Mayor Ray Nagin gets a lot of well-deserved ribbing these days about the fate of his recent political endorsements, but he's currently involved in another campaign that deserves everyone's support -- the city's recently launched "Time to Care Again" campaign.
Nagin unveiled the campaign in October, fulfilling a promise he made during his 2002 election campaign. The goal of "Care Again," he says, is to instill personal pride and promote individual responsibility through volunteerism. By now you've probably seen the excellent TV ads in support of the effort, featuring local performers admonishing everyone to overcome three persistent roadblocks to local progress -- apathy, complacency and cynicism.
"We hope to reverse those negative ideas -- apathy, complacency and cynicism -- that are so destructive to our city," says Nagin. "The Care Again campaign encourages everyone to claim a personal stake in our city's revitalization."
The campaign is multi-faceted. There are concerts featuring the city's interracial gospel choir, Shades of Praise. There's also a Web site that functions as a clearinghouse for volunteerism (www.NewNewOrleans.net). Volunteers can also call 598-CARE to sign on with any of the nearly 50 volunteer organizations (public, private and faith-based) that have joined the effort.
"With a few questions, people can identify the organizations they are most interested in, and have information immediately forwarded to them," said Matt Konigsmark, director of marketing for the city and one of the architects of the campaign. "In turn, that person's information will be forwarded to those organizations." Other creators of the campaign include Bright Moments Inc. and Zehnder Communications -- a 50-50 partnership of minority and majority firms, which reflects one of Care Again's major aspirations.
I attended the first Care Again concert last Tuesday at the Ashé Cultural Center on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in Central City. It was co-hosted by another participant in the Care Again campaign, the city's Human Relations Commission. In addition to a moving musical experience, the choir facilitates public dialogue -- one on one among audience members -- on race, harmony and diversity.
While I work with one organization headquartered in that area (KIDsmART), I must confess that I hadn't spent enough time there to appreciate how much the neighborhood has bounced back in recent years. From the infectious energy of the Ashé center to Café Reconcile across the street to the refurbished storefronts one block in either direction, the old Dryades corridor shows a lot of life these days. It was a perfect place to launch a movement whose aim is to bring back a city that has every reason to care ... again.
At least four additional concerts are planned -- one in each Council district. The discussions of race and diversity are enabling, not threatening, and kids are more than welcome. The next concert will be Thursday (Dec. 11) at 7 p.m. at Temple Sinai, 6227 St. Charles Ave., and another will be next Monday (Dec. 15) at 7 p.m. on the Dillard University campus.
Even if you can't make the concerts, check out the Web site and get involved. The perfect place to start, Nagin says, is right in front of your house -- clean the sidewalks and catch basins, pick up litter on the neutral ground, and report criminal activity to police.
I can't think of a better season -- or reason -- for this kind of campaign. This is the real campaign for New Orleans, and we can't afford for it to fail.
FAREWELL TO A FRIEND
My old friend and neighbor, Joe Knecht, former president of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO and past president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, died last week after a brave battle against cancer. As a labor leader, Joe was fearless, tough and honest. As a friend, he was loyal and true. He enjoyed the company of friends, and he could always be counted on to lend more than his share of humor and political insight. Among his many public contributions was chairing the New Orleans Aviation Board, which he led with integrity and grit -- before it became fashionable. I join his many friends in saying I will miss him.