the community garden programs in the city, Kia says, “I just want others to love their block and love Baton Rouge as much as I do.” And Kia is getting just that: The Love Your Block Initiative has propelled community participation and solidarity by allowing citizens to take ownership of their blocks and develop a sense of belonging and pride.