While it will take political muscle and federal dollars to rebuild the Crescent City, it's also going to take the sweat of everyday people. These five local leaders explain how they plan to help.

Essence.com
Dec, 16, 2009

LYNETTE COLIN, 45, CREDIT UNION MANAGER

When rescue helicopters are hovering above to take you to safety, you probably won't grab a bank card. That's why Lynette Colin, branch manager of Hope Community Credit Union in New Orleans, went looking for people who needed cash after Katrina. The credit union has since handed out 850 no-interest loans. Managing the only financial institution in Central City, a mostly Black neighborhood, Colin is helping rebuild one of the city's few Black hubs left standing. "I know traditional banks would never go to Central City," Colin says. "But we pride ourselves on being a socially responsible financial institution."

 

ANTHONY RECASNER, 46, CHARTER SCHOOL FOUNDER

When Anthony Recasner, founder of the New Orleans Charter Middle School and the Samuel J. Green Charter School, opened his doors in 1998 as alternatives to the city's failing public schools, he challenged the notion that poor Black students are beyond hope. With a curriculum of intense academics and activities such as dance and gardening, his institutes have yielded some of the state's top pupils. Today, with many schools still closed or irreparable, most of those remaining are chartered or operate independently of the city's school board. Recasner predicts that with the burgeoning charter movement, "This community is going to be much more optimistic about the promise of public education."

 

MARVALENE HUGHES, PRESIDENT OF DILLARD UNIVERSITY

Dillard, New Orleans' oldest historically Black university, is up and running-even after hosting ten feet of water, losing buildings to fire, and routing classes to the Hilton hotel. Marvalene Hughes asked the hotel for space to hold 700 students; 1,100 returned.

Hughes had been at Dillard only 57 days when she ordered an evacuation. Though the school suffered almost $400 million in damages, Hughes hit the road recruiting. "We had so many offers to go to other cities out of state," she says. "But our loyalty to New Orleans remains strong."

 

LEAH CHASE, 83, RESTAURATEUR

In New Orleans, where food is sacred, Dooky Chase restaurant was one of the few places Black folks could go to be fussed over. After Katrina, it sustained heavy damage, but starting over excites co-owner and Creole chef Leah Chase. "This is my life," she says. The restaurant is located in a poor part of the city, but Chase is committed to treating her customers well. "They may not have anything at home," says Chase, who hoped to reopen by late summer, "but when they come to Dooky Chase, I make them feel like kings and queens."

 

THENA ROBINSON, 27, HURRICANE HOUSING SPECIALIST

For rent: Half a double in the Garden District; White couples preferred. Discrimination is rarely this easy to spot, so Thena Robinson of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center ferrets out bigots using discreet testers-Black and White "home buyers" sent to apply for loans to ascertain discriminatory practices. She says prejudiced landlords were a problem before the storm, but now they are proliferating. Robinson also advocates for home owners with mortgage and insurance trouble. "The spirit of the people is amazing," she says.

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