There’s been a lot written about the many young professionals who have come to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. And they have, indeed, enriched the city. But some of the city’s emerging leaders grew up a lot closer to home.
Iman Shervington dropped me a note the other day, asking if I would help her get out the word on a survey for New Orleans youth, for the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies’ Collective for Healthy Communities program. Sure, I said, and I invite readers to spread the word through the information below.
But it got me to thinking about my former car pool kids, and where they are now.
Iman was a nimble and intrepid goalie on my oldest daughter’s soccer team. I used to pick her up from her home on Bancroft Drive for treks to practices and games near and far. I spent countless pre-dawn hours with her and her teammates, eating cold breakfasts in nondescript roadside motels or standing in wet grass alongside ragged fields in towns across the southeast.
These days, she’s a filmmaker and a consultant for the IWES, a New Orleans-based public health initiative for women and youth of color.
A year or so ago, I did a story on Jenna DeBoisblanc who, as a 3-year-old, rode in my backseat with my daughter to ballet class at. Dancing didn’t take for either of them (mine refused to get onstage for the recital). But these days Jenna is making waves in the local maker movement.
One of my former car pool kids is an account executive for Google, another a local fashion designer of rising renown, a third a stand-up comic in L.A. My daughters’ friends have become interesting and creative adults.
Yet it seems that it was only a moment ago when these kids were climbing into the backseat of my burgundy Plymouth Voyager (what was I thinking?). Or hanging out in our Lakeview pool room, drawing initials in chalk on the bricks and clacking wooden cues against errant balls.
I probably learned more about my kids and their friends in car pool than anywhere else. Car pool parents understand the strange chemistry of this: You are all but invisible to your diminutive charges, who tend to converse more freely in the rear of a vehicle than anywhere else. At least, this was true in the pre-Facebook and Twitter era.
I listened to chatter about classes and games, favorite bands and unfavorite classmates. I learned who was shy, who was a flirt, who had a sense of humor, who would probably be the class valedictorian (I voted for the 4-year-old who explained solemnly one day that monkeys have prehensile tails).
Nowadays, I often bump into the grown-up versions of these independent and unique individuals. (New Orleans, of course, has only two degrees of separation.) At Bittersweet recently, I heard my name called, and looked up to see one of my car pool kids, a poised and graceful recent college graduate.
My husband often runs into Adam Kancher, now director of alumni relations at Tulane Law School, but who remembers when Stewart used to squeeze him into the backseat of his Mustang convertible for rides to school. I think of Gary Solomon Jr, who was rigging lights for St. Martin’s school plays years before he would go on to light the Superdome. And Lisette de Boisblanc, a promising young artist who creates provocative works using x-rays of her grandmother’s doll collection, ruined in Hurricane Katrina.
Nowadays, many of my car pool kids are featured in the press releases I receive. Or they’re writing them.
It’s hard to get these newly minted adults to call me Renee, rather than Mrs. Peck. That respect for generational distance is a hard one to bridge, particularly in the South.
But they are adults now. And leaders. And it’s nice to see the kids from my back seat emerging moving to the front, taking over responsibility for the world and where it is going.
They seem to mostly know where to go. And it’s nice to have them in the driver’s seat.
Please share your opinions about opportunities for youth in New Orleans by taking and sharing the IWES Collective for Healthy Communities survey.