Fighting Poverty with Passion
As most New Orleans already know (or should know – if not, where’ve you been hiding?) GiveNOLA Day – our city’s first online give-athon – was May 6th. Almost two weeks have passed since this 24-hour fundraiser ended and I have to admit, I’m still thinking about it. Not lamenting it nor celebrating it; just reflecting. There’s no doubt, GiveNOLA Day was a momentous success for New Orleans. While other cities across the U.S. have been orchestrating their own Giving Days via Give Local America for years, this was NOLA’s first time participating. Per usual, New Orleans likes to do things in our own time and in our own way. Hey, it’s New Orleans! Would you expect anything different? And during our inaugural Giving Day, New Orleans received 19,623 donations totaling over $2 million dollars. Moreover, participating donors represented 48 states. The magnitude of support for “The City That Care Forgot” is staggering, especially considering that just 9 years ago, New Orleans was also the city that the rest of the nation (including the capital) seemed to forget. Another appropriate (or inappropriate?) saying comes to mind: “How the tides have turned.”
So, what does it all mean? What does the success of GiveNOLA Day signify for New Orleans? It seems to me like people have always been captivated by New Orleans. The food, music, and architecture is replicated in movies and in TV shows. Every city I visit seems to have a Bourbon Street-themed bar or club. To the rest of the country, New Orleans is a wild, mythical place with beer, beads, hand grenades and parades. I can’t tell you the number of times that upon hearing that I live in New Orleans, an old friend or acquaintance has asked me: “Is Mardi Gras REAL?” or “Is it true that the women there just take their tops off all the time?”
But New Orleans can do more than just pique our curiosity. This city’s citizens are doing serious work. When I first started my VISTA term, I went to a panel discussion where a scholar from DC called New Orleans “America’s laboratory.” I wrote that phrase down but have not revisited it until recently. But it rings true when we think about the city’s experiments with public education reform and the growing number of opportunities for social innovation and entrepreneurship. New Orleans is a unique city with a particular set of problems. And the city’s leaders, especially those in the nonprofit sector, have taken innovative solutions to solving them. But like any other venture, these solutions need ongoing investment from outside backers if we expect to see results.So, I applaud all of the generous donors who participated in GiveNOLA Day. I celebrate the success of the inaugural fundraiser. But I also caution us to not forget that supporting New Orleans shouldn’t be a special occasion. I hope that the success and attention drawn to New Orleans on May 6th puts the city in the same category as DC, New York, Boston and other big cities. New Orleans is a place that not only elicits curiosity but that also deserves admiration and needs long-term investment.