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August 2019 Associate Minister's Column by The Reverend Nathan A. Ryan

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An ode to Sadie Roberts-Joseph: Sadie Roberts-Joseph spent years curating a museum underneath the interstate - you know the interstate our government put right through the middle of a historically black neighborhood (and by that I mean a neighborhood that has been black since emancipation). Under that interstate she held annual MLK and Juneteenth celebrations.

Each pillar that holds up the interstate is painted to represent a southern state. The front of each pillar has a painting of a famous black person from that state and the back has a count of freed and enslaved state populations at the time of emancipation. I have not been able to find confirmation, but I’m fairly certain she commissioned the late artist Charles Barbier to paint them.

To put that a little differently, our government willfully used infrastructural advancements as a tool to weaken historically black communities. Sadie Roberts-Joseph used the same divisive pillars that millions of Americans rely on to cross the Mississippi River to teach people about enslavement, emancipation and empowerment.
I’ve had the honor of marching with her (always with a group of community leaders and school children) to the levee. She usually ended one of the celebrations with a march to the levee. These marches always started underneath the interstate where you could barely hear each other talk because of the oblivious traffic above.

Her very existence is a model for all of us. While she was warm, inviting, generous and loving, her kindness never allowed false narratives or racist status quo ideologies to persist unchallenged.

I cannot state it simply enough: her life made the world better. She was killed last month.

It is significant to know when she died. She died the day before the first major storm Baton Rouge has faced since its hell summer 3 years ago. There is buried trauma for hundreds of thousands of people here that has been unearthed by that storm.

This city is still reeling from injustice and racism that was exposed to many white people in 2016. This city is still reeling from the renewed promise that justice for black people is all too elusive. This city is still reeling from too many flood and weather traumas to count.

Sadie Roberts-Joseph deserved better. We all deserve better.

Her life was committed to a better world. Her life was taken.

What will we do now?