Tag Archives: a community voice

Lanny Roy Was A Peoples’ Warrior

New Orleans      Lake Charles is a medium-sized city of nearly 80,000 people, the fifth largest in Louisiana, close to the Texas border.  It’s the home of oil refineries and chemical plants.  Texans driving over the border made casinos big business for a while.  In recent years, it has become a majority-minority city with over 48% African-American another 3+% Latino, and 43.4% whites now.  The mayor is a Republican which is an oddity in a big-ish city in Louisiana.

Lake Charles has a special place in ACORN’s work and history.   There has been continuous organization there for more than forty years, rooted deeply in the northern, African-American section of the city.  We’ve always had an office there during that entire period, but, uniquely, we probably only staffed that office and organization for less than a year of the entire forty.  This was an organization run and led by great members and leaders throughout that period, and particularly over the last more than thirty years by Lanny Roy as the chair of NIC-ACORN.  NIC stood for Neighborhood Improvement Coalition, but it was always NIC-ACORN, so to tell the truth, I had to ask what the letters really stood for and would have sworn the “N” stood for Northside.

Lanny Roy passed away at eighty over recent days.  I hated to miss the funeral of this great leader, long time comrade, and friend, but when I said I was scheduled to be in Canada for a meeting with the organizers, no one questioned that Lanny would have wanted me there with them, rather than siting still in a church pew.  Lanny was a great local group leader, but he was also an active presence on the national board as one of the Louisiana delegates, junior only to Beulah Laboistrie.  The organization always came first to Brother Roy!

He would show up at many board meetings, leadership conferences, and conventions in one big ride after another, first a Lincoln and later a van.  He would fill the car with members and roll out, rather than going on the bus.  I wasn’t surprised to hear that his mechanic was one of the people who spoke at his funeral.  He always had on a tie and a black hat.  You knew Lanny was in the room.  You knew whenever he got up to speak, it would be serious, and it would be about what was best for people.  It would never be personal.

He was a rock that never wavered.  If he was your friend, he was always your friend.  If he thought you did right, he would be with you forever.  He has a small part that always moves me in “The Organizer” documentary, where he speaks forcefully through his deep Louisiana accent that the “thing about ACORN is that is member run.  What the member wants, that’s what ACORN does.” Maybe that’s not an exact quote, but it’s darned close.  He and his members proved that in Lake Charles year after year.

He had been injured working in one of the Lake Charles plants and was on disability for decades, while raising a mess of children spread throughout the area.  The Catholic Church had been key in the original organization of NIC-ACORN in the 1970s, and Lanny had been a member from the beginning partially through that connection.  He always persevered, as the old folks say: community leader, NAACP, feature of the black weekly, presiding over the annual bank fair, and anywhere and everywhere he was needed.

We thought we had lost him a dozen different times, but there he would be once again, making his presence and his voice heard.  He was a great leader of ACORN in Louisiana and A Community Voice, the ACORN affiliate, and he will be missed.

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Looking for Leadership in All the Wrong — and Right — Places

New Orleans    Finding myself in New Orleans, I accompanied my companera to the Honor Awards night of the district council of the American Legion.  Debra Campbell, a key leader in ACORN’s affiliate, A Community Voice, and co-chair of the Upper 9th Ward chapter, was receiving their award as Citizen of the Year.  The crowd was small, but the tradition was large.  A chair was set out for POW/MIAs.  There was prayer at opening and closing.  The pledge of allegiance saw hats off and hands on heart.  Debra was magnificent, as was Rev. Richard Bell, the Legion’s adjutant, and co-chair of ACV’s Lower 9th Ward group.  There was a lot of talk about leadership, which I found interesting, even if not surprising.

Some of the concerns about leadership are implicit critiques of President Trump.  The New York Times editorial focused on the way General Martin Dempsey, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Obama, seemed to be tweeting leadership tips in the hopes that they might influence the President.  Good luck with that, eh?

I have been paying more attention to these comments and examples, while preparing for the leadership training sessions in Milwaukee with newly elected officers of Amani United.  The military does leadership-talk constantly, but that might not be a recommendation for source material, despite their experience.  To some degree leadership is out of vogue.  There’s a lot of talk out there these days about flat-leadership systems or even leaderless formations.  For example, the French government has been pulling its hair about how to negotiate with the Yellow Jackets who are militantly refusing to identify a leadership structure for their movement.  The media worked hard to anoint leaders for #BlackLivesMatter, the Women’s March, and even Occupy with various levels of success.  Some seized the mantle and others ran from it.

I stumbled onto a book, How Change Happens:  Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don’t by Leslie Crutchfield based on work by a center that looks at these issues at Georgetown University.  Part of their argument was impossible to swallow, like their habit of equating the achievement of some major social changes with their definition of what were social movements, or their view that when corporations were forced to adapt to pressure and larger social changes and watershed events that made business in fact leaders.  Nonetheless, there were some interesting quotes about leadership, regardless of the context, that I thought would be useful in the training sessions.  Crutchfield also argued that success for social movements was greater when they were more focused on the grassroots up, than the other way around which was spot on.  Another direct hit was the need for organization’s and movements to be something called “leaderfull.”  It’s an awkward term that gets sort of stuck in the throat as it comes out, but the bottom line is indisputable.  An organization with more leaders at all levels with the ability – and coordinated autonomy, as I’ve always called it – to operate actively and powerfully has the best chance of success.

Leaders matter.  It’s worth the work to spend as much time as we can to help them develop to their full potential, just as we see with Debra Campbell and Richard Bell.  A lot to learn and a lot to teach.

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