Friday, February 3, 2012

The Happy Wanderer

Late last week I set off on a 10-day trip to the South. To begin, on Thursday I made a quick stop in Milwaukee for a productive and inspiring brainstorming session with leaders from across the nation. We spent the day discussing and dissecting the topic of job creation and capitalism in an urban/underserved context. My opinion is that communities like East Palo Alto are often sold short. Our folks are entrepreneurial by nature. There is an active and thriving underground economy that sustains many families throughout our city. This can range from car mechanics, tattoo artists, old 'mothers' selling plates of amazing food out their back doors, the local guy hawking corn out of a cart and hustlers selling DVD's.

The question is how do we harness that energy and employ individuals? I was particularly inspired by the work in Denver with Belay Enterprises. While the NCUD staff will quickly tell me we have enough on our plate right now - I most certainly feel a stirring to think about such enterprises. With a 30% unemployment and certainly a much higher under-employment rate something must soon happen to get our hard working community gainfully employed. As has been said, "A job is the fastest way to stop a bullet."

I needed to be in Jackson, Mississippi on Monday the 23rd, so I took advantage of the time to come to New Orleans and be with my sister and her family. It was great to see them, especially my niece and nephew Lilli and Noah. As I traversed the city I was inspired by the spirit and passion of the Big Easy.

On Friday, I spent a few hours with Kevin Brown from Trinity Christian Community. Kevin is a second-generation community developer who took over the organization that his dad developed 40 years ago. Kevin lives and works in the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans. Hollygrove was devastated by hurricane Katrina. The staff and family of TCC watched as years of work and effort was washed away. However, as the Prophet Isaiah said, 'When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of God raises up a standard." TCC is very much that standard in Hollygrove. Kevin and his team have been rebuilding, and uses the devastation of the storm to catalyze their community development efforts. They are buying and refurbishing houses, developing community gardens, tutoring children and teens and working with community leaders to have a master plan of development and health for their neighborhood. I'm happy to report God is doing something wonderful in Hollygrove! Out of the ashes, something beautiful is emerging.

Kevin's passion and love for his city is something I've seen all over New Orleans. Whether in Mid City or the famous lower 9th Ward (where the 'Brad Pitt' houses are) this city is fighting to rebuild. I just hope their 'spice' is something we can learn from and export to East Palo Alto!
New Orleans has given us so much... we have much to learn...

John Liotti

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