Had the great pleasure of spending the last week in New Orleans. It is a special place that continues to struggle post-Katrina and from the more recent damage from Isaac. Yet her spirit is strong. The people of New Orleans are resilient, even though many of the physical structures around them are vacant and abandoned. I was both disturbed and inspired by what I saw and experienced. Here are 4 of the lessons I got from this recovering grand dame:
1.Love Thy Neighbor: Especially during elections, we become more cynical about politics and politicians. The value of public service has steadily dropped and few people pursue it. But we know that we need strong, smart, and reality based leadership. We need people who lead with words and actions. I was fortunate to hear the mayor of NOLA, Matt Landrieu, speak about his city. He talked frankly about his top issues: crime. But specifically the homicide rate of young black men, which is 10x their % of the population. He told graphic stories of the unintended consequences of these deaths on the families, neighborhood, economy and community. His big message was, "Until we have as much empathy for the perpetrators of the crime as we do the victims, we will make no progress." Not exactly a political statement! He challenged the audience to think about how we as a society failed the criminal youth. How the family failed to nurture, the schools failed to teach, the churches failed to morally guide. How we all have to assume responsibility for that "criminal". In a world of "personal responsibility" gone mad, where we should just be responsible for ourselves and our family. But we know in our hearts, that will never be enough. We have to pursue our humanistic instincts to help one another, to take responsibility for one another–only then can we advance our ideals for our community. We know our destinies are tied to one another.
We must have the ability to understand the suffering of both sides. Thich Nhat Hanh
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another. Mother Teresa
2. Music is the greatest soul food: A friend took me to the Preservation Hall to experience the birthplace of jazz. One of my top life experiences of all time! Crowded in this tiny storefront shop that serves as their theatre, we were treated to the gritty and beautiful sounds of Amazing Grace, What a Wonderful World, When the Saints Go Marching In, and other classics. The building just like the faces of the musicians expressed great history and great humility. Their music and their voices tattooed my soul with their passion.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. Plato
3. Taxicab to Friendship: Cab drivers are always a source of great knowledge and insight. Few people see as much as they do. I always talk to cab drivers. And if I listen carefully I learn things about them, the world and myself. My experience in NOLA may have been the most interesting to date. I took a couple of colleagues to go see Candy Chang's Before I Die exhibit. Candy installed a giant blackboard on an abandoned building to allow people to fill in the blank after "Before I Die______. These exhibits are now displayed around the world. Anyway, I wanted to see where it all started. Long story short we got lost (my fault) and then discovered that the abandoned building was refurbished and Candy's work was gone. Through this adventure we got to know Haten, a Tunisian cab driver/entrepreneur who has lived in NOLA for 16 years. We learned much about the city and about his story of struggle and joy. We learned about his family, his education and his career. Haten is an optimist and humanist. As an immigrant he is still pursuing the American dream despite many setbacks and his stint as a cab driver will be "temporary". In all of the commotion of our adventure , I left my iPad in the seat pocket of his taxi. Haten returned it to me! As I thanked him, he smiled and asked, "When do you leave for the airport? May I take you?" Always the entrepreneur! Haten picked me up at the hotel and noticed a couple of women waiting for a taxi and asked me if they could go with us. They jumped in his cab and off we went. Haten and I picked up our conversation where we left off. And when he dropped me off, he said, "Please call me next time you are in New Orleans and call me and let me know how you are doing." The two women, turned to me and said almost in unison, "How do you know that guy?!" I said, "Oh, we are friends."
Good things happen when you meet strangers. Yo Yo Ma
4. Mentors are everywhere: I got the chance to meet Leah Chase who has run the Dooky Chase restaurant for 66 years! Leah, the Queen of Creole, has fed every US President since the 60's, Martin Luther King and a host of other dignitaries. While she is a world reknown chef she is a philosopher, civil rights advocate, philanthropist and a truth teller too. She told us that "if you pay attention, everyone becomes your mentor." And in those precious moments with her, we paid attention and we were served up a delicious platter full of Chase mentoring!
I look forward to my return to NOLA.
Thanks for reading. John