Brief History of BE NOLA
By: BE NOLA Staff
BE NOLA staff sat down with co-founder and board member Dr. Howard L. Fuller to chat about the origin of the organization, where he’d like to see it go, and his source of inspiration for this work. Check it out below:
In 2014, right after the 10-year commemoration of the storm I spent 3 ½ days in New Orleans and talked to 17 people. I asked two questions:
What do you think about education reform?
What do you think about Black people’s role in it?
My takeaway was that there were basically 4 groups of Black people:
Group 1 wanted to return things to the way that they were but was not specific about what that meant. Group 2 was angry at white people. The root of that anger was the mass firing of Black teachers and staff after the storm. Group 3 consisted of people who wanted change in our educational system but had critical questions about the manner and substance of the reforms that had been implemented. Group 4 consisted of people who uncritically drank the Kool-Aid.
Across all groups, the over-arching theme that emerged was that reform has been done to us and not with us.
After that, I started meeting with educators and community leaders from all across the city about changing that narrative. A lot of my initial interviews were with people who are on BE NOLA’s board. Television and public relations guru Bill Rouselle, Bishop Tom Watson, local writer Ashana Bigard and former BAEO Louisiana State Director, Stacy Martin were in that number. I enjoyed talking to each of them because they shared a commitment to helping Black people, but had different ideas about what they believe will take us forward. The initial idea for BE NOLA came out of those meetings. The early concept was for BE NOLA to be a harbormaster or an authorizer as a means of shifting the narrative of reform being done to and not with us.
A core coalition of Black New Orleanians continued to meet frequently to refine these ideas and put together a Concept Paper and a Manifesto for the organization. We then pushed to get a planning grant to help us build the organization. One of the most exciting days for me was when I could share with everyone that this was really happening; the hard work of the last six years wasn’t in vain.
In the next five years I would love to see Black people in control of some of their education institutions in New Orleans. I don’t believe there can be a sustainable effort to improve education without Black people playing a critical role in what the education landscape looks like. The hope is that there will be strong schools led by Black people across the board. I have two inspirations for this work: Malcolm X and Mary McLeod Bethune. I think if we can walk in their footprints we’d make our ancestors and current community proud.
If I’m being transparent, BE NOLA had a lot of doubters because it took us awhile to get off the ground, but it taught us all the determination of Black New Orleans to do for self. It’s impossible not to glance over our board members and know that they have pioneered several important shifts in the city on behalf of Black people throughout their lifetime; the power of them in one room is profound. I believe the organization is going to do great work alongside the New Orleans Black community. Under the leadership of our current team, Executive Director, Adrinda “Drin” Kelly and Director of Partnerships, Stevona Elem-Rogers who are both Black-centric and sharp I anticipate revolutionary work will be done amongst schools to shift the narrative in our favor as a people. No struggle, no progress.
Learn more about BE NOLA’s vision and mission.