October 13th: Angola Prison Rodeo and Arts & Crafts Festival

Yesterday, a group of 8 enthusiastic LSU students and staff traveled to Angola, Louisiana to visit the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola (LSP).  We left the main LSU campus in Baton Rouge bright and early at 7:45 am on Sunday morning and arrived at Angola Prison just before the gates opened for the Rodeo and Arts & Crafts festival at 9:00 AM.  Students met with Gary Young, Media Relations for LSP where they learned more about the inmate population and the significance of the Rodeo and hobby craft sales.  From there, we explored the Arts & Crafts area with a keen eye on speaking with inmates about their talents and hobbies.  Students were challenged to think more globally about leadership and how leaders emerge in cultural situations.  They were also challenged to consider the juxtapositions of the criminal behavior versus re-entry or rehabilitation.  In the afternoon, we tried delicious festival eats like Fried Coke, slushies, catfish, hot pretzals and lemonade before meeting Wardon Burl Cain.  Believe it or not, we were luck enough to be a large part of the press conference about the Rodeo!  From there, we took our seats for the “Wildest Show in the South” and truly began to understand the draw of rodeo.  Although it was a long, very hot day…that ended with over 3 hours of traffic…we all agreed that a wonderful time and great learning experience was had by all!

We learned what it means to LEAD Louisiana!

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“Small Town, Big Business” in Monroe/West Monroe, LA

On Saturday, February 28, LSU students and staff made a 3.5 hour trek up the Mississippi River to visit the birthplace of CenturyLink, Delta Airlines, and Duck Commander-the twin cities of Monroe and West Monroe.  We began the day with a tour of the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s campus, without which the rural region would be lost financially (think $150 million impact yearly).  Pausing for lunch at Fieldhouse, run by a former ULM athlete and now a huge booster of the university, we then ventured to the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens.  The Biedenharns are a Monroe family who were the first in the whole WORLD to bottle Coca-Cola in the 1890s and today help to keep arts and culture alive in northeast Louisiana.  The group ended the day with a pit stop at Duck Commander Headquarters, where we got a special “behind the scenes” peek at how a small business that began in a trailer 40 years ago has morphed into a multi-million dollar household name while keeping family values intact.  We enjoyed our day in “Sportsman’s Paradise” exploring this small town with very big business.

Promises?

Thought chow:

Mayor Sherbin Collette says that he never makes a promise.

Here he reminds us that we are not perfect and that there are so many things out of our control that we really cannot make promises; that does not mean we cannot hope or plan. Promises are expected to be kept and fulfilled; but, in reality, events may not work out as originally planned. In this sense, the sense of imperfect, promises truly cannot be made since the future is uncertain and broken promises cause stirred emotions and disappointment.

But, are there certain things we can promise? What other thoughts do you have?

 

Gateway to the Atchafalaya Basin in Henderson, LA

On Saturday, November 9, 2013 while the LSU Tigers were preparing to battle Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a group of 12 of us headed to Henderson, LA near Lafayette for the Atchafalaya Basin festival.  We were greeted at this small town festival by Gary Simon, the organizer, who share some of the festival’s history and purpose.  From there, we sampled the best gumbo and fish courtboullion from the more than 10 groups who entered in the annual cook-off.  We mingled with the locals for a car show and small silent auction before settling for a few hours of outstanding Cajun/Swamp Pop style music from Jamie Bergeron and the Kickin’ Cajuns.

Watching the locals dance and sing opened our eyes to how strong this small community is.  then we had the chance to speak with the Mayor of Henderson, Mr. Sherbin Coulette.  He is a character and a story-teller (to say the least)!  Mr. Collette talked politics, the flood of 2011 and spoke confidently about his faith in God.  He is a fisherman by trade and still fishes every morning with his wife.  He really is an outstanding force in keeping Henderson on the map and on the minds of other politicians in the state.

We departed Henderson with our stomachs full and eyes open to what life is like in the Basin.  It was a beautiful day for a small town festival in Louisiana.

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It’s More Then Just “Duck Dynasty” or Mardi gras!

Coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, the state of Louisiana is often forgotten about in our thoughts about the United States. If anyone has ever had any connections with Louisiana, it is often misconceptions about Louisiana—such as the newest TV hit “Duck Dynasty” or about a time when they traveled down to New Orleans to celebrate the lively, yet eccentric world of Mardi gras. Due to these limited perceptions, people tend to be misled about the traditional way of life in the majority of Louisianan communities, which tell a much solemn story to how life really is. But that’s about to change.

Upon arriving in the small bayou town of Larose, Louisiana, our group was immediately greeted with a sincere welcoming, as we had been a part of their town all along. Soon after, I instantly noticed the network of community bonding at its best: several dozen residents were working together in the kitchen, to smoothly bake and transport food to the festival. Dozens of multi-generational families had come together under one large pavilion to promote their culture by cooking delicious homemade dishes. A few community members spread their experiences through live music entertainment, which brought numerous people together to support the small country bands and created a nonjudgmental atmosphere for residents to partake in recreational Cajun dancing. The majority of the town knew everyone by their first names and always had something complementing to say to each other. However, it was the perseverance of the community which was the most remarkable.

Beneath the cooking and entertainment, there was a story of hardship and devastation. Besides having to deal with the frequent hurricanes that visit the Louisianan coast, the community of Larose has been battling with the overwhelming effects of the BP oil spill in 2010, as well as the fear of the rapidly declining coastal regions. Many of their residents lost their jobs and threat of limited fresh water and food came upon them. With the help of a few people, the whole community was able to overcome these challenges once more, and continue to live their lives as if nothing had ever occurred at all. For most of the United States, people often ignored the oil spill as a “minor accident” because they couldn’t imagine the suffering these people experienced or how much this affected their daily lives. But listening to Celeste’s story brought a sense of sympathy in my heart, and made me understand the TRUE way of life for Louisianans.

So, what does leadership mean to me? It’s a group of people sacrificing every last resource you have, in order to bring the community together for prosperity and restoration. It’s not giving up, showing support for each other, and continuing the traditions of your lives. From traveling to Larose, I feel now it’s my responsibility to help inform my homeland about true Louisianan lifestyles, because with the impeding problems of coastal erosion, a remarkable lifestyle may be lost and forgotten.Image

–Crawfish etouffee

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–Live Entertainment by Seabrook

From Food that is Bland to Cajun Land!

Through Lead LA, LSU offered to its students a chance to travel far and wide to distinct cultural areas of Louisiana. I was able to travel to Larose, LA, where every year the French Food Festival takes place. 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the festival. I was so happy to see elements of my hometown and ethnic culture applied towards an annually successful festival. From meat pies to boudin balls to a spicy fiddler and her band, the French Food Festival does a great job at capturing the Cajun and Creole heritage, traditions, foods, and culture of Louisiana.

What does it take to cultivate and condense the rich LA culture into one small civic center–the only community establishment for social extravaganzas in Larose? Just how is this French Food Festival managed and executed? I did a little research to find out.

From the close of the previous festival, planning for the next one begins. Throughout the year and leading up to mid-October, funds are raised in Larose to hire the band (Amanda Shaw), security, carnival rides, and to rent the Civic Center. All the food is made by private families and sold in booths under a 1.2 million dollar pavilion at the festival. (All the money used to build the new pavilion designed specifically for the French Food Festival was donated! This shows the support for the Cajun culture is quite strong in Larose.) Workers at each food booth are family members and business persons of the food being sold at the booth. Though selling the food is profitable, each booth does pay a fee to have a booth. As for drawing people to come to the event, not much work is needed. Director of the Festival said that “each year, the festival is highly anticipated by the residents of Larose and surrounding cities. People just love to come and celebrate the music, the food, and the culture that really embodies Louisiana. They are proud of who they are and where they come from.”

I will add that after half a semester at LSU (I am a freshman) and half a semester of Baton Rouge food and typical overrated chain restaurants, the food down in Larose really hit home for me. Even though it was only a few hours, I am so thankful that I was given the chance to turn down what is bland and to savor the culture of Louisiana down in Cajun Land!

Geaux Tigers and Geaux Cajuns!

A delicious trip!

It is an amazing trip. We saw how a Cajun community worked out a perfect combination of French-style food, live band performance, auction, carnival, watching football game, drinking and hanging out on ONE festival! It exemplifies how to preserve one of the most important parts of a culture, food, in this big melting pot. It is also a great time for families in the local community to reunite, brings attention to local communities and preserve the diversity of cultures in the world.

 

-Peng

French Food Festival 10/27

Yesterday, 12 LSU students ventured to the “end of the world” to attend the 40th Annual French Food Festival in LaRose, Louisiana (about 2 hours southeast of Baton Rouge in rural Lafourche Parish).  This small community of about 5,000 citizens is situated directly on the water: Bayou Lafourche and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway intersect here.

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Upon pulling up to the LaRose Civic Center, we were welcomed with open arms by the festival coordinator, Ms. Jasmine Ayo.  She gave us a tour of the new festival pavilion where over 20 booths offered any type of Cajun food one could imagine.

Our community leader for the 2nd LEAD Louisiana trip was Ms. Celeste Uzee, who is employed by Tulane University in New Orleans and whose family has been the festival’s designated gumbo chefs for three generations.  She spoke to the students about how the festival began in 1973 as an effort to pull in visitors and make a profit to build a community park in LaRose.  The park and civic center are entirely citizen-owned and operated, as the funds to build them were raised independently and no government money was used.  Because of this, a unique sense of ownership has developed that has aided the festival in growing to what it is today: an event that brings in 35,000 people over a 3-day weekend from different states and even countries.

Ms. Uzee talked about the importance of motivation as it relates to leadership in LaRose.  Citizens of this community feel invested in the festival and the facilities it takes place in, so they work hard to help it succeed.  There is no board of directors barking orders at the festival staff; everyone lends a hand, and no job is too menial to be completed by even the most seasoned workers.

We spent the rest of the day eating local delicacies such as shrimp bouchettes, fried oysters, gumbo, crawfish fettuccine, pistolettes, pralines, and many other things we had never heard of-but they all tasted amazing!  Being in such close proximity to the water gives one access to some awesome seafood.   There were also fair rides, an auction, and music by Amanda Shaw and Seabrook.  We had a fantastic time spending a day in deep south Louisiana and getting an inside view on what it means to be Cajun in the 21st century.