Audio: Getting a seat at the table
One of New Orleans’ enduring post-Katrina narratives remains the huge loss of our city’s black middle class. But not everyone left. In fact, there is a vibrant group of younger African American professionals who are still here. So what do they have to do so more New Orleanians will recognize their presence? And, more importantly, what has to happen so they can be invited into leadership positions; to be respected by the community at large?
“Well the first thing is for us to be heard because if you don’t tell your own story someone else will, and then you will lose control of the narrative,” says Brian Turner, Ph.D, a native New Orleanian.
This 38-year-old is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Xavier University who works to prepare students for graduate training programs. A large part of his life is also devoted to community involvement. He serves on a number of community boards, among them the Encore Academy Charter School and the Treme Improvement Political Society.
“We are the ones who have to tell our own story; of what it is to be young, black, American, from New Orleans, educated, involved, engaged,” he says. “And it has to be an attractive narrative and not just to non-African Americans. So it can’t just be attractive to whites. It has to be attractive to African Americans as well.
“We still face the debate of what it means to be a successful young African American and not be down with any type of a negative stereotype.”
Jameeta Youngblood, 32, another native New Orleanian who feels strongly about her place in this community, says one way to spread that narrative is through the media.. Jameeta, who received her Masters in Business Administration from Nicholls State University, is the Business Manager of WWNO, Public Radio in New Orleans. Among her many community obligations, one is the most demanding of all; President of the Urban League’s Young Professionals Advocacy Committee.
“I completely agree with Brian about telling our own story,” she says. “I am part of several different organizations and I sit in several different board rooms and they don’t all look like me. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in board rooms where there was maybe forty to fifty percent representation by African Americans. But then you scale it back to young African Americans and that number quickly dwindles.
“I think a big part of what’s happening right now and part of the thing that we can do in conversations that are being had between me and Brian and people like me and Brian is being willing to step up to the plate.”
In many ways, this is easier said than done. For many younger New Orleanians, stepping up to the plate is daunting. It is enough get an education, get a job and pay the bills.
For those who want to get through the doors of some of this city’s established institutions, or any city’s institutions for that matter, there is a lack of experience or understanding of how this actually is done.
It does not just happen. It takes the mentoring of older and established civic leaders. Then it requires the commitment for those being groomed to stay with the institutions even though they also carry the same crushing obligations of house notes and student loans as many of their peers.
How to do that is the challenge. But in meeting the challenge and succeeding lies the future of the Crescent City.
So for the remainder of this year, we will continue to talk and write about this civic issue. It is one that is so important to the New Orleans we all love. We look forward to the conversations and welcome all thoughtful comments.
Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]