Fighting Poverty with Passion
Last week, my father sent me a link to a story Michael Lewis (of Moneyball fame) wrote for the New York Times magazine about his high school baseball coach. The story, “Coach Fitz’s Management Theory,” caught my father’s attention for its sense of place (‘it has a New Orleans connection for you’ he wrote to explain himself) and for its message about the importance of practice and sacrifice in the pursuit of excellence (surely, one of the Great American Father-Son Messages). It’s an excellent story, and I found it very moving for both of the reasons it stood out to my father.
What really seemed to make an impression though was an off-hand comment that Lewis, a native New Orleanian, made about three-quarters of the way through the piece about a parent who had “lived in New Orleans only 20 years,” making him “by local standards… an arriviste, an outsider.” And, my gosh, that’s true.
I say all of this because, in the past month at Committee for a Better New Orleans, I’ve started paying attention to the workings of City Hall, listened to the Mayor stump at council district budget meetings, and dipped my toes into the neighborhood mapping effort that needs to be completed on the heels of the City Council’s passage of a neighborhood participation plan. It feels like it takes years of Orleans Parish residency to build up the contextual knowledge and credibility necessary to deal with some of these issues on a neighborhood or block-by-block level. I’d like to tip of my hat to those who possess this fluency and to signal of my intent to learn it all as quickly as possible.
This month at CBNO has seen plenty of opportunities to learn the context and the skills I’ll need to complete my VISTA assignments. Thanks to a suggestion from Amanda Buberger at CPS and the kindness of the Payson Center’s Professor Hernandez, I’ve been sitting in on an ArcGIS for International Development three days a week this month. I can tell I’m making strides with the software (which is now installed on my desktop!) and I’m happy about the recent CBNO assignments putting those skills to work. One of the reasons I took this position was for the experience with the neighborhood mapping project; to make such strides in month one is more than I dared hope for.
My other projects have progressed steadily although without the fireworks of Learning A Complex Mapping Software System. I’ve got a better sense now of what it will take to complete our pending Blight Resource Guide for residents and neighborhood groups. The participation rate in the guide’s non-profit survey inches upward a little bit every week.
I’ve also been working on cleaning up the contact data for our Leadership Forum alumni. Given my aforementioned respect for the people that did and do shape New Orleans, looking for current contact data for some alumni can sometimes feel like reading single sentences from a dozen different hagiographies. It’s been a gentle reminder of where I’d like to set my personal goals. More importantly, I am receiving the message, loud and clear, about the work I need to put in now and the sacrifices I’ll have to make get there.