The heart and soul of St. Charles Avenue are its Activists and their generous philanthropic works. After six years of production, Avenue named its first Activists of the Year in 2001. Throughout the years the write-ups on each Activist, and the number of Activists, grew.
So when it was time to decide not only how to celebrate Avenue’s 20th Anniversary, but also who would be our Activists of the Year, the answer was simple: We would do both! The best way to do so, we decided, was to ask our past Activists to tell us what activism means to them.
Twenty of their answers – short and long, heartfelt and tearjerking, committed and inspiring – are below. We hope that they inspire you, as they have us.
Here is to 20 more years!
“When I first met my husband, Tom Benson, in 2004, I was very aware of his charitable giving throughout his life. I was also very active in philanthropy, and I believe in giving back when and where you can to make our community that much stronger.
Tom and I have always believed that we should actively participate in our community, whether that’s creating commerce or helping financially to charitable endeavors that are near to our heart. It is important.
Actively helping where we can brings about change and the opportunity to improve people’s lives, which is most fulfilling.”
"To me, Activism means what the word implies: That one should continuously be active and focused on matters that benefit the community, address the issues of individuals in need and generally advance the betterment of society.
An Activist is someone who constantly thinks of the needs of others and dedicates a portion of their time and resources to such matters on a consistent and prioritized basis."
“Activism is citizens unselfishly working together for the common goal of a better, stronger community and brighter tomorrow.”
“Citizen activism has played a central role in the recovery, reform and rebuilding of our city – but much work remains to be done. To continue building a stronger and better community for all of our citizens, citizens must remain vigilant, focused and persistent, never underestimating the importance of an engaged citizenry. Effective advocacy requires broad-based, diverse coalition building and most importantly building consensus and trust. The future of the city and its continued recovery depends on how well certain lessons have been learned: that there is power in the citizen voice; that citizens must remain informed and engaged in demanding honest, accountable government; and that the common good must come before self and must prevail over politics.
A personal hope is that the younger generation will pick up the baton of civic activism and propel our city to new heights, and that good citizenship and the importance of volunteerism will be taught in all of our schools from pre-kindergarten through college.”
“Activism has been important since my childhood as I watched my maternal grandfather build a better community in my native town of Rosario, Argentina, where he had migrated from Ukraine in the early 1900s. It is a significant legacy that we passed to our children. To give back to the country and community that nurtured us, sharing our blessings with those less fortunate and making a difference in their lives, advocating for social justice and building a better future for humanity.”
“Communities cannot thrive without greater participation by individuals who step to the forefront. Words and money alone will not create a vibrant community. By being active in a community, individuals can step out in front of the pack to set examples for others. Then, and only then, will momentum build in forming grassroots movements in every segment of our community, whether it be in politics, philanthropy, the arts, education, etc.
For me personally, it’s trying to set those examples to my children, employees and the community in general. Watching a community come together to be better in everything we do is exciting.”
Dr. Stephen Hales
“More than most American cities, New Orleans has been sustained for nearly three centuries by the commitment of its people. New Orleans’ citizens could have found easier places to live – wars, epidemics, fires and floods have challenged our spirit. But time after time civic commitment and activism have helped us rebuild and renew our city, our neighborhoods, our hospitals, our schools and our concert halls. We choose to be here, and we choose to make our city better.”
“Activism is important to me because it: Allows me to give back to those less fortunate than I am; provides an opportunity to get people to rally behind a worthwhile common cause; provides a larger community than my own, broadening my circle of contacts and enriching my life with diversity; creates personal satisfaction by doing what I believe is right; and hopefully helps improve our city, state and nation.”
“Activism is important to me because I believe everyone deserves the best life possible. I enjoy both the positive and social aspects and the more challenging, problem-solving aspects of life. Living and working in New Orleans for most of my adult life has certainly provided the opportunity for me and many other New Orleans activists to utilize our skill sets to improve conditions in many sectors of the city. But we all know that there is much work left to do.”
“There are few things more enjoyable and meaningful to me than working hard to drive impact in the areas of educational and economic opportunity, both so critical to our city and the quality of life of its citizens.”
Susan Read Johnson
“Activism gives me the opportunity to make life a bit better for people in the city that I love!”
R. King Milling
“Thriving communities are built on honest government, vibrant businesses, solid education and committed citizens. Essential to that broad framework is the requirement of activists to critique decisions, establish the foundation for contrary opinion and join with like-minded associates to modify behavior. Whether the subject is education, political reform, safety, conservation or neighborhood rejuvenation, without that collective voice fundamental change is rarely achieved.”
“Following somewhat of a personal epiphany when I was 15 years old, I have followed a life-long commitment ‘to leave this world a better place than I found it by giving more than I take from this life.’ This personal commitment has been the guiding light of my life.”
Dr. Tony Recasner
“When I was growing up my mother always cooked extra food to share with family, friends and neighbors. She also kept an eye on the elderly folks on our block, making sure they took their medicine, kept their appointments and had groceries in the house. Jackie, my mother, cared deeply about our neighborhood and about all of the people that we knew. It was and still is important to her that people get the help and support they need to make it through each day.
I guess the apple doesn’t fall from the tree.”
“My family instilled in me from an early age the importance of volunteerism. I feel like it’s important to give back to a place that has given me so much. It has been an honor to meet and work with so many interesting and inspirational people through my various community endeavors. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world!”
"New Orleans is a unique place unlike any other in our country. We have a remarkable history that has woven a beautiful fabric of people from all over the world. They each brought their own unique architecture, food, religious beliefs, folk traditions, languages, art and music to this place that over time created our incredibly rich culture which we proudly and happily love to share with anyone. We are a loving and caring community that has always been vigilant in supporting those in need.
I have lived my life with a strong faith and always believed that we are only as strong as our weakest neighbor and thus should embrace and empower any member of our community that struggles. Juveniles and those suffering with addiction are some of our most necessitous. And this is shameful as our community is missing their life contributions and more importantly our future."
“Today is a time of hope and possibilities in New Orleans. I feel blessed to do what I can to help bring about positive change.”
“Activism makes our country great. The whole concept is uniquely American and we can all be proud of the thousands of hours of volunteer accomplishments every day.”
“The best testament I can give to the importance of civic engagement is my example. In so doing, I hope to inspire the next generation of leaders.”
“Activism is giving of your time and resources to maintain and improve the great and unique city we live in.”
Activists by Year
Dr. Troy Scroggins
Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin
Julie Livaudais George
Susan Read Johnson
Allen Toussaint (deceased)
Herschel Abbott Jr.
Dr. Scott Cowen
Mimi Robinson Bowen
Dr. Norman Francis
Leslie R. Jacobs
Diana Monroe Lewis
Dr. E. Ralph Lupin (deceased)
James J. Reiss Jr.
Suzanne Walther Rusovich
Dr. Juan Gershanik
Ruthie Frierson & Citizens of 1 Greater New Orleans
Anne Milling & Women of the Storm
Julie Wise Oreck
Dr. Tony Recasner
Dr. Stephen Hales
2001 (Fifth Anniversary Cover)