Minimizing the Negative Impact of Historical Trauma due to Systemic Racism on Gert Town, New Orleans, LA.
Build awareness of & minimize the impact of systemic racism & trauma on Gert Town, and build a community where residents coexist in peace.
The Gert Town neighborhood of New Orleans, LA, suffers from significant social injustices as a result of centuries of systemic racism and the more recent trauma of Hurricane Katrina. More than 12 years after the storm, Gert Town still struggles to recover. Housing, businesses, services and community centers like churches remain shuttered, discouraging investment and community growth, and increasing the opportunity for violence and continued generational poverty.
The first major goal of our idea is to broaden awareness and build resiliency among economically challenged African American families in Gert Town. That means providing education, but also providing the economic assistance that allows our audience to take advantage of that education. Programs like utility and food assistance help to reduce the ongoing economic stress suffered by those we serve.
The Dominican Sisters of Peace opened the Peace Center, a ministry to the marginalized residents of Gert Town, in 2014. The Sisters conducted door-to-door surveys to determine the needs of community residents, which included: tutoring and mentoring for children & teens, food assistance, spiritual counseling, transportation and activities for elderly residents, mental health and substance abuse services, job training and adult education, community safety efforts and an indoor community center.
More than 50% of Gert Town residents live below the poverty line. More than 30% do not own a car, and 17% do not have a high school diploma. Couple this with the lack of businesses in the area, most of which have not reopened after Hurricane Katrina, and prospects for breaking the cycle of generational poverty look bleak. The Peace Center offers adult computer literacy classes, job readiness courses, career counseling and job fairs to increase opportunities for a better life for the community.
In a community where more than 90% of households with children are led by single moms, three things are sorely needed: safe and affordable afterschool care, homework assistance, and strong, inspirational male role models. The Peace Center’s afterschool program works with Men on the Move, a service organization from Xavier University, to provide all three. College students offer homework help, play games, and take the children on field trips, providing a glimpse of a more successful future.
Food assistance was another community request uncovered by the Peace Center’s surveys. Seniors in the Pine Street Apartments, most of whom are on public assistance, often ran out of food before the end of the month. The Peace Center was able to obtain a grant from Catholic Health Initiatives and work with Second Harvest Food Bank to supply ready-to-eat meals to help these seniors maintain a healthy diet and a higher quality of life.
Our second major goal is to collaborate our numerous government, educational and faith-based partners to help them examine and understand their own implicit bias and privilege, and build ways to overcome these attitudes to create a more trusting and peaceful community.
Community activities for seniors were identified as a need for Gert Town residents. The Peace Center offers bingo, luncheons, community outings and more. Just as important, the Peace Center and the Xavier University Community Outreach Center offer counseling to assist seniors with aging issues. Louisiana is ranked 50th of 50 states in overall health; residents of Orleans parish rank in the bottom half for health outcomes and health factors when compared to the other 63 parishes in Louisiana.
Our third major goal is to create space and sponsor opportunities for relationships born of new-found awareness to flourish, allowing people to co-create a community with shared values around peace and prosperity. This girls' walking club sponsored by XUCOC is a great example of an on-going project that promotes healthy living and a more peaceful community.
Positive role models help young children begin to break negative cycles of violence and poverty.
Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)
We focus on the urgent need for the community to build peace by reducing the systemic racism which leads to interpersonal and community violence, generational poverty, education inequity, substance abuse, and health disparities. The project also encourages community and personal prosperity.
Twelve years after Hurricane Katrina, Gert Town is still in recovery. Nearly 90% of the town’s population is African American minority. Local statistics indicate 54% of people in Gert Town live below the US Census-defined poverty line: 35% do not own a car, 19% do not have a high school diploma, and 71% do not have a post-secondary degree. These factors limit employment and economic opportunity to rise above poverty.
Partners have collected data to identify community needs from residents of Gert Town as well as local service providers. The Dominican Sisters of Peace operate and live in the Gert Town Peace Center, and are intimately acquainted with life in the neighborhood. The XUCOC is located on the other side of the neighborhood, and benefits from both its proximity to those served and the research and resources of Xavier University.
This idea will:
• Engage program participants and partners to address internalized oppression and chronic stress. This will be done in a variety of ways, including education, group activities, and artistic approaches, including theater. (updated 5/30/2018)
• Provide space and programming to help those served understand, unravel and teach others about the crippling effects of trauma and poverty that racism causes.
• Expand needed services to Gert Town residents negatively impacted by racism to help build resiliency, career readiness, and the capacity to thrive, as well as hope for the future. This will lead to community-led change, prosperity, activism, and growth for community residents.
Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)
Primary beneficiaries are Gert Town minority neighbors of all ages and schools, churches, government entities, employers, and service providers. These groups will all work together to create a community where the cycle of poverty is broken through programming that helps community members overcome long odds.
Involvement in and organization of community events like the Night Out Against Crime encourage self-policing and a demonstration of positive community values.
Computer literacy and job training courses offer Gert Town residents the opportunity to improve their employment status and break the cycle of generational poverty that cripples the neighborhood.
Afterschool programs at both the Xavier University Community Outreach Center and the Peace Center offer safe activities and homework assistance to children in the New Orleans neighborhood of Gert Town.
By involving numerous groups, from schools to public services, faith groups and government, of all ages and races, we believe that we can bring about inclusive community healing, recognizing the value of every person to the success and prosperity of the neighborhood. This will result in a community where all voices are heard and peacebuilding is engaged for a brighter future. (Edited 5/21/2018)
How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)
The goal of healing the impact of systemic racism and historical trauma over generations is not new. What makes Gert Town unique is that the community has suffered the compounded trauma of long-term institutional racism, generational poverty, and the lasting effects of Hurricane Katrina - one of the nation’s worst natural disasters. In a society that is increasingly divided among race and class lines, there is a rising awareness of its insidious nature and a desire among people of good will to undo the damage. The desire to build peace in the face of brokenness. Often work to dismantle racism is directed toward individuals and organizations. This idea seeks to involve an entire community.
This idea builds bridges that create skills, provides support and guidance for ongoing success. The nonprofit organizations involved are trusted by their Gert Town neighbors and have a stake in the results as long-time members of the community.
Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)
Initial Design: I am exploring the idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.
Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)
Working with local partners, the Peace Center provides afterschool care & homework help to younger children, basic computer training & a job readiness program for adults, and socialization opportunities & food assistance to local seniors; the Xavier University Community Outreach Center provides food relief and monthly utility assistance as well as outreach services, such as art programs, homework assistance, literacy programs, and health assessments. https://thepeacecenternola.org
Organization Filing Status
Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.
Dominican Sisters have been part of New Orleans since the 1860’s. Sisters at the Peace Center live & work in Gert Town, have observed the damage that racism has caused in the city, & try to bridge the gap between poverty & prosperity. After Hurricane Katrina, we saw the inequity of recovery efforts & watched families struggle to overcome long-term systemic racism & recent trauma. We were moved to meet immediate needs & to help empower others to build skills for a more just & successful future.
Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).
If peace is defined as “freedom from violence,” racism is literally the opposite of peace: it is a daily fear of personal, educational, health and economic violence suffered every day by the African-American residents of Gert Town. The long-term systemic racism in place in this community has created the related challenge of systemic poverty. Many residents work several low-wage jobs to “just get by.” Prosperity is unknown.
A true examination of implicit bias by persons on both sides of the racial divide can lead to implementation of steps to cope with and eliminate that bias - creating an opportunity for peace. Even incremental steps towards a reduction of the negative effects of racism in Gert Town would assist in the first steps toward the attainment of peace and prosperity for all residents by reducing race-related violence and creating more just educational and economic opportunities.
Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)
The Dominican Sisters of Peace have a broad network of groups to act as partners in this effort, including Dr. Cirecie A. West-Olatunji, Ph. D., associate professor at Xavier University of Louisiana and Director of the Center for Traumatic Stress Research, Xavier University; students at St. Mary’s High School; Mayor LaToya Cantrell; New Orleans City Councilperson J. Banks; New Orleans Community Foundation; New Orleans Police Department; Peace Center and local churches of all denominations. There are numerous like-minded groups in the city as well that could be tapped for their expertise. Gert Town residents are engaged and all ages are active in programming at the Peace Center.
We have had small success with our homework help, job skills, summer camp and senior programs. A new focus would be programming aimed at implicit racism and bias.
Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)
The greatest strength of this idea is the African American community in Gert Town. Residents are exceptional in resilience, even after centuries of institutionalized racism and institutional neglect. By focusing on Gert Town, the effects on peace and community/personal prosperity could be dramatic. There are quite a few people willing to work but unemployment is high because of lack of opportunity and skills.
Gert Town is a neighborhood in Orleans Parish, which is a ward in the city of New Orleans, LA, USA.
How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)
The Peace Center and the Xavier University Community Outreach Center are blessed with numerous community partners with a wide range of abilities and expertise. Planning, coordination, and creation of materials to raise awareness of implicit bias will be an early phase of this project, as will be the expansion of existing programs. We expect this initial phase to require about 24 months.
Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)
If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)