Subdivision developments are rarely recognized as historic places, but that's exactly what a group of residents and activists are aiming for in adding Pontchartrain Park, a planned subdivision created in the 1950s for upper- and middle-class African Americans, to the National Register of Historic Places.
The area, which is bounded by Press Drive, Dreaux Avenue and Mithra Street and houses Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO), was established in part by philanthropic efforts of local white families including the Rosenwalds, Kellers and Sterns with support from Mayor deLesseps S. "Chep" Morrison. In 1954, models of the homes to be sold were advertised in the black community, for people whose housing options were limited under Jim Crow. "[The neighborhood] attracted many African-American families that were looking to move out from the urban areas and avoid all the crime and problems, but weren't allowed to move to white suburbs," says Dr. Ernestine Bennett-Johnson, an author and academic that's lived in Pontchartain Park her entire life. "These people were professionals -- doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers -- who wanted to live in a quiet, safe place and share the same values as their neighbors."
Bennett-Johnson considers her neighborhood, with its tidy ranch homes and well-landscaped lawns, historically significant as a model for a development that was the first of its kind in Louisiana and later spread to other areas afflicted by segregation. Pontchartrain Park has produced many noted local figures, including Marc Morial and Eddie Jordan.
To celebrate the area's unique past and present, as well as to gain momentum in the effort to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places, a reception will be held at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, at SUNO's Multi-Purpose Building (6400 Press Dr.). Residents and former residents are invited to bring any 1950s-era memorabilia, maps, pictures and other sorts of documentation, along with memories and stories to be taped. Collected material will be sent to the National Register of Historic Places for assessment. For more info, call 288-5840 or email Bennett_Johnson@hotmail.com. -- Frank Etheridge
Meeting at the Masjid
Once again, the government is telling you what most people know by walking down their street -- people are hurting, financially.
Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the nation's official poverty rate rose from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 12.1 percent in 2002. Four out of 10 of those poor people live in the South, the poorest part of the nation. In Louisiana, the poverty rate is a third higher than the United States as a whole. Over the past three years, 17.9 percent -- nearly one in five people -- have been poor in this state. That's basically a tie for highest poverty rate in the nation with Arkansas, where the poverty rate officially stands at 18 percent.
So what better time to circle the date Oct. 17, the annual celebration of "the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty"? This year, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Masjid ur-Rahim (1238 N. Johnson St., just off Esplanade Avenue), people will get together to eat, listen to music, discuss and -- for the kids -- play games around the theme "To Imagine a World Without Poverty is to Imagine a World at Peace." The event is sponsored by the masjid's Muslim community and local poverty-focused groups such as the Fourth World Movement, Pax Christi, and the Money Management Advocacy Council Icon.
The idea of such a day began in Paris on Oct. 17, 1987, when Father Joseph Wresinki, founder of the Fourth World Movement, unveiled a commemorative stone honoring the Victims of Extreme Poverty. In 1992, the United Nations' general assembly adopted a resolution and made an official day to be recognized worldwide.
Volunteer Leon Rudloff quotes Martin Luther King about why it's important to participate: "The well-off and secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in our midst. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for the 'least of these.'" -- Katy Reckdahl
It Takes a Village
Fittingly enough, the Idea Village began with an idea. The local nonprofit blossomed from conversations over cocktails within a group of young professionals that met Thursday evenings in the International House's Loa Bar. The group eventually formed under the moniker The Loa Group that in 2000 held a business-plan competition with 75 entrepreneurs competing for almost $150,000 in cash and professional services.
"The Idea Village is a community for entrepreneurs and those who believe in them," says Ellie Rand, a marketing consultant with the group. "We build businesses, working with entrepreneurs that are thinking about starting a business, actually starting a business, or looking to grow their company."
The Idea Village's principal goal is to foster economic development in New Orleans, a focus personal to its two founders, president Tim Williamson and chief operating officer Allen Bell, both natives who returned home after living in cities with more robust economies. The Idea Village offers free membership and assistance that ranges anywhere from linking a client to a tax attorney -- out of its pool of professional members, many of whom donate their services pro bono -- to pitching ideas to investors to conducting months of intensive research for development of a business model.
"Not to sound too bold, but we've been successful in elevating entrepreneurship to the top in the local discussion of economic development," Rand says, citing local and state government partnerships and initiatives. "This isn't about just passing around business cards at a party. It's about working together in professional partnerships to build businesses."
The Idea Village will hold a fundraiser and membership drive Friday, Oct. 10, at the W Hotel (333 Poydras St.). A patron party begins at 6:30 p.m., the main event follows at 8 p.m. and includes food, drinks and live music from a band featuring Sir Earl Toon of Kool & the Gang, Willie Tee and more. Tickets to the event are $75 per person or $1,500 for a table for eight; $300 for the patron party. For more info, call 304-3284 or visit www.ideavillage.org. -- Etheridge