Friday, August 8, 2014

A Local History Education Organization with Global Aspirations is Off and Running!

In attendance: Maurice Loridans, Susan Keith, Lani Duke, Feico Kempff, Loren Demerath, and Chris Chandler


Susan Keith reported on her recent travels to Mertyl Beach and said it was bumper to bumper traffic everywhere all the time there.  She didn’t like the board walks and souveneer shops and crowds.  Two of the three days they didn’t see the beach, since the coast is lined by hotels and condos.  Only when they found the state park could they get access to a beach.  It was noted that a good function of government is to provide the public with general access to those things, as through parks.

On that note, Loren Demerath reported on how well Brown County State Park in Indiana served as the site for his extended family’s recent reunion.  Loren noted that state parks (and federal and city for that matter) are nice for the way you can be in a place that isn’t pushing you to buy stuff and telling you how great everything is since profit isn’t the point.


Loren also announced that the advocacy training meeting will be next week.  Hopefully all who are interested in helping improve bike-ped facilities in Shreveport will attend.  The particular focus will be on advocating for a network of multi-use paths.


The group discussed possible locations of a year-round farmer’s market.  Feico had the idea of putting it right on the Waddel Truss Bridge (one of only two it’s kind left in the U.S.),  while Maurice favored the site under the Texas Street Bridge right next to free parking provided by two casinos.  The truss bridge sure would have a great view and ought to be used for something.  Seems a great opportunity .  Under the Texas St. bridge has two other things going for it: parking (in the casino lots) and shade.

{Speaking of Farmer’s Markets, no doubt the new one starting up at Provenance will be a topic of conversation at coming meetings.  The more the better?}


For the main attraction of the night’s meeting, longtime ABetterShreveport attender Chris Chandler presented on his own non-profit organization, the American Millennium Project (with their Facebook page).  It’s a project that offer students of various ages the opportunity to learn history, geography, and culture through adventure travel and field trips, while at the same time developing pride in their locality, and a capacity for leadership.
Chris Chandler speaking at the Rotary
Club of South Shreveport earlier this year

Chris described how the idea started.  His college graduation gift from his grandparents (who raised him, and were of modest means) was a Eur-Rail Pass and a plane ticket to London in 1992.  Traveling by train, he carried a backpack, stayed at hostels, and it was a life changing experience.  When he came back he used the rest of his savings to do the same thing in the U.S. for another three months, traveling by Amtrack.  He said the comparison was night and day: completely different worlds in terms of the quality of facilities for travel; few youth hostels and disgraceful train service by comparison.

Chris later went to a leadership program entitled “Leadership Shreveport-Boosier,” sponsored by his boss, Lee Hall.  Chris also had a son around that time and made a commitment that he’d work on a structure to travel for people like his son by the time he reached high school (and he’s now a senior!).

In January of 2014 the program began.  The American Millenium Project has clubs with teacher sponsors in middle schools, high schools, and colleges.  Chris works with the faculty sponsors to organized field trips.  Chris is primarily using the Rotary Club format as a model, though he's also drawing a bit on the greek social fraternity framework.   There are no paid employees at this point.

The format of the field trips is the “adventure tour,” but there’s service wrapped into it as well.  As part of the tour, students often teach what they’ve learned, in one case to a local Rotary club.


Chris has already developed twenty two total tours!  Among the tours: the Caddo Indians, local religions, “the Wild Wild West,” “Duck Pond and Beyond,” “Black Gold Rush,” “Cotton is King,” “Royal Mile,” “Gone but Not Forgotton,” (centered around local cemetaries), “Leaving a Legacy” (the Norton Art Gallery),  just to name a few!

{Nobody asked at the meeting, but now that I’m writing this, the thought occurs to me, couldn’t the rest of the city benefit from these tours too?  Might these tours be enjoyed by those of us not in school anymore?  Hmm.}


Based on wherever the school is, students are given a tour within a three to five mile radius around the school.  The idea, Chris said, is to try to break down barriers with these tours.  For example, a lot of the kids who go to Caddo Middle Magnet go through the Cedar Grove neighborhood, but don’t know much about it’s history and culture.

Student members of the project have to complete 10 hours of service each semester, and they pick where they do it.  They also sign a statement of shared values.  And, each member pays dues of $25 per year. 

The organization’s board members include Gary Joiner, Keven Bryan, Ron Anderson, Mary Poteet, Jonathan Fox, Levette Fuller, and Jim Huckabee.

The focus is on Caddo Parish, and then duplicating it from there.


Chris said the organization has three goals:
  • Educate
  • Inspire Local Pride
  • Develop Leaders
It was noted that all three can be tied to together, in that seeing what others have done in a locale inspires an appreciation for that place, and can stimulate their own thinking as to how they might contribute to it too.
Loren suggested the wording "Leaders" might be changed to "Community Leaders" or "Involved Citizens" as leadership can mean directing people, like being a boss; or leading in something competitive, like the business sense of leading in market share.  Many students we all want to reach can’t necessarily imagine themselves ever being a leader or a boss, but can imagine being a contributer to a community, in that everyone knows they have something to offer. 

Chris said he has a five year plan and a ten year plan, and they’re both ambitious.  Eventually, the organization would… span North and South America!  The group agreed it was ambitious, but nobody suggested Chris was wrong to think big!


The group discussed the funding model, which is to rely strictly on private donations and corporate support and individual investors.  Chris said it’s a philosophical point of view where he thinks people tend to go to the government too often to solve their problems.  Loren said he agrees people can become dependent.  On the other hand, he also sees government as the appropriate place people to go share resources (through taxes) which they ask that their elected representatives distribute on merit.  He, for one, would want his tax dollars used on something like the American Millennium Project.  Loren said his dad once had a bumpersticker specially made and put it on his car that read: “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.  Raise Our Taxes Please!”  The point being that some things are worth contributing money too, be they schools, roads, national defense, help for the poor, etc.

The group was generally very enthusiastic about Chris’ presentation.  We support you, Chris!


ABetterShreveport is gathering all the bike-ped advocates in the city to receive advocacy training this Monday, August 11, 6:00-7:00 p.m.  The specific goal we’re setting out sights on is a multi-use trail network to make our city more walkable and bikeable.  Highlights of the meeting will include:
  • Advocacy training run by experienced community organizer Feamula Bradley
  • A skype session with successful New Orleans bike path planner Janet Ruley
  • We'll be sharing very good news based on this week’s meeting of ABS and government leaders in regard to bike-ped facilities

Consider joining us for what should be a great meeting!

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