What if the most policed communities had more leverage in deciding the outcome of criminal cases? After three years of defending some of poorest people in Orleans Parish, the most incarcerated city on earth, local public defender Will Snowden launched the Juror Project; an initiative aimed to diversify jury panels in terms of race, thought, experience, socioeconomic background, and more. “We as a community should be involved with who we think should be sent to prison and a way to be involved is through jury service” says Snowden, “the studies show with more diversity there’s more fairness, there’s longer deliberation, more questions are going to be asked [and] things like implicit biases and racial anxiety are going to be addressed.” This project also comes in the midst of the Supreme Court considering tightening rules around racial discrimination in jury selection for the first time in 30 years.[i]
We often hear of all white juries convicting black defendants, but less about how juries become that way. Potential jurors can be removed during voir dire, a preliminary screening process, through two legal mechanisms: legal cause strikes and peremptory strikes. Under the premise that jurors must be rejected if they demonstrate an inability to follow the law, district attorneys utilize legal cause to reject individuals who hold fundamental disagreements about which communities are policed, what we arrest them for, and the severity of sentences. Snowden experienced this last year when a potential juror expressed he could not vote guilty for a simple possession of drug charge because the defendant was not drug dealer and had no intention to sell. When other potential jurors agreed with him, they were all removed for legal cause.
The language around peremptory strikes is vaguer and district attorneys have employed the clause to reject jurors for almost any reason. A prosecutor in Kansas notoriously used peremptory strikes to reject a potential juror in a 1993 case State V. Crawford stating that he “looked like a drug dealer”[ii] and was “too stupid to live much less be on a jury.”[iii] “It’s within the peremptory strikes that I think a lot of discrimination is happening,” said Snowden “where a particular person may be getting removed for whatever race neutral reason is offered, but really they’re being removed for more strategic purposes with an eye towards making it easier to convict somebody.” The struggle against peremptory strikes is a loaded one, including a warning from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in a 1986 ruling Batson V. Kentucky that “ending racial discrimination in jury selection can be accomplished only by eliminating peremptory challenges entirely.”[iv]
The juror project is challenging these upending ideologies that privilege jurors who can agree to vote guilty before the trial starts through legal education and awareness of discriminatory practices, “one thing the juror project discusses with the community is this idea of mandatory minimums and what that actually looks like in Louisiana.” Snowden suggests we must depart from a so-called task oriented system of discerning guilt and instead encourage jurors to truly vote their conscience, “When I go to trial for an individual charged with possession of heroin and they have two prior convictions, that person is facing life in prison if we lose. A jury will never hear me say that during a trial.” Jurors rarely have the ability to bring nuance to sentencing deliberation and discuss the practices like increasing the sentencing range of non-violent crimes for individuals with prior felonies.
Local prosecutors have accused the juror project of corrupting jury selection and coaching individuals about how to get on a jury. In response Snowden highlights the importance of a diverse and well-informed jury roster, “When we have a mindset that what I’m doing is somehow corrupting the system,” responded Snowden, “part of what they’re saying is they disagree with my efforts to increase the diversity of jury panels. And if we boil it down to why that may be is because they may know they have greater chances of convicting a young black man when they don’t have as many black people on the jury.”
In the future, the juror project hopes to train other communities to give their presentations, collect more data to illustrate the discriminatory effects of jury purging practices, and engage directly with individuals to expand the potential power of jury service. Although, according to the department of justice, about 95% of defendants take plea deals, Snowden hopes with a fairer jury trial system more defendants will go to trial and achieve deserved acquittals.
[i] Totenberg, Nina. “Supreme Court Takes On Racial Discrimination In Jury Selection.” National Public Radio (2016): n. pag. Web. Nov.-Dec. 2016.
All the proceeds of this fundraiser go directly to students who now more than ever need gap tuition financing. These are academically high performing students who need financial help. And you get some delicious crawfish and sides.
On his second trip to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lost his life on the frontlines in the fight for fair wages, better work conditions, and the respect and dignity demanded by the workers on the signs they carried: “I Am a Man.”
Fifty-two years later, sanitation workers in New Orleans are carrying the same signs, demanding the same benefits, with several caveats. In addition to a living wage and better working conditions, striking sanitation workers employed by PeopleReady, a subcontractor with the Metro Service Group, are also calling for $15 per hour, inclusive of hazard pay and the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to avoid contracting the coronavirus.
Entering the second week of their strike, at least 16 hoppers are on the picket line. “We gotten no hazard pay, no health insurance. We’re sure that’s not right,” Shone Gray, a 15-year sanitation worker, told members of Justice and Beyond during a Zoom Conference. “I guess Metro is helping the drivers, not the hoppers. We don’t have any type of benefits or insurance, none of that.”
Ironically, the sanitation workers’ dispute is pitting a black owned company against some of their black workers.
Metro Services Group (MSG) is a black-owned corporation co-founded by brothers Jimmie M. Woods and Glenn H. Woods. Headquartered in New Orleans, the company directly employs 250 people and 76 contract laborers. The firm provides sanitation, construction/demolition, disaster recovery and industrial and environmental services to municipalities in Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and Philadelphia. MSG also have contracts with federal agencies. The firm generates $19.9 million in sales annually, according to Dun & Bradstreet.
A press release MSG’s website disputes what it calls “scurrilous and baseless claims” by contracted hoppers who allege that Metro hasn’t provided the personal protective equipment needed for the hoppers’ safety.
“When COVID-19 unfolded, prior to the protest, Metro bought 15,000 KN95 masks, surgical masks, bandanas, 2000 pairs of various gloves and hand sanitizer.” Metro also routinely sanitizes its vehicles, facilities and equipment and the company denies allegations that their vehicles are prone to breakdowns. Its current fleet is comprised of 2017 vehicles, which undergo regularly scheduled maintenance.
“I only got a mask one time. A week or two after corona, they only us a pair of gloves, once a week. If you don’t show up between 34:00 am and 3:30 am, you don’t get the PPE,” Gray adds. Sanitation trucks roll out at 3:45 am, says Gray.
However, Metro’s publicist Virginia Miller says the PPE shortage allegation is false.
“The hoppers are direct employees of PeopleReady. PeopleReady also provides their own PPE to employees they assign to work for Metro,” and “Metro has been assured by all its contractors that no one working on behalf of Metro is being paid less than the current living wage of $11.19/hour,” the current Living Wage under the City’s Living Wage Ordinance.,” according to a Metro Fact Sheet.
“They’re paying us $10.25 an hour and we’re asking for $15 per hour. The temp service has come in here and pay us what they want to pay us,” Gray told Justice & Beyond members.
Pay dispute aside, $11.19 per hour is still below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four.
The hoppers want a benefit package that includes hazard pay, health insurance, a living wage, and sick leave. To that end, the striking workers have joined the City Waste Union.
“We have no workers comp, no health insurance, no benefits,” says Gray, who says he works at least 12 hours a day. The hopper says workers can easily get hurt on what he calls a dangerous job. “I broke my leg on the job, but I have to pay for it out my pocket. I had to go to the hospital on my own.” When asked if Metro is testing employees for the coronavirus, Gray says, “They said they would start test but they (tests) still haven’t come in yet.”
“He (Jimmy Woods) should see the world through the view of his workers; pay a living wage, hazard pay and benefits. These young men know what they’re fighting for. If you can afford to pay PeopleReady $16.75 an hour for each hopper, why not do your own in-house human resources?” Malcolm Suber, an organizer with the NOLA Workers Group, which is helping to garner support for the hoppers, asks.
“The Metro Service Group fully supports hazard pay for sanitation workers and others on the front line in this challenging Covid-19 environment. As our letter of May 1st to Congressman Richmond demonstrates, our position in this regard has been clear since before this demand was made by some of our contract “hoppers”. Without any doubt, our employees and contractors and others in the sanitation field deserve hazard pay.
“Metro has welcomed an opportunity for a dialog with the strikers presented by Councilman Jason Williams. While there are existing differences of opinion, these are very real and complex issues that deserve to be addressed in fact based, solution-driven dialog,” according to the company’s fact sheet.
In a May 12 press release, Metro denied any contact or conversations with the strikers prior to the labor stoppage on May 5. “Rather than address any concerns in a meaningful and productive way, they chose to make news with the ongoing and active support of a national group, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).”
The DSA is indeed supporting the striking hoppers. The organization has posted a Go Fund Me link for the sanitation workers and some DSA members are on the picket line with them.
However, Justice & Beyond, a multi-group coalition of civil rights and social justice advocates, and Loyola Law Professor Bill Quigley are also standing up for the hoppers. The executive director of the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center, Quigley has authored numerous legal analyses about fair wages, the need for minimum wage increases and workers’ rights. He also teaches social justice law at Loyola, among other subjects.
“That’s Senator Bernie Sanders people,” Quigley says of the DSA. “He has millions of followers, they’re here in New Orleans and nationwide.”
“The city, Metro, PeopleReady, every one of those contractors should do the right thing. It’s a question of fairness and justice. It’s a common tactic for business to avoid accountability,” Quigley explains regarding Metro’s insistence that PeopleReady is the employer of the striking hoppers. “The city hired Metro and Metro hired PeopleReady. You can’t avoid your responsibility by subcontracting it out.”
Reverend Gregory Manning, the co-coordinator of Justice and Beyond and Pastor of the Broadmoor Community Church, affirmed J&B’s support for the hoppers in a recent letter to Mayor LaToya Cantrell. He first expressed the group’s gratitude for Metro’s 38-year history as a highly reputable black-owned company in the city of New Orleans.
”Indeed, they have a set an example of success that many should strive for. I would like to personally thank Mr. Jimmy Woods for his employment of young African-American men and women throughout the city.”
“With that said, I would also like to make it clear that Justice and Beyond stands in solidarity with the striking workers of the City Waste Union. We believe that these workers should be supplied with proper PPE so that they may be protected from COVID-19 . This should be a standard distribution of new PPE daily for each worker. This PPE should be from head to toe. We also believe that each worker should be given hazard pay, sick leave, insurance and at least $19 an hour; the housing wage for New Orleans.”
Metro documents indicate that there are ongoing conversations to find a resolution to the workers’ demands. U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond is being asked to include sanitation workers in the House’s Hero Act and Mayor Cantrell and Councilperson-at-Large Jason Williams are being consulted. Metro Attorney David Davillier told a news reporter that one option could be an increase the city’s sanitation fees.
The hoppers are not alone in their fight for hazard pay and $15 per hour, and benefits. Essential workers nationwide, who continue to risk their lives to work during the coronavirus pandemic, are demanding the same benefits as unionized workers. Health experts say the coronavirus will continue to circulate for months.
Sanitation workers are essential to maintaining public health. Without them, the exposure to a plethora of illnesses caused by bacteria and other life-threatening organisms would make the coronavirus threat a walk in the park.
“Everybody needs to change. The world has changed,” Quigley adds, regarding the need for justice, fairness, better pay and a higher quality of life for everyone.
The best companies adapt and change too.
by Rebecca J. Lester Ph.D., MSW, LCSW
What COVID can teach us about inequity and compassion.
It goes without saying that the last few months have been an incredibly difficult time. Our worlds have changed, perhaps forever. The safety and security we once took for granted has been upended, and we are all still trying to find our footing.
This situation has led me to reflect not on deprivation, but on privilege. Because it occurs to me that the very things that are grinding many of us down at the moment: uncertainty, instability, feeling out of control of our circumstances, feeling hopeless, despairing that things won’t get better, having trouble concentrating or being motivated–all of these things are indicators of privilege that has been disrupted. This is not to suggest that these feelings aren’t real or valid. They absolutely are. But we are feeling them precisely because they mark such radical departures from our usual everyday lives.
As an anthropologist, I spend a great deal of time learning and thinking about cultures and societies other than my own. And one thing that quickly becomes clear when we take a global perspective is that expectations of an orderly, predictable, world where we have agency and the ability to affect the circumstances in which we live is a distinctly unusual state of affairs. These are properties of what social scientists and psychologists call WEIRD societies (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic). WEIRD societies make up only a tiny sliver of the world’s population (Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan 2010). The ways most Americans experience the world, then, puts them in a distinct minority.
Not only this, but not all Americans have access to the same kinds of resources and opportunities. We know from public health research, for example, that African Americans and other people of color are disproportionately affected by a variety of health concerns coupled with reduced access to healthcare, which is further compounded by the everyday micro- and macroagressions of racism and socioeconomic disadvantage. This leads to a weathering effect (Geronimus 1992) that has profound effects on outcomes, including in the current pandemic (Sanford and Carter 2020). And people of all races and ethnicities living in poverty contend daily with uncertainty, instability, and feeling out of control of their circumstances, which can lead to a sense of foreshortened future and hopelessness as well as difficulties making decisions or taking proactive steps (Mani et al., 2013).
When disadvantaged groups in our own country or people in other societies can’t somehow muster the wherewithal to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” they are often blamed for not trying hard enough, for not taking advantage of all the opportunities on offer, for somehow “deserving” their beleaguered state. Yet when we privileged folks get but a taste of similar conditions, we find it hard to cope and our worlds fall apart, leaving us to wonder how we will ever get back on track.
I want to be clear that I am not engaging in a “whose suffering is worse?” exercise. It is not a competition–suffering is suffering, and the current situation has produced very real and very dire consequences for millions and millions of people. What I do want to do, however, is to invite us all to reflect upon what that suffering can teach us about broader scale structures that frame our collective human lives and the kinds of challenges people less fortunate than us deal with every single day–not to minimize our own struggles, but to mobilize them toward a different end. Can my difficulties feeling motivated to do regular work in the midst of this crisis give me more compassion for the person who lives in insecurity every day, yet rides three busses to get to a minimum wage job? Can my challenges concentrating during the pandemic help me understand a bit better why some kids struggle at school when they don’t know what might be waiting for them out on the street or at home? Can this experience lead me to ask different questions or pay attention to different information before making judgements about people in another society or a country’s level of “development” or “progress”? article continues after advertisement
This is, indeed, an unprecedented time. Let’s use it to gain some unprecedented insights about ourselves, about others, and about the world we live in.
A Louisiana Weekly Original
By Khalil Abdullah Contributing Writer
(Ethnic Media Services) — Dr. Melva Thompson-Robinson knows the data on the disparate impact of the corona virus and COVID-19 on African Americans and other minorities. Her key concern is how racism and unconscious bias continue to act as an accelerant of the pandemic.
“Stories are starting to come out where African Americans are presenting themselves to emergency rooms and having COVID symptoms and are not being seen,” Thompson-Robinson asserts. “In some cases, it’s taking multiple trips, but by the time they do get tested they are so sick they can’t recover.”
Thompson-Robinson could have had Ms. Deborah Gatewood in mind. Gatewood repeatedly sought to be tested in mid-March for COVID-19 symptoms at the hospital in Michigan where she had been employed as a healthcare worker for over 30 years, according to Fox News 2 in Detroit. She was turned away – four times – and advised to go home and take a mild palliative, like cough syrup. Gatewood finally became so ill she had to be transported by ambulance. She died in late March at age 63 in a different hospital. She tested positive there for COVID-19, but too late for a lifesaving intervention.
The Gatewood story is a horrific but not atypical reminder of the fatal outcomes that Dr. Thompson-Robinson attributes to a long history of sub-optimal health care experienced by African Americans and the inherent bias that bleeds into all aspects of American life, from education to housing to employment opportunities. “This is something that has been centuries in the making – in the inequality, in the racism that African Americans in particular have experienced, but also other black and brown populations as well,” Thompson-Robinson contends.
Thompson-Robinson is the Director of the Center for Health Disparities Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She spoke on a May 1 video conference for ethnic media journalists hosted by Ethnic Media Services. By way of example, in Louisiana, African Americans comprise about 30 percent of the population and over 70 percent of the COVID-19 patients, Thompson-Robinson noted, while in Georgia, they constitute 32 percent of the population but 52 percent of the cases. She said in many communities, low wage occupations – now categorized as essential – are filled by minority workers who often have no health insurance even as data on their underlying health conditions goes uncollected.
“We don’t get cancer at a higher rate, but we die at a higher rate. We don’t go to the physician. We aren’t getting things checked out until it’s too late.” Even when presenting to a physician or medical staff in a timely manner, as Ms. Gatewood attempted to do in Michigan, unconscious bias or stereotypes can weigh in on what may ultimately be an ill-formed medical diagnosis or supposition.
Thompson-Robinson spoke of her own experience of having to forcefully advocate for a family member. She recommends that a prospective patient bring someone along to the emergency room to serve as an advocate when he or she isn’t feeling well. Individuals from minority groups aren’t taken seriously when they say they’re in pain or when they are unable to articulate their symptoms to the satisfaction of medical personnel.
As for bias, it can manifest in simple ways. “Oh, I’m not racist,” Thompson-Robinson says mimicking a casual interaction, “but yet their actions treat people a little bit differently based on the biases they have. In the field of medicine, delays in being seen or treated typically yield poorer health outcomes.” David Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA, concurred that minorities staff the front lines of essential service professions. “Feeding the nation and subject to deportation,” is how he described many of the undocumented or legally tenuous workers putting their lives at risk as farmworkers, meat packers, truck drivers, shelf stockers, check-out clerks, auto mechanics, bus drivers, nursing home attendants and other occupations heavily staffed by Latinos and people of color. They are also twice as likely not to have health insurance, Hayes-Bautista said.
In the public discourse about the effects of COVID-19, Mayra Alvarez, president of the Children’s Partnership, expressed dismay at the scant attention paid to children. Federal relief efforts have excluded immigrants and, by default, their children.
At least 55 million students have been cast adrift by school closings in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Food insecurity is a paramount concern, as is the dearth of access to distance learning. Nor is there much discussion about the long-term consequences of the trauma to which children are being exposed. Children are residing in food-insecure homes where their parents sacrifice their own meals to feed them, Alvarez said, citing a survey of 500 families in California by Children’s Partnership and Ed Trust. Some 72 percent of respondents said they “are worried about their family’s mental health.”
Offering one reason for hope, Alvarez said, “I truly believe that COVID-19 is shifting the conversation when it comes to greater understanding of historical inequities in health, in economic opportunity, in overall well-being – historical inequities that many of us have known have existed forever.” It is a sentiment shared by Thompson-Robinson. “I hope that once we come out of this pandemic, these conversations will continue – and that people will realize the health of our communities, our workforce, our country is only as strong as its weakest link.”
This article originally published in the May 18, 2020 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.
and its Impact on the African-American Community
A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE ANALYSIS
by Tribune Staff
By now, everyone likely knows that African Americans, who comprise only 32 percent of the state’s population, have made up 70 percent of Louisiana’s COVID-related deaths so far.
When Gov. John Bel Edwards made that statistic public during one of his daily press briefings earlier this month, he also said the “trend” was worthy of further study. Not surprisingly, Louisiana is not alone. Across the nation, the virus similarly impacts Black communities. For example, in Chicago, Blacks comprise 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths there as well, while making up only about 30 percent of the city’s population.
The reason is racism— historic, systemic and institutional racism, the good old-fashioned kind. With all due respect to Gov. Edwards, 400 years of racism is not a trend.
That we are 70 percent of the COVID-19 related deaths in the state should come as no surprise. Black Americans, including those of us who live in Louisiana, are more defenseless against every societal ill America has to offer. It starts the minute we enter the world—literally, from birth. In 1968, Black infants were about 1.9 times as likely to die as White infants. Today, the rate is 2.3 times higher for African Americans.
We already know the stats. We have repeated them incessantly in the pages of The New Orleans Tribune for 35 years to be exact. But we are always happy to remind.
African Americans are 2.5 times as likely to be in poverty as Whites. Even with the ACA (Obamacare) and the Medicaid expansion, we are still uninsured at higher rates than White Americans and more likely to work jobs where health insurance is not offered, while earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to afford private insurance. In 2017 the Black unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 1968, but it is still roughly twice the White unemployment rate. The typical Black family had only $2,467 in wealth in 1963. And while today that figure is about six times larger ($17,409), wealth for White families dwarfs it. In 2016, the median African American family had only 10.2 percent of the wealth of the median White family ($17,409 versus $171,000).
All of those statistics and others point to the reason COVID-19 has hit our communities so hard. Yes, chronic illnesses that African Americans often suffer from at a disproportionate rate should and must be addressed by individuals and their doctors. But we simply cannot stop there, because structural racism is at the root of it all.
Glenn Ellis, a medical ethicist, researcher, lecturer and president of Strategies for Well-Being, a global consultancy that specializes in health equity and advocacy, says the fallout from COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on Black people offers an opportunity to determine how we will prevent this from happening again.
“What this virus is doing is clearly demonstrating how institutional racism has affected Black lives in America,” Ellis told The New Orleans Tribune. “And it is singling out the healthcare system to show how we are at a disadvantage. We can start with the method used to tell people to seek diagnosis and testing for COVID-19. They said to contact your primary care physician. Don’t go to the hospital. Don’t go to the emergency room. Many Black people don’t have primary care physicians. Even with Medicaid and Obamacare, they go to community clinics or community medical centers, where they see rotating physicians.”
The fact that African Americans are less likely to visit primary care physicians as their source of healthcare is not an obscure bit of information. According to a 2016 study published in a National Institute of Health study—whether the reason is mistrust, lack of access or socio-economic status/ability—Black Americans go to private physicians office for care at only two-thirds the rate of White Americans. Now if the National Institute of Health already knows this, someone somewhere had to have known that directing Americans to call their primary care physicians if they were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms would leave many Black Americans with no one to call.
As Ellis contends, the very fact that this reality was not considered when crafting and delivering the message that primary care physicians were the frontline for COVID-19 care at the very least indicated a lack of understanding for what it means to be Black in America. At worst, it was a blatant disregard for Blacks in America and a sign of institutional racism.
Ellis continues, “So if you are telling people not to go to the hospital, not to go to the emergency room, but to call their primary care physician, who are you talking to? They are not even talking to me because they don’t understand the realities of my culture. And that allows a viral infection to continue to spread. We were allowed to go much longer without taking precautions. Without any way to deny it, you have to look at what racism does to the wellbeing of Blacks in America.”
To be sure, even the drive-thru method of testing employed earlier in Louisiana and across the nation was innately biased against the poor and disenfranchised. It presumed that anyone and everyone experiencing symptoms of the disease also had a personal vehicle. In New Orleans, about 20 percent of the population lacks access to a personal vehicle, more than twice the national average. A lack of reliable transportation was a primary reason many New Orleanians, especially poor, Black New Orleanians were unable to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina.
We’ve Been Here Before
It would be one thing if COVID-19 was the first time the impact of racism in America was exposed in such a raw and jarring manner. But it’s not.
Didn’t we learn this lesson nearly 15 years ago in the aftermath Hurricane Katrina? Didn’t the storm shine a light on how the deep socio-economic disparities fueled by systemic racism created two New Orleans—one that was overwhelmingly Black and unable to respond to the storm’s threat. Haven’t we been here before? Then, why do we find ourselves in this disgustingly familiar place? Better still, what are we going to do about it?”
Ellis has a thought.
“Now for the second time in recent years, this country has been given a chance to decide who it wants to be. We have a chance to say, ‘No, we don’t want to be a nation where an entire segment of our population is disenfranchised because of racism’. But if the nation won’t do it, as a whole, then Black folk need to get serious. We have to look at our consumption patterns,” he says, specifically referencing how and where Black Americans receive news and information.”
He continues, “We have to get strict and do it across the board in all areas—how we spend our money and how we vote. We really have to put more scrutiny on and demand more accountability from the people we vote for. Either we are going to do it together as a country or we have to come together as Black people and say ‘we’re not going to allow our communities and our people to die like this again’. We don’t have the luxury to be sitting around, waiting on somebody to save us.”
No Time for the Blame Game
There is probably no individual or organization that encourages personal responsibility and the need for those of us in the Black community to save ourselves more than we do here at The New Orleans Tribune. Our mantra: “We must come together to save ourselves because no one else will.”
Of course, Black Americans . . . all Americans for that matter, should watch what we eat. We should not smoke or drink too much. We should exercise more. We should take seriously and, with the help of healthcare professionals, better manage chronic illnesses. We should make regular doctor visits.
We must do better as individuals, families, and communities when it comes to taking care of our bodies. The disparate vulnerability of Black Louisianans to the coronavirus has made that clear. We comprise 70 percent of COVID-19 related deaths in a state where we are only a little more than 32 percent of the population. And with that fact, perhaps it is a natural inclination to look at the Black community, point a finger and say that we must be doing something wrong, something that makes us more susceptible to the disease. And it is true. There are things we have done (or have not done) that have resulted in this uneven impact. It’s okay to talk about those things, especially if everyone else, especially our leaders and policymakers, are ready to talk about the things that have been done to Black people in America over the last 400 years, how those things have undermined our community and left us vulnerable to COVID-19 and so much more.
More importantly, we need leaders to develop a plan to address the issues that harm our communities from a policy standpoint.
That is why it was disappointing to hear Gov. John Edwards (and others, including Black leaders, elected officials and influencers) go on and on about the lifestyle behaviors that contribute to Black folk being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 without the proper context. The reason Black people are dying from coronavirus at a disproportionate rate does not begin and end with bad habits or existing chronic illnesses that afflict our community at higher rates than others. It begins with structural racism.
It is true, coronavirus does not see race or class. But our nation and its healthcare system do. And that is the problem we need our leaders addressing substantially more than we need to be lectured by any of them about the amount of salt someone shakes on their meal.
It is disrespectful to go on and on about how Black people need to do a better job of seeking care from primary care doctors without talking about the institutional racism that helps explain why they don’t.
According to studies, Black Americans seek their healthcare from primary care physicians at a rate of about two-thirds that of White Americans. And unless we are ready to talk about a lack of cultural competency among many healthcare professionals, the lack of access and resources that keeps many Black Americans from seeking the medical care they need, the understandable and inherent distrust many Black Americans have for the established medical system, or the fact that only four percent of the nation’s practicing physicians are Black, then we are wasting our time. The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in Black Males” went on for 40 years until as recently as 1972; and dark events like it, along with similar issues with this country’s medical establishment, are major reasons Black Americans don’t trust the established medical system. It’s true many Black people don’t go to the doctor as often as they should. Can you blame them? Better still, what can you do to change this reality?
Of course, we know there are things individuals must do to improve his or her own quality of life. But let’s put this thing in perspective. Historic and even current government-sanctioned policies that were and are racist at their core have shaped what it means to be Black in America in every way possible. So as our leaders try desperately to unpack the data, we believe too much energy has been spent pointing fingers at Black people for the decisions they make or don’t make while not nearly enough attention is given to circumstances that have driven those decisions for 400 years.
The way some folks talk about the disparate impact of the virus on the Black community, including U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams whose “do it for your Abuela . . . do it for Big Mama” plea to Black and brown Americans to not drink and to not smoke, is pejorative, superficial and utterly ignores the fact that 400 years of structural racism have manifested into every negative social determinant that impacts Black America. And if the nation’s surgeon general, who also happens to be a Black man, can’t dig any deeper than that to talk about not only habits that need to change, but government policies and healthcare industry practices that need to be transformed as well, then we are in trouble.
We were unnerved by Gov. Edwards, when, during his 1 p.m. address Friday (April 10), he
castigated the very community being hit hardest by this disease; then, almost as if it were an afterthought, he briefly mentioned something about “figuring out” the social determinants that play a role in the disparate impact COVID-19 is having on Black people in Louisiana and “see what we can do to address them.”
What is there to figure out?
Slavery. Domestic Terrorism. Jim Crow. Segregation. Redlining. Economic Exclusion. Historically Inequitable Treatment in the Education, Healthcare, Housing, and Criminal Justice systems. Are those enough social determinants for y’all?
And let’s be abundantly clear, we are not talking about ancient history. We are talking about a relatively young nation’s recent past that continues and current problems that exist because every one of this nation’s systems and institutions are built on a foundation of racism.
Yes, we must talk about poor diets, but let’s dare do that without mentioning that our city is littered with communities that are in fact food deserts forcing people to travel miles from home for fresh offerings or settle for the unhealthy options that are just up the block. How could anyone with even an ounce of decency talk about poor eating habits of a community and not talk about how areas in cities such as New Orleans and others like it across the country are void of healthy choices TODAY because of redlining policies that date back to the 40s, 50s, and 60s—an actual program created and sanctioned by the federal government to keep banks from backing loans to developers to build and sell homes in Black neighborhoods, which in turn kept Blacks from building wealth and kept business interests from opening groceries or other viable institutions to serve people they intentionally left trapped there. Today, groceries, banks, healthcare facilities, restaurants and the like won’t even consider many of these areas of our communities unless they are being gentrified.
Just look to New Orleans East for an example close to home. Large national grocery store and retail chains abandoned New Orleans East after African-Americans began to move there and white folks fled.
Stop victim-blaming and do something
Now as the state turns it’s attention to residents in the River Parishes, we have to talk about environmental racism. We hope that our leaders are not surprised because St. John, St. James and parishes that stretch along the Mississippi River, are getting hit hard now by coronavirus. As the number of cases in these areas grows, our leaders should not talk about the rate of diabetes or hypertension in these communities without mentioning the inequitable manner in which Black people in these communities suffer from cancer and respiratory illnesses because of the chemical plants that have been allowed to grow unchecked in their backyards.
We know it will be easier to talk about how residents along Cancer Alley need to exercise more. That way you don’t have to explain why the petrochemical plants are still allowed to flourish there despite their proximity to and detrimental impact on the communities of color. But we didn’t elect you to take the easy way out. Greed and environmental racism were already killing the people of these communities. COVID-19 is not helping. And neither will a brisk walk.
We could go on and on about every social determinant and point to historical or current policies and practices that directly impact the state of Black America today. We have been writing about this stuff for 35 years.
But right now, we just need y’all (including Black leaders) to stop it. Stop victim-blaming and do something.
For our part, we encourage our brothers and sisters to step up to the challenge and take as much control over their lives as they possibly can. We often dedicate the monthly “To Your Health” column of the this very newspaper to examining many of the illnesses that impact our community disparately, offering useful information and encouraging our readers to make healthier choices. Gov. Edwards is right about one thing—everyone needs to do his part. Everyone needs to do what they are supposed to do.
So, let us pray.
God grant us the courage to change the things we can and to accept personal responsibility for our individual lives.
Grant us the boldness to demand that our leaders fix the things they are supposed to fix, deliver services and create policies that close education, healthcare, housing, income and wealth gaps because that is what we elected them to do. And grant them the humility to either do their jobs or go home and be quiet.
Oh yeah, God, also grant them the wisdom not to blame the victims of 400 years of racism in America for not being able to handle this deadly virus as well as others who have enjoyed a 250-year head start in wealth, access, equity and opportunity in every way.
What Happens When a Growing Black Business is in the Crosshairs of a National Union
By Jeff Thomas
Brothers Jimmie and Glenn Woods started Metro Disposal (a/k/a Metro Service Group, Inc.) with vision, grit and determination. “It was just us. We had an old truck and we handmade our containers ourselves,” said Jimmie as he closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and held his head back. “Around 8 at night I would drive and Glenn would be the hopper, and we would pick up the trash that had accumulated that day.”
“And the next morning we would put on a shirt and tie and knock on doors to get more customers,” added Glenn. “But I was the wheel man for the containers. If one of them broke, I would jack it up and fix it right there on the spot.”
“One day our truck broke down and I was under it laying in a rancid pool of maggots and feces infested water,” said Jimmie as the brothers teased about who worked the hardest. “You were good at anticipating the tool I would need next though.”
Metro has grown significantly over the last 38 years into a multi-state operation that is much more than two men and a truck. In New Orleans, Metro is one of the two African-American owned companies responsible for collecting the trash across our city. The two brothers parlayed their quick wardrobe changes and penchant to work long hard hours into being one of the largest companies in New Orleans. They now operate in 9 states and provide residential, commercial, industrial, construction and consulting services.
As the brothers joyfully reminisced inside their office, their happy mood switched to angst about the small crowd of protestors just outside the fence of their sprawling New Orleans East complex.
Across the country during this COVID-19 pandemic, union organizing has gained steam and momentum. Businesses are being identified by their size, scope and industry and organizers are contacting their employees and helping them gain better pay and protection during these life-threating work conditions. Our front-line workers deserve a living wage and proper protection.
Businesses are facing intense pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic and must adjust on the fly. Multiple unforeseen forces are simultaneously attempting to leverage business owners, while they struggle to even make a profit as their markets shrink or disappear. Additionally, workers who are fortunate enough to earn a living see their value as significantly higher and press for higher paychecks.
Smart business owners are balancing workers’ needs and rights within their own strained balance sheets and providing the resources we all desperately need during this pandemic. The best companies are transforming their business models—think Twitter allowing workers to permanently work from home. Workers will continue to organize. And this national resurgence in union organizing gives workers more ability to pressure companies.
Sitting inside their offices, the Woods brothers see this local attack through a different lens. The brothers not only currently pay, but have always paid a living wage, and they have been out in front of all the trendy hiring concepts that promulgate the latest social consciousness.
“We are the original second chance givers. We have always hired and paid a good salary to men who nobody else would even look at! Men who work with us can afford a good life in New Orleans.” “Our core beliefs are paying our people a living wage,” said Jimmie. “We always have,” echoed Glenn.
The men who Metro have hired are considered by some as castaways. Criminal records searches are used by 93% of employers that conduct pre-hiring screening, according to Sterling Talent Solutions in 2017. 70 million Americans have a criminal record, and often can’t find work because of it. The Woods’ brothers hiring practices get pass that discrimination and help formerly incarcerated persons get back on their feet. They routinely hire people who otherwise would not have a chance at earning a living wage and are proud of their support of the First 72+ program—a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals to integrate back into society in a meaningful way.
Now, suddenly every morning young white liberals intermingle with the protestors, helping them to make signs, speak to the media and recruit others. Union organizers use laptops and smartphones to collect data from the group of largely African American men who normally start their shifts in the wee hours of the morning. These young organizers circulate information about unions and workers’ rights to the group of hoppers who normally assemble inside the gate. Hoppers are now demanding higher wages, PPE and safe working conditions.
The Woods brothers are most discouraged by the fake news being pushed by these organizers. Having been in the business for nearly 40 years, they have seen union organizers before. In fact, several years ago Metro workers voted overwhelmingly not to unionize; but now organizers are using the COVID-19 crisis to get another opportunity. Metro insists that it has treated all of their employees and subcontracted hoppers with the respect and dignity they deserve. They maintain that they pay $16.75 per hour per hopper to PeopleReady, the direct employer of the hoppers; that they have always had and made PPE available, and that their trucks are amongst the best maintained in the industry.
PeopleReady, the direct employer of the protesting hoppers, is a part of TrueBlue, Inc., a global workforce solutions leader connecting clients with over 840,000 associates across 70 countries. They recruit, hire and directly pay the hoppers. The PeopleReady profit per hour per employee is the difference between the living wage that Metro pays for the hoppers as compared to the multi-national company whose global focus is on their own profit. PeopleReady confirms that it currently pays the hoppers at least $11.19 per hour, which is the current Living Wage under the City’s Living Wage Ordinance.
Metro has always, not only had enough PPE for their employees and sub-contractors, but have even loaned supplies to other companies that were expecting delayed deliveries. They are committed to doing everything they can to protect the citizens of the city and every person associated with Metro, whether direct employees or indirect employees. The Woods brothers live in New Orleans and shiver at the thought of them being a source of community spread. Back in February, they sourced enough PPE for each team member and plan to continue to provide them protective gear as long as there is a need. In fact, they have invoices that prove this point.
Even though PeopleReady is responsible for providing all protective gear to the hoppers, Metro has stocked enough for the hoppers. Metro has communicated in no uncertain terms to PeopleReady that it should properly protect the workers. Viewing themselves as a front-line and an essential service, Woods says, “Metro will continue to lead the way in ensuring everybody in New Orleans is safe.” In fact, Metro is researching several products that can be sprayed on cans and give them long term resistance to germs, bacteria and viruses. Though not contractually required, Metro has always been an innovative company that protects our community.
The union claimed that Metro used prisoners from Livingston Parish to collect the trash in New Orleans. Metro does not refute this, but clarifies that when the hoppers decided not to work on May 5th, and stated that no truck would move and no trash would be collected in the City on that date, it had to act quickly to protect the citizens of New Orleans from the environmental effects waste build-up, along with honoring its contractual obligations to the City. During this pandemic, more people are home and creating and putting out more trash than normal, and Metro is committed to collecting the trash.
Faced with a reduced workforce, Metro reached out to industry competitors. None could help because they are also collecting more trash than normal. In a jam, the brothers took drastic measures. Referred to Livingston Parish by someone in the business, Metro hired trustees, who are at the end of their confinement, and are eligible to work. And New Orleans remains safe and clean. They only worked for 4 days. Metro paid a living wage to every man who worked during that 4-day period. Metro’s quick decision protected the people of New Orleans and helped some men who needed and were eligible to work.
The company has invested over $3 million dollars in their fleet of trucks, and in constructing a Compressed Natural Gas plant. If you used to listen for the garbage man and run out in your PJ’s to pull out the can, you might be out of luck if Metro services your neighborhood. They use Compressed Natural Gas trucks. The trucks are super quiet, virtually eliminating noise and air pollution, but making last minute can pullers job tough.
In their sprawling NOLA East complex, Metro employs certified mechanics, who in addition to servicing the trucks replace their own tires and paint the trucks themselves. Environmentally conscious and focused on cleanliness, Metro removes the trash in late-model, well-maintained, quiet trucks. They operate the mechanic shop 24-hours a day to keep clean running compressed natural gas-powered vehicles available.
Union organizers repeatedly question hoppers about problems. One day one hose broke on one truck. Suddenly a list of demands included stopping hydraulic fluid from pouring onto hoppers. The truck was serviced the same day and back on the road with a newly repaired hose that did not leak. Jimmie and Glenn pride themselves on keeping their vehicles in tip top shape.
Municipalities like to contract local because their partners are truly invested in the community. Lifelong residents of the greater New Orleans area, Jimmie and Glenn are well known contributors to important causes that benefit us all. Churches and community groups have leaned on the businessmen over the years, so much that they had to pull back and are forming a philanthropic nonprofit that will help raise funds and be responsible for aid distribution going forward.
Metro is a family-owned business that is the American success story. Metro is an African- American owned business that is growing. Metro hires African-American men, many who would have no other work opportunity, and pays them a living wage. The company is run by native New Orleanians who live in the city. Their children attend local schools. They go to local churches and shop in local stores. They are here to protect and serve our community.
But during these strange COVID-19 times, they are being branded as a something else. A national movement to increase union membership is active and real in New Orleans. Sometimes union organizers use local people as their pawns. Instead of speaking themselves, local union organizers got three local people to be their spokesmen. Sadly, they made false claims. Most hoppers have returned to work through PeopleReady, and Metro has welcomed them back.
Let’s protect workers’ rights. Unionize when necessary. But we should not smear the good names of a local family that runs a great business and treats its people the way they would like to be treated themselves.
Strong unions are good for America. They protect our workers and safeguard working conditions and pay. Our economy is stronger when our workers have enough money to live productive lives. But national unions hurt themselves and create mistrust when they make false claims and attempt to smear the good name of a local community asset like Metro Disposal. During COVID-19, unions are growing. Workers’ rights are important. We need to do everything we can to support our people. And we need strong companies from our communities who hire our people and treat them right
In a Phase 1 Environment
By Kenneth Cooper
Stay At Home Order Day 61: Yes, I know this has left some of you tired. I know this has left some of you poor, weary, a frustrated, huddled mass yearning to breathe free. I know there may be a few places and side-pieces you haven’t seen in a while. But now that the stay at home order has been lifted, there’s a few do’s and don’ts you should consider before hitting the streets. First of all…
wear a mask. It’s kind of important. It’s kind of required. And it kind of works. Droplets unintentionally shoot out from the mouth when we speak. The mask absorbs them, and as a result those potentially corona-corrupted droplets don’t hang in the air, infect some poor unknowing soul, and possibly put them in the hospital or the morgue. Speaking of masks…
listen to Senator John Kennedy or those trying to turn wearing a mask into a political issue. Nobody is proposing you wear a mask in the shower. But even if you do don a mask (outside), and pack a pocket full of hand sanitizer or gloves, in the midst of your excitement to breathe free…
go out and hug your grandma just yet, or throw a big party, or think that because the mayor turned the faucet on for a trickle you can flood the streets like a levee breach. We’re still fragile, and you’re still safest at home, but at the same time…
embrace the new new new New Orleans. There’s a plethora of reasons why. For one, black people are actually included in the iteration this time. But not strippers, initially, which is weird. You can go out and have somebody cut your hair, play with your nails and feet, sit 6 feet apart at restaurants and movie theaters, but you can’t have a socially-distanced butt gyrate in front your face, even if you both have on masks? Maybe it’s because a bar has to have a food permit to open up during Phase 1, and come to think of it, I’ve never seen anybody eating a hamburger at a strip club. I could be wrong. Anyway, those businesses that are open and trying to survive at a quarter-mast need all the revenue they can get. Their employees who are struggling to pay bills could also use a paycheck, and the city budget could definitely use the sales taxes. Plus, the quicker we show that we can gather safely in moderation, the quicker we’ll move to the next phase, and prevent the city from falling so deep into a recession that we’re left wondering if the cure was actually worse than the disease, or whatever phrase the president is running around saying these days. One more thing, if your phone happens to ring and you answer it…
hang-up on a contact tracer. Yes, it’ll probably be a pretty invasive call where some stranger tries to get all up in your business, wanting to know who you’ve been with and where, but it’s necessary. Now that the number of cases have dropped, the city has the hospital and testing capacity to handle the virus as long as it gets those who have it isolated and off the streets. Talking to a tracer doesn’t mean the NOPD is going to show up at your door and drag you to the UMC (at least we hope it doesn’t come to that), but it will help to encourage those who have been exposed to get tested before the virus spreads and has us right back under a stay at home order. So…
your part. The city has its lamp lifted beside the golden door. Enter cautiously, in moderation. Better to be safe than once again tired, poor, frustrated, and huddled in a mass of weary.
A Millennial’s Look at a Global Pandemic
Part 2 by Jordan Rock
It’s astonishing to compare the United States of the early 2000’s to now. Do you remember 911? There hadn’t been a foreign terrorist attack on American soil in the public consciousness, and until then, we were riding the new millennium hype train; coasting on the wave of the information age as it really got up to speed.
I was a little kid, so all these terms about home computers and stock in Google and all of that was a little over my head, but I could tell how excited all the adults were. And then one day I was brought home from school, and my parents slowly and carefully explained to me what was happening on the news.
I hadn’t heard the term “World Trade Center” until that day, and from then on, I would always associate it with tragedy. Do you remember? 3000 dead. Volunteers working around the clock, rescue teams tearing through the rubble trying to find anyone who was still alive. Suddenly America became cold.
Looking back, it seems like the bodies hadn’t even all been buried by the time we were hearing about the Patriot Act, about the war overseas, about the tightening of airport security. The entire nation wept for those lost in the attack. America was attacked in a way that somehow justified shooting people overseas. The nation stood in silence and solidarity, and then it stood in fear.
We knew America would never be the same.
At the time of writing this article, the number of Americans that have died due to Covid-19 has hit 86,541. Remarkably it has only been three months since the first recorded case of infection.
I think it’s fair to call this a tragedy for the American people.
So why is it that there seems to be a dedicated contingent of the American populace that wants to downplay the severity of this crisis? Why are people gathering to protest being told by the government to stay indoors during a pandemic? Why is our leadership funneling $8 trillion dollars into private corporations, while providing a one-time $1200 dollar check to the common folk of this country. Why are so many essential workers risking their lives without being paid extra?
Why does our president keep insistingthat this virus isn’t a big deal, that it’s under control while literally tens of thousands of American citizens die?
Here’s the way I see it. When the twin towers fell, George W. Bush was able to make a reasonable case to the American citizens; we’ve been attacked by an outside force, and it is required for us to counterattack. So, we’re going to violate your privacy via the Patriot Act, and we’re going to go fight overseas, and the justification is that we’re attacking the enemies that attacked America. America stood in solidarity.
Now, we face an enemy that threatens the entire world. One that cannot be fought with policy changes or bullets. An enemy that has to be fought with cooperation between big swathes of the world’s populace, and the hard work of doctors the world over. This is a struggle that can only be won by working together.
And the first step is sitting still and sitting quiet.
But our government only begrudgingly gives us some scraps to feed ourselves with while telling us we need to go out and risk our lives to keep the economy going. We’re given these lines about how the virus is our enemy, yes, but only in vague terms that belie a real message. You can’t weaponize American xenophobia against a virus. The only way to beat a virus is to stop people from being infected.
How long will it be until America realizes that?
A LEADERSHIP PLAYBOOK
By C.C. Campbell-Rock
The outcry for leadership in America is deafening. The inability of a president to lead the country through what is arguably the biggest catastrophe to hit the U.S. in modern times, the coronavirus pandemic, and the ever-widening partisan divide in both federal and state governments, has Americans, news pundits, and health professionals calling out for someone, anyone, to lead us back to normalcy.
Into this leadership void steps Marc Haydel Morial, a former New Orleans mayor and the President and CEO of the National Urban League, whose new book, The Gumbo Coalition: 10 Leadership Lessons That Help You Inspire, Unite, and Achieve, offers a diversity of ingredients; a recipe for good leadership that is much needed for those who aspire to lead and people who are currently in leadership positions.
The book is named for “The Gumbo Coalition,” that Morial put together during his 1994 mayoral campaign. The Gumbo Coalition’s guiding philosophy was unity with a purpose.
“I found a way to work with people, even if I disagreed with them. I focused on making things happen and not getting bogged down in political theater,” Morial explained in a recent interview.
“I think building consensus and bringing in all the elements to create the goal and accomplish the goal,” said Sybil Haydel Morial, Marc Morial’s mother of the greatest lesson in The Gumbo Coalition. “He first talks about making Gumbo and all the ingredients.”
Gumbo, New Orleans’ legendary cuisine, is much more than a delicious dish. It is a cultural tradition in African-American households, where it is prepared for special occasions. It is a unifying feast unto itself, with no less than 10 diverse ingredients. Gumbo gathers family members and friends together and captures memories of the good times, in the take home portions given at the end of an event.
Morial’s Gumbo Coalition brought in people from all walks of life (the ingredients) to mount his campaign. One can argue that Morial, himself, was the roux (the flour-based sauce that holds the Gumbo together) in The Gumbo Coalition.
The Gumbo Coalition presents the challenges Morial faced through the prism of his memoirs and the leadership lessons he learned during his legal and political careers.
Even before becoming mayor, Morial was surrounded by leaders. His father, Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial , a civil rights attorney, led the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP before becoming the city’s first African-American mayor.
His mother, Sybil, was an educational leader and a civil rights advocate. In the early 1980, she produced a historic documentary, “A House Divide,” narrated by actor James Earl Jones, which told the story of the community’s effort to break the back of segregation in the public schools. Sybil Morial also penned a best-seller, “Witness to Change: From Jim Crow to Political Empowerment.”
Thorough his parents, Morial was exposed to the greatest civil rights leaders of the modern civil rights movement, including the late attorney and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., attorney A.P. Tureaud and Rev. A.L. Davis, whose church was the location of the founding of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Sybil Morial and MLK, Jr. were college friends. They both attended Boston College.
Growing up in a city slow to give up segregation, Morial learned that progress can only come from building a broad-based coalition of people from all walks of life and building a gumbo of multi-racial, multi-generational, and multi-gender persons to met the challenges of a house divided.
“His challenges, some were really daunting ,” his mother says of his legal and political careers, “but he wasn’t afraid to speak out. He knew he couldn’t be adversarial force, but he stuck to his beliefs.”
Along the way, Morial faced tough leadership challenges and learned from them. “I sued the gun industry and they (gun lobby) launched a ferocious counter-attack. I had to scramble to defend the case. They tried to overturn laws; threatened to boycott the city.”
Morial filed the lawsuit after a friend, Raymond Myles, a gospel singer, was killed in 1998. Myles had performed at Morial’s second inauguration. “New Orleans was the first city to sue the gun industry,” he added. “I lost the suit. The gun lobby went to Congress to get a statute passed that immunized the gun lobby from lawsuits. “They were successful in passing a law to invalidate the lawsuit. The law said you can’t bring a gun lobby to court.”
The lesson Morial learned from that encounter was he was ill-prepared to take on the wealthy, well-connected gun lobby. “The lesson of the story…would I have done it again? Yes…but I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. You always have to think three steps ahead when you’re making noodles.”
Morial remembers one victory that occurred when he was a young lawyer. “When I was 26 or 27, I got an opportunity to argue before the Louisiana Supreme Court.” At the time, Morial had been working at a prestigious law firm for two years.
“The Shropshire case made police records available to the public,” Morial says of his precedent-setting legal victory. After his presentation, Mack Barham, the senior partner in the law firm saw Morial in the hallway, , and asked him “Where did you learn to argue like that?” “I told him, ‘I’ve been in your law firm for two years. You should have put me in the game a long time ago.’ ”
“Morial built what he christened the “Gumbo Coalition,” an incredible mixture of all of New Orleans’s ingredients–African Americans, Whites, Latinos, Asians, business leaders, grassroots community activists, business leaders, clergy, and many more,” says Lavaille Lavette, editor of The Gumbo Coalition.
Lavette is a best-selling author and the president and publisher of two imprints, One Street Books and Ebony Magazine Publishing, in partnership with HarperCollins Publishers.
“This is the type of book that individuals from all walks of life will benefit from. It’s about more than just developing or sharpening your leadership skills. If you want to learn how to be a better networker, if you want to learn how to recognize when and how to modify your plan (in your business or even in your home life as a Mother or Father) how to fight through disappointments to achieve your goals. It’s more than a book, it’s a notion, it’s a movement, it’s Marc Morial giving back in the hopes to inspire us all to do better and be better,” Lavette adds.
An adept storyteller, Morial wrote The Gumbo Coalition to create lessons he’s learned that he wants to pass on to aspiring leaders. “Throughout the book, I share insights through stories and life lessons. They contain the leadership tenents (gumbo principles) I used as a practicing attorney, member of the Louisiana State Legislature, mayor of New Orleans, and ultimately as the currently president of the National Urban League…And who would have thought that all this wisdom could be found in a pot of gumbo?”
Gumbo, New Orleans’ legendary dish cuisine, is much more than just a culinary experience. It is a cultural tradition in African-American households, where it is prepared for special occasions. It is a unifying feast unto itself, with no less than 10 diverse ingredients the dish gathers family members together and captures memories of these good times, in the take home portions given at the end of the event.
“Marc and I have a very special connection. First, because his twin passions mirror my own—leadership and diversity. Second, because of what he has done for both. I’ve known Marc for many years, and I have seen him in action making things happen. But nothing told me more about the power of his leadership skills than Marc’s ability to lead the charge to bring the National Basketball Association (NBA) back to the Big Easy,” Earvin “Magic” Johnson wrote in the Afterword of The Gumbo Coalition.
“Marc Morial is a star of strategy and execution. This is a book that will help you thrive and save you time, money, and heartache. I wish I had it at the beginning of my career,” Susan L. Taylor, founder and CEO of National CARES Mentoring Movement and Editor-in-Chief Emerita of Esssence Magazine, commented.
“While The Gumbo Coalition is a fascinating political memoir, it’s also something more: a leadership manual, complete with checklists, tips, that and pitfalls to avoid. This playbook is both practical and deeply principled. And the theme that unites it all—the core of Marc’s leadership philosophy—is the values of building diverse and inclusive teams. To my mind, that makes the Gumbo Coalition essential reading for people across sectors—especially business leaders,” Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook wrote in the Foreword.
Bishop Paul S. Morton, renowned pastor, recording artist, and author said, “I found the words of The Gumbo Coalition ministering to my spirit. Readers of Marc Morial’s blessed work will find an uplifting, challenging, and encouraging word they can use along their journeys to becoming their better selves.”