Fighting Poverty with Passion
Welcome back readers! It’s that somber time of year in New Orleans: Mardi Gras and Carnival are over, Lent is in full swing, no one is eating chocolate, it’s cold, rainy, and new seasons of House of Cards and Game of Thrones haven’t started yet. Needless to say, it’s a bit of slump.
But as I write out what ingredients I need to buy in order to make TU VISTA Cait Donohue‘s Lemon Bar Recipe, I also find the time to write about my experience last month at the conference celebrating twenty years of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. (Yes, that is what GNOFHAC stands for, and yes, they need to shorten their acronym.)
Accompanied by our fearless VISTA Leader Amy Biedermann, I soaked in speeches and a good workshop at the enlightening conference, which was held at the Carver Theater in the the Treme. Opening the session was Barbara Arnwhine, the executive director and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law since 1989. The Lawyers’ Committee was founded in 1969 by JFK in order to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination in America. Her speech noted not only the some major events in housing fights that have happened in the U.S., but in particular the various struggles that the New Orleans community has faced. From the various demolitions of the multiple public housing complexes in New Orleans, to the ongoing legal disputes concerning housing fallout across the area following Hurricane Katrina, the Lawyers’ Committee and GNOFHAC have been at the forefront of the effort to advocate, educate, and fight for the rights to proper shelter for New Orleanians.
In addition, the keynote address this year was given by Julian Bond, a legendary champion for civil rights, as well as the former chairman of the NAACP and the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. His speech was, to say the least, pretty amazing. Although he is not the young activist or student he was once, he is one of a very select group whom can truly call Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. his professor, and his passion and ability to ignite a crowd has not diminished. He was the recipient of an award by GNOFHAC, along with a few other professionals and politicians in the city for their work to fight for fair housing opportunities and equal housing policies.
Following the keynote address and a number of panels, I attended a session which focused on the barriers to fair housing protection for survivors of domestic violence and LGBT people in Louisiana, particularly here in Nola. The panel was made up of Deon Haywood, of Women With a Vision, Monika Gerhart of GNOFHAC, Misty Frye of the Nola Family Justice Center, and David Monroe of In This Together. The panel was incredibly informative, emotionally raw, and enlightening. The stories that the panelists told in particular about their experiences working, it seemed with mostly single mothers, was mind blowing. Many of their clients are sex workers, trans women, and women of color, who face a ridiculous amount of unequal treatment when it comes to finding and keeping jobs, finding and KEEPING housing opportunities, as well as trying to make just transportation and food work day to day.
In the next month, I plan on working presenting to the VISTA team about the specifics of housing discrimination here in the city, particularly for LGBT individuals, LGBT people of color, and their families. I’m really excited about this research and project, and I hope to share my findings here with you all next time! Until then, stay warm everybody!