The True Story of CenLamar

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I was born on Cinco de Mayo in 1982, the first of three children. Before I introduce myself as a writer, you need to know this about me: When I was around 12 months old, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and as a result, I spent a good deal of my childhood in and out of hospitals and physical therapy. I had 15 operations before I turned 14. My family was tenacious, and even though insurance sometimes would not cover my care, I hit the lottery: I had a doctor who was willing to conduct many of my surgeries for free.

Today, I walk without assistance; I live on my own; I drive my own car. Of course, this doesn’t mean that living with cerebral palsy is exactly easy: I fall constantly. My knees and elbows are numb. I move awkwardly. But I know, still, how lucky I am, and I intend on spending the remainder of my time on this planet promoting, in my own small way, a more tolerant, a more inclusive, and a more compassionate world and raising awareness for disability rights causes. Tolerance. Justice. Empathy.

I am a graduate of Rice University in Houston, earning a B.A. in English and Religious Studies and a graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, earning a Juris Doctor. I am currently an incoming doctoral candidate at LSU’s Manship School.

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In March of 2006, I launched CenLamar.com (an amalgamation of my homeland, Central Louisiana, colloquially known as “CenLa,” and my name, Lamar). During the site’s first two years, I focused almost exclusively on the small town politics of Alexandria, Louisiana, and due, in large part, to my outspoken advocacy, I was hired as an assistant to Mayor Jacques Roy.

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Portrait of the author as a young vampire

I served in Mayor Roy’s administration for four and a half years, and along with an enormously talented team, I helped launch the city’s largest reinvestment project in history. Together, under his leadership, we attracted millions in outside grant funding and revitalized some of the city’s most beleaguered and blighted corridors, becoming a national model for sensible smart growth implementation and pioneering an award-winning program focused on crime prevention through environmental design. During my time in Alexandria, I also organized two major regional summits on smart growth, sustainability, historic preservation, and resiliency and a large-scale exercise on cyberterrorism involving the United States Air Force, city, parish, and state law enforcement, media professionals, hospital administrators, and the region’s top private-sector employers.

I continued to publish commentary on my website, though now I focused on national politics. In January 2007, I became a fierce and dedicated supporter of a young U.S. Senator from Illinois, and less than a year later, two of my friends and I were selected to attend the 2008 Democratic National Convention along with the entire Louisiana delegation.

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A little more than a year later, on a cool February night, I experienced an even more meaningful collective catharsis while walking down Poydras Street in New Orleans. It was as if the entire city of New Orleans was levitating– ebullient, humming, chanting, and singing sounds to the gods and redemptive prayers to dead relatives. “The center of the universe,” I wrote at the time.

I had been promised tickets to the White House to watch President Obama praise the team, but there were some logistical problems and, instead, a young White House staffer asked if I’d be willing to take a Coast Guard tour of the site of the Deepwater Horizon. I knew I had to see it.

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The next year, I resigned from a job that I loved and moved to Dallas, enrolling in SMU’s Dedman School of Law, but I never stopped writing my website.

Along with my friend Zack Kopplin, I plunged into the strange world of Christian dominionism, and with the help of a colleague, Jason Brad Berry, I exposed a radical church school receiving voucher money in order to convert students into prophets. The Times-Picayune and others picked up the story, and shortly thereafter, the school was removed from the voucher program. That was only the beginning of a long string of investigations to follow.

A few months later, in the early morning of April 1, 2012, the famed political provocateur and Tulane graduate Andrew Breitbart and I were continuing our day’s long conversation on Twitter. He told me he apologized for calling me a putz. I went to bed, and a few minutes later, Breitbart dropped dead.

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Later that year, I was honored to receive the Ashley Morris Award at the Rising Tide Conference in New Orleans.

I spoke about diligence, vulnerability, gratitude, and humility:

The next year, I wrote a series on the film adaptation “Twelve Years a Slave,” most notably an essay titled “Why ’12 Years a Slave Will Always Matter to Louisiana,” which eventually became the subject of a report on BBC and BBC Radio.

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Last year, I became an unapologetic champion for three incredible women leaders, Wendy Davis, Mary Landrieu, and Hillary Clinton.

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In late December, I apparently kept Congressman and House Whip Steve Scalise up at night.

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And a couple of months later, I was accused of race-baiting by Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff after publishing my friend Robin May’s picture of his portrait in the governor’s office.

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I’ve never really known the best way to introduce myself to strangers. I understand there’s a risk here: That I may come across as a pretentious, arrogant, smug jerk. But I don’t know how anyone can write about themselves in the third person, and I think the best way to tell you who I am is to tell you as much as I can, in my own voice.

My favorite movie (I can name one) of all-time is “Boyhood.” My favorite musicians (I can’t name only one) are Shannon Hoon, Conor Oberst, Jim James, Kurt Cobain, Cat Stevens, Dave Grohl, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Ben Gibbard, and Elliot Smith. My favorite athlete (I can name one) of all-time is Kirby Puckett. My favorite writers (I can’t only name one) are William Faulkner, John Cheever, Rick Moody, Dan Chaon, Ernest Hemingway, and Michael Cunningham. My favorite poet (I can name one) is Wallace Stevens.

I also like Drew Brees.

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lamarw at gmail dot com