NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans East neighborhood has been plagued with issues for more than a decade.
Lack of businesses, blight and problems with crime in some of the neighborhoods remain a problem.
Some feel there is a lack of police presence compared to other parts of the city, while others sympathize with law enforcement. Many are just tired of the negative perception and are taking it on themselves to help bring the East back.
Caresse Jackman spent the past few months exploring all of these issues, looking at the neighborhood’s past, the present and the potential future in a four part series we are calling “The Forgotten East”
Part 3: The Youth
Bree and Kendrionne Anderson are cousins. Bree is 26. Kendrionne is 17.
“My aspirations, I’m going to Harvard, and I’m going to be a psychologist. Then I’m going to run for President,” Kendrionne Anderson said proudly.
Bree remembers New Orleans East before Katrina, Kendrionne wishes that she did.
“Before the Storm, a lot of kids were outside. We rode bikes. We jumped ropes. We played hopscotch. We had theaters. They had a skating rink,” Bree Anderson said.
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“My people don’t really have like, transportation to get us farther out. Like in Gentilly or Uptown or anywhere," Kendrionne said.
Both young ladies say it hurts them to know that the community has changed.
“Cause a lot of kids in my community, don’t have much to do in the community,” Bree said.
There is some data to back up what they are feeling.
Nearly 19 percent of young people were unemployed throughout the entire city of New Orleans, compared to 15.2 percent in Louisiana and 13 percent in the United States.
Bree and Kendrionne say they especially feel that statistic, living out in the East.
“I just sit inside. Make up cheers. Write raps and poetry, because there’s not much for us to do in the East," Kendrionne said.
To help girls like them, they are making a difference in their community. The cousins work together in an organization called “Daughters Beyond Incarceration,” a support group for young girls growing up with an incarcerated father.
Even when trying their hardest, Bree says it is a struggle for the group to do activities locally.
“We’re planning, like, a big end of the year event for our mentees in the program. So we have to travel out of state because we don’t have a lot of water parks or different things or access to do things inside of the city or the East,” Bree said.
19-year-old Deron Torres from Lake Forest feels the same way. Eyewitness News caught up with him while hanging out with some of his relatives. He feels more needs to be done in the East to help people his age stay busy and entertained.
“I feel like all of these abandoned buildings, they should put like karate dojos and closer libraries and stuff like that. Something that’s gonna keep children, like out of the way,” Torres said.
One organization that fights for their community and fights for their kids, is Vayla New Orleans.
Vayla is a progressive, community-based organization in New Orleans that empowers youth and families through supportive services and organizing for cultural enrichment and positive social change.
The organization was very vocal against the Entergy New Orleans Power Plant.
Mark Nguyen says they work tirelessly day and night for residents in the East.
“It’s still lacking. I think since '77, up until now, Chef Menteur has been pretty much the same,” Nguyen said.
Throughout the Vayla building, you see art and history. Positive images that highlight the Vietnamese American and the African American community in the East.
He wants the area to prosper, especially for the youth.
“We lose a lot of our college graduates to like Texas, Florida, pretty much everywhere else that they have opportunity to be but here. Like most of the youth. The college graduates, especially in the Vietnamese community, they major in pharmacy a lot at Xavier. And like, all the jobs are locked up. The pharmacists who are here stayed here. So, when they graduate, they really don’t have any chance to have any other opportunity to be into pharmacy. So they just move to Texas. Somewhere up north,” Nguyen said.
Within recent years, the East has made some strides at making the area better for kids. Recently the Pelicans and their No. 1 draft pick, Zion Williamson, came to the East.
“You know, it’s crazy..I was in my hotel room and...I looked out the window of the balcony and was like, this is my home,” Williamson said.
The Pelicans and owner Gayle Benson attended the dedication of a basketball Court at Goretti playground.
“One of the legislators said it keeps people off the street. And to me that’s the main thing. If they have a place like this to go to and as great as this place is...it does keep them off the street and it gives them a situation where they can learn to be competitive, but you also learn great sportsmanship,” Pelicans Head Coach Alvin Gentry said.
“I’m never going to forget where I came from. I’m not from this area, but I grew up in an area very similar to it and just having outdoor courts or some type of gym, I think it’s great cause like that’s where kids come together and just hoop,” Williamson said.
And then there are those taking an even bigger step, bringing businesses and ideas. Hiring teens. Envisioning a brighter day both for the children in New Orleans East and the entire economy.
Forgotten East is a four-part series by Reporter Caresse Jackman. To see the rest of the series, follow these links