Posts tagged with "new orleans"

Dear New Orleans: An Open Love Letter

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Dear New Orleans,

I love you. It’s not the birds and the bees and the 1,2,3’s… It’s much more than that. My love for you is cosmic and personally crafted by Greek Gods aligning the stars.

Granted I haven’t been to every city in the country but you’re my favorite by far. I love how your people talk. Their accents are like no other. From every “baby “and “sweetheart” and “good mornin’ everyone” greetings from strangers on the Trolley… I love you. I love the swag that’s all yours and how every “I got you” is as firm as a promise or a handshake. It melts my heart and restores my faith in the goodness of Man. NOLA I love you because you have a charm that traces her many roots to the days of Rose Nicaud, an eighteenth-century slave who’s enterprising vision to sell coffee as a street vendor is probably why Starbucks exists today, praline vendor Mary Louise who’s independent streak shaped your taste buds and food culture, Mr. Okra who sang the praises of his vegetables into the hearts and pots of your wonderful and incredibly hard-working people, and the first Creole nun, Henriette DeLille, who helped educate slave children when it was illegal to do so. Even living legends like, Dooky Chase, Trombone Shorty and the street musician with his washboard instrument who proudly tells folks he encounters about being in a music video with CeeLo Green create a sense of belonging in the deepest parts of my heart and soul. And, I love you for that.

New Orleans, you are a magical place that reminds me of our collective muscle and mission as Americans. You’re the blueprint of the coming-of-age of America or the turning of a page in our cultural journey. When We were Us, working with great struggles—against racism and inequality—toward that common ideal Hoover, JFK and even Obama talked about. Everyone working together to improve life in our country and to make their own American dream come true; whatever that is. New Orleans, similar to New York City, you make room for folks to express themselves and believe again. And make money doing it, too, thanks to that charming allure that only comes from you, NOLA. Your glory brings people flocking to your streets practically begging you to take their money as if dazed by your voodoo love potion. Perhaps that’s why I love you, too.

I fall in love in many ways exploring your streets and your customs. Your Black roots and especially your music foundation remind me of my own value, beauty and place in this world. It reminds me of my strong bond to a larger Black culture. Still, I see myself in all the faces of your people. I see myself in the new immigrants struggling to speak a new language and having to swallow the intolerance of those with a long history in your bosom. I see myself in the exhausted faces of mother’s and father’s going to and from work, facing the onslaught of tourists seemingly without a care in the world and blind to the pain and struggles expressed in their sweaty faces in a still deeply segregated city. I hear the pain of senseless violence in my friends voice when he talks about the murder of his father. And unfortunately, violence is part of your identity as you sit rated as the 3rd most dangerous U.S. City. I sympathize with this harsh reality that impacts the most vulnerable of your people. I still love you.

I see myself in the artists that flock to every corner of you, unleashing their natural talents for all the people to see. From the New Orleans Jazz Market to Bourbon and Frenchman Street, NOLA your people don’t disappoint when it comes to talent. And don’t even get me started with the drag queens! They represent the freedom that is unique to your people and I see myself basking in that freedom, too. They make me feel fierce on solid ground. Then, there’s these amazingly strong women of comedy that make their rounds throughout the city making people laugh out loud, allowing me for just a moment, to forget all the woes of the world. I found myself in Black Girl Giggles, an all Black female comedy group. All of these experiences make me love you. I saw myself in New Orleans. And for a brief moment, I felt planted like one of your historic oak trees. I was home in America for the first time in my life here.

Perhaps it’s the nostalgia of my birth country Suriname that reminds me of home when I’m in your part of this vast world… it was a time when life was simpler, when there were no deadlines to meet, tests to grade, no future plans to ponder and worry about, no expectations to meet or live up to, and when life was relatively happy. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love you because you make me happy again. I don’t remember where I left my happy but I’m grateful to have found it in you again, New Orleans.

Listening to the Trolley conductor on the 94 line berate all kinds of people—except the fumbling tourists—although made for a cringe worthy ride to the cemeteries, it reminded me of your flaws. Nevertheless, I love you because your flaws reflect the harsh realities of life and that there’s more humanitarian work to do. Even the frustrated Trolley conductor who exclaimed during his rant, “the only good people in New Orleans are the tourists cause they’re the only ones here not trying to pull one over on ya’,” didn’t force a change in my heart, but rather presented a challenge to see beauty where others don’t. I accept and love you, warts and all.

Everyone has a unique story about their New Orleans. Some are romantic and wonderful and others share stories of the heartaches that you’ve caused. NOLA you’re not perfect. In your beautiful eyes, New Orleans, some only see pain, poverty and the brutality that comes with being poor. This uncomfortable truth is compounded by simply being born Black. And yet, you go on singing, blowing your horns and dancing…charming revelers to join the processions of merriment that are symbolic of the joy you express in the midst of this pain and the harsh realities of life.

The story of New Orleans is the story of America. And the story of America is the story of race. And race is a vivid factor in New Orleans. It’s clear to see walking across Tulane and Loyola University, or taking the St. Charles Street Trolley. You hear it in conversations shared without the guards of political correctness. It’s unapologetically expressed in jokes and with the uniquely Black culture tradition called 2nd Line Sundays. Black people are free to be Black and proud in New Orleans and conversations about race seem to be more prominent, and mostly accompanied with laughs and light-hearted banter. Blackness is celebrated despite the unequal economic playing field and the blatant racism being exposed in its bare sense across the country thanks to an administration sympathetic to this shameful part of our American story. And that’s a refreshing page turner for someone who calls New York home.

I love you NOLA. I love how you’ve come full circle in our cultural journey, forging ahead with the promise and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all those who have fought for a more just and equal country. From the days before and after Jim Crow, to the first Black women innovators and the city’s first Black and female mayor, LaToya Cantrell. From the food to the hospitality and music culture, and despite the noticeable divide amongst your charming people who take on each day like their hard-working ancestors, New Orleans there’s no city in the world like you.

As Kojak would say: Who loves ya baby? You’re beautiful.

NABJ New Orleans: A Significant Moment In America’s Journey In A City Full Of Culture And Black History

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

New Orleans can easily be described as America’s secret gem. Despite the havoc caused by Hurricane Katrina and the negative portrayal of a city plagued by violence, New Orleans stands alone in all its glory, people, culture and revelry.

This year, the National Association of Black Journalists congregated in the historic city, part of the group’s annual convention and career fair. America’s racial turmoil, like the most recent incident in Charlottesville, VA, makes the destination for the gathering a unique one that highlights who we are, what we’re capable of and what we continue to stand for as Americans and NABJ members. The struggle for equality and a more just country isn’t over but neither is our resolve and determination to fight bigotry with education, success and the most powerful armor man has against hate; Love. And, New Orleans has plenty of love, history and black culture for the greater mission to improve our world and American culture as a whole.

The Big Easy, as the iconic and beautiful city is nicknamed, was the perfect complement to highlight NABJ’s work and the people that come out to support it. People like, Roland S. Martin, Charles Barkley, Harris Faulkner, Dr. Jeff Gardere, Nyja Greene with CNN in Atlanta, Tracey Rivers with Fox 26 News in Houston, and many other prominent black figures. And, even the presence of arguably the most unpopular black woman in the White House, Omarosa Manigault, couldn’t overshadow the power of the event in a city full of life, talent, charm and charisma. And, how fitting and telling of the group’s importance, growth and impact that even Facebook joined the convention this year to recruit talent for its own innovative work across the globe.

In our current state of aggressive and divisive nationalism, New Orleans was the perfect backdrop to mark black progress in America. Black folks, specifically those that call the Big Easy home, have come a long way as a people. In the repugnant face of racism and discrimination, to a natural disaster that changed the lives and demographics of the city; New Orleanians are overcoming everything that has plagued their journey with music, food, revelry, an organic entrepreneurial spirit and a potent dose of American culture. Nevertheless, it’s clear to see, especially thanks to an administration fueling anti-American values that the civil rights movement is far from over, making NABJ’s mission and work more important than ever.

Jazz or Jass as it was first spelled, was born in New Orleans, making dancing and singing in the streets to great local bands simply a cultural norm. From Bourbon Street to Frenchman Street, the city cradles its patrons like moths uncontrollably drawn to light, despite all the effects that comes with merrymaking, and an alcohol and drugs infused atmosphere. However, there’s more than the music and revelry to talk about. The local artists on the streets hawking their goods like, Alex Lee Calacuayo, add a certain essence to the bright beautiful colors that is New Orleans and its people. Food venders, like Mr. Joe’s Island Grill—unlike some other cities in America—take a great deal of pride in what they prepare and offer. It’s a constant party that hits you all over, from your dancing feet to your mouth full of the best food on the planet. And, none of it takes away from the cultural significance that is New Orleans.

A significant perspective of NABJ’s presence in the Big Easy is the story of Palmer Park, which according to, New Orleans Historical, was named after a staunch supporter of slavery and segregation; Benjamin Parker. The white’s only park was the scene where during the Jim Crow era, during a 1924 speech, “Shreveport Mayor Lee E. Thomas, challenging Senator Randsell for his seat, drew loud applause when he accused the senator of signing a letter supporting a black man for a federal job; the mayor’s allegation sought to condemn the senator’s egalitarian gesture. Similar racism could be seen in reaction to a 1934 incident. Residents nearby the park and civic organizations complained about an unlicensed shoe shine stand, “Sam’s Shine Parlor,” which appeared in the park. The stand, aimed at people waiting nearby for the bus to Kenner, was originally chained to a tree in the park. The black vendor’s chair was removed. White vendors, like the man who sold hot tamales, were allowed in the park.”

Despite a long and arduous journey plagued with racial prejudice black people in America are still standing, and still working towards their own prosperity as our collective American values instills in each and every one of us. And how fitting that after all these years and racial turmoil’s, NABJ is still working to bring organizations together that recognize the importance and value of diversity in the work place, especially in media. We represent the spirit of Sam’s Shine Parlor.

The country is changing. New Orleans is going through it too, especially following the mass public upheaval brought on by Katrina. Walking the streets of the city you can still hear folks talk about all they’ve lost during the August 2005 storm. The breaking of the levees didn’t just spill massive amounts of water covering the city and destroying lives. Some argue that it also washed away a great deal of its culture and fast-tracking gentrification. Even so, the city full of charm with one of the best American accents you’ll hear is still thriving. And a large reason for it lies at the feet of the local population that make a living in the streets, where a great deal of the city’s booming tourism industry can be seen and deeply felt. New Orleans is not just beautiful; the Big Easy is the epitome of what we recognize as the birth of American culture.