Activists of the Year 2020
Even in the best of times, philanthropy and volunteering are important to the health of a community. The work of nonprofits and those who dedicate themselves to working with them has now become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The six St. Charles Avenue Activists of the Year don’t just sign checks (which is appreciated, of course), they’re hands-on activists who start nonprofits, mentor and cherish their time giving back to the community.
The 2020 class is: Luis Colmenares, Margo DuBos, Emeril Lagasse, Archie and Olivia Manning and Margaret Montgomery-Richard.
We asked these Activists of the Year what they do and why they do it. (Some answers edited for clarity.) We hope their answers inspire you as much as they did us.
“Giving to organizations is very important and helping my community is second nature to me”
For artist Luis Colmenares, mentoring comes naturally.
Colmenares’ inspiration was his father, “a very giving man who helped many people throughout his lifetime.”
Colmenares’ homegrown philanthropy starts in his studio, where he makes sculptures out of metal, wood, foam, glass and neon, and is a painter. His most recent creation is, “Bluedreaux,” a blue crawfish. He is self-taught.
“It was on my own that I decided that we needed more mentors and teachers out there,” says Colmenares. “Kids today tend to opt out of the art and workshop programs that teach them ways of creative thinking and technical skills. When they miss this opportunity in school it can be hard to learn without outside help and I strive to be the person who can offer that education.”
“We take in three kids a year as apprentices to study for free,” says Colmenares.
Through the years, he has taught an estimated 70 children and young adults skills such as welding, as well as life skills, for example, learning that when a job is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., that’s exactly what that means.
This mentorship program is rewarding to Colmenares and to the students.
“I would say that over the years I’ve seen many people who had a dim outlook on life come to work with me,” says Colmenares. “The stories of these students change during that time, leaving the program with their head held high and a career lined up.
“It always brings a smile to my face.”
Colmenares, his crew and apprentices are currently working on a 24-foot-tall sculpture of a bouquet of flowers that will be used to raise money for artists and their studios that have suffered financially during COVID-19.
“I plan to lease the sculpture to different organizations to help them with their own fundraising campaigns,” says Colmenares. “There will be a ribbon around the sculpture that states the purpose of your cause, for example, ‘Thanks to front-line workers.’”
His studio is also making COVID-19 partitions for locker rooms, hospitals, casinos, front desks and other applications.
“These partitions not only protect people as they go about their lives, but also have helped keep artists in my shop employed in a time where many have lost their jobs,” he adds.
Colmenares is also well known in the New Orleans community for his generous donations to fundraisers.
“Giving to organizations is very important and helping my community is second nature to me,” says Colmenares.
The nonprofit closest to Colmenares’ heart is the Louisiana Children’s Museum. He has also donated auction items or participated with New Orleans Museum of Art’s “Odyssey Ball” and “Art in Bloom”; the Contemporary Arts Center’s “Art for Arts’ Sake”; American Red Cross; Shir Chadash Synagogue; Young Leadership Council; Arts Council of New Orleans; Touro Synagogue; Cancer Crusaders; Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Coats for Kids; “New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Gala”; New Orleans Center for Creative Arts; Children’s Hospital; and New Orleans Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s “Azúcar Ball,” at which he was also named recipient of its Galvez Cup, given to those who have been of great assistance to the foundation.
Colmenares has also been named a CAC Sweet Art honoree and bestowed awards and grants from the Joan Mitchell Foundation.
“New Orleans is my muse,” says Colmenares. “This city has given me my artistic sense as well as a home, a wonderful life and more.”
That said, he does believe that work needs to be done. “We need a better infrastructure for the youth in our neighborhoods,” says Colmenares. “This could include more places for them to have safe and constructive freedoms that allow them to express themselves in a healthy and educated manner. YAYA, for instance, is doing a great job at this.
“I believe that through these resources we could truly make our city an even better place in the years to come.”
“Because my parents gave me an inherent sense of fairness and compassion, I see giving back as a way to right some wrongs and a way to give those less fortunate a better life.”
Philanthropy started at home for Margo DuBos, who cites her parents as leading by example.
“Both my parents were very giving and compassionate people,” says DuBos, former co-owner of Gambit weekly newspaper.
DuBos’ father was an attorney who handled a number of cases pro bono when clients, including many who lived off the land, couldn’t afford to pay.
“They would drop off fresh shrimp or crowder peas to our family to show their thanks,” says DuBos.
Her mother, Lily Jackson, was a feature writer at The Times-Picayune, and she “never met a stranger and treated everyone with respect,” says DuBos.
“Because my parents gave me an inherent sense of fairness and compassion, I see giving back as a way to right some wrongs and a way to give those less fortunate a better life.”
DuBos’ community activism is far-reaching, serving on te boards, committees or participating in benefits with New Orleans Museum of Art (including Co-Chair of “Odyssey Ball”); New Orleans City Park and Botanical Garden (Co-Chair twice of “Lark in the Park” and “Magic in the Moonlight” and Co-Chaired benefit for Nola City Bark and “Heart of the Park Hat Luncheon”); New Orleans Photo Alliance; LA/SPCA; New Orleans Council for Young Children in Need; LSU Manship School of Mass Communication Board of Visitors; and the Louisiana Women’s Forum, “specifically on its Equity and Inclusion Committee, and on LWF’s Programming Committee to engage our members in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette on important discussions about race and gender and to foster the next generation of young professional women,” says DuBos. “Our national group, International Women’s Forum, has more than 7,000 diverse and accomplished members from 33 nations and six continents.”
There are moments that do stand out.
“I will never forget my work with United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council,” says DuBos. The group partnered with the St. Bernard Project after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild homes in Meraux, located in St. Bernard Parish, that had been destroyed by the storm. “After three days of patching, painting and laying sod we got to meet a family returning to their home,” says DuBos.
“It was a Kleenex moment I’ll never forget, getting to see their faces as they arrived.”
Another initiative that made an impact on DuBos and the community is the “Big Easy Entertainment Awards,” which she founded in 1988.
“We launched the ‘Big Easy Entertainment Awards’ right after I became publisher of Gambit in 1987, and since our first fledgling awards show in 1988, it has nurtured, supported financially and shone a bright light on the local music, theater and classical communities,” says DuBos.
“When you think about New Orleans’ rich cultural traditions, you think of music, theater, opera, dance and classical arts. I love that Gambit played a role in helping them thrive.”
In addition to her parents, DuBos also points to her husband, Clancy DuBos, their sons, Brandin and Will, and the late philanthropist and civic leader Nancy Marsiglia as those who have influenced her path to community activism.
“Clancy and I both have striven to be giving members of the community,” says DuBos. “Clancy has been very active with, and generous to, the educational institutions that shaped his life – Holy Cross High School, University of New Orleans and Loyola Law School.
“I am proudest of my two sons, Brandin and Will, for becoming such fine young men who share our family’s belief in giving back,” says DuBos. “Brandin is a volunteer worker and board member of Habitat for Humanity in the New Orleans area. Will has supported the National World War II Museum and is passionate about environmental issues, particularly wetland loss in Louisiana.”
DuBos and her husband met Nancy Marsiglia when they became a business partners with her, purchasing Gambit in 1991.
“Nancy was very involved in many charitable and civic causes, particularly those that benefited children aged 0-5,” says DuBos. “Those causes included the Council for Young Children in Need and Agenda for Children. The world was a better place with Nancy in it, and we miss her terribly.”
DuBos, a graduate of Louise S. McGehee School and Louisiana State University (where she earned her degree in journalism), has faith in her hometown. She learned how much more special it is this past summer when she made a road trip out West, where people were intensely curious about New Orleans.
“For all our challenges, our city still has a brand that the world loves and embraces,” says DuBos.
But there is still work to be done. “Culturally, we’re already a world-class city, but in terms of civic and political functionality we’re a good city but not a great city. We need more support and programs for children ages 0-5, and we need to have more educational, mentoring and career options for teens.”
“One of my core values is mentorship and identifying ways in which I can assist and help young people grow and learn into their fullest potential.”
Chef Emeril Lagasse
Chef Emeril Lagasse has embraced his adopted city the most New Orleans way possible: Through food and philanthropy.
A native of Fall River, Massachusetts, Lagasse made his way to New Orleans after graduating from Johnson & Wales University, later receiving an honorary doctorate from it, followed by stints in restaurant kitchens in the U.S. and Europe.
“You know, I didn’t plan to stay in New Orleans when I first came to work for Miss Ella Brennan at Commander’s Palace,” says Lagasse. “It pulled me in, and I fell in love with the city. I fell in love with the food, the people, the music and the architecture.
“There’s not much that I don’t love about New Orleans. It is the epicenter of hospitality because the spirit lives within the culture and the people and is a way of life here beyond the restaurants and hotels that make up the industry.”
He started his restaurant empire in New Orleans, opening up his flagship, Emeril’s, 30 years ago in the Warehouse District. Success soon followed and more restaurants – now 10 – are located in New Orleans; Las Vegas; Miramar Beach, Florida; and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (His restaurant company, Emeril Homebase, is located in New Orleans.)
Lagasse’s fame spread with his TV shows, including “Emeril Live,” “Essence of Emeril” and “Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse,” and he’s the author of 19 cookbooks.
Two new ventures include We Love Food Hospitality, a new consulting division of his restaurant company, and an 11th restaurant, Emeril’s Bistro 1396, on Carnival Cruise Lines’ Mardi Gras ship, setting sail in 2021.
Honors came as well: 1998 “Chef of the Year” by GQ magazine; 1999, named one of People magazine’s “25 Most Intriguing People of the Year”; 2004 “Executive of the Year” by Restaurants & Institutions magazine; 2005 “Distinguished Service Award” from Wine Spectator; 2006 he was inducted into the Menu Masters Hall of Fame by Nation’s Restaurant News; 2007 “Restaurateur of the Year” by New Orleans City Business; 2009 “Lifetime Achievement Award” from Food Network’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival; 2012 in the Smithsonian exhibition, “Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000”; 2013 Humanitarian of the Year, James Beard Foundation; and 2018 Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Award.
Yet, despite his non-stop schedule, Lagasse found time to give back.
“Throughout the early years of my career I was introduced to many outstanding nonprofit organizations,” says Lagasse.
While contributing to these nonprofits, Lagasse realized, “The potential I had in starting my own nonprofit to change the lives of the youth who may need it most.
“Volunteering and philanthropy has always been important to me,” adds Lagasse. “One of my core values is mentorship and identifying ways in which I can assist and help young people grow and learn into their fullest potential. Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to have many mentors who have helped me in invaluable ways.”
It was his friendship with tennis professional Andre Agassi that gave him the motivation to start his own foundation.
Through the Andrew Agassi Foundation for Education, “Andre was committed to transforming education, to give every child an opportunity for success, regardless of their circumstances,” says Emeril. “Seeing what he was doing in Las Vegas gave me the perspective that children in New Orleans who were facing similar disadvantages needed help in creating opportunities.”
Another motivating factor was his wife, Alden Lagasse, with whom he founded Emeril Lagasse Foundation in 2002. The foundation’s mission is, “to create opportunities to inspire, mentor and enable youth to reach their full potential through culinary, nutrition and arts education,” says Lagasse.
“In New Orleans there has always been a significant need for programs that are successful in providing young people with opportunities,” he adds. “Through our foundation we’re changing the lives of young children, especially those from disadvantaged households.”
The foundation has granted more than $10 million to children’s charities to support culinary, nutrition and arts programs, according to its website, which is seen via outdoor classroom gardens, fresh foods cafeteria and teaching kitchen at Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, an accessible learning kitchen for special needs students at St. Michael Special School, a four-year culinary arts program for high school students at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Hospitality Center at Café Reconcile and hospitality training at Liberty’s Kitchen for at-risk youth preparing healthy school meals.
“Every year I’m blessed with the opportunity to meet and work with many of the young people that have been positively affected by the mission of my foundation,” says Lagasse.
“My legacy lies within my foundation and is extremely important to me,” adds Lagasse. His other legacy are his children: Jessie Lagasse Swanson and Jillian Lagasse, who are cookbook authors of The Lagasse Girls’ Big Flavor, Bold Taste and No Gluten! and The Gluten-Free Table; and EJ and Meril Lagasse, who are in school and can be seen at foundation and other events with their parents.
Like every restaurant owner during COVID-19, Lagasse has been affected, and is moving forward. “Currently I’m working to get my restaurants reopened and my employees back to work,” he says.
“My organization and I have been involved in many COVID-19 pandemic initiatives. Throughout the pandemic, my team prepared and served food to some of the hardworking, front-line heroes.”
The funds raised this year at the foundation’s “Boudin, Bourbon and Beer,” benefit the Emeril Lagasse Hospitality Relief Fund, which was established with a contribution of $125,000 by the foundation with the funds directly supporting hospitality industry employees across the Gulf Coast.
Margaret Montgomery-Richard, PH.D
There is no place like home for Margaret Montgomery-Richard.
“I am a New Orleans girl,” says Montgomery-Richard. “I love the culture, food and people. I love seeing an old friend and asking, ‘How’s your Momma and them.’” It is her parents, Henry and Orelia Duvernay, that “instilled in me and my three siblings the values of hard work, a good name, kindness and education.”
“These four core values have been the drivers throughout my life.”
A graduate of McDonogh 35 Senior High School, Montgomery-Richard kicked off her career at Delgado Community College as part of a research team. It was there that she began “my post-secondary education journey and my commitment to service and philanthropy.” Her group’s assignment was to gather data to support the expansion of two-year post-secondary education across southeast Louisiana.
“After working on this initiative for two years, my contract was coming to an end,” she says. “One day the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs called me into his office. He asked me if I would be interested in staying on at the community college.
“He said there were not many African Americans in community colleges; the career opportunities were great, and I would be a good fit,” she says. Montgomery-Richard was offered the position of Assistant to the Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs.
“At that moment, I adopted the philosophy, ‘A good community/technical college will be of and for the community it serves.’”
After that position, she was asked to serve as Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, then shortly after that, became Chancellor of the Louisiana Technical College for three years (2003-2006).
“My charge was to lead the transformation of the 40 ‘old voc-tech’ campuses across the state into one ‘world-class technical college,’” says Montgomery-Richard. “It was a significant feat but a labor of love for me.
“I was the lead architect of the original district model, which resulted in the consolidation of each technical college campus with the nearest community college. This model served as the impetus for the current structure of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.”
Montgomery-Richard is the first African American and only woman to serve as Chancellor of the state’s largest two-year post-secondary institution. Montgomery-Richard also entered the business arena as an independent consultant, owner of a ladies’ fashion accessories business and a national restaurant franchise’s co-owner.
“Post-Katrina I shifted my focus from education to business and co-founded DMM & Associates,” says Montgomery-Richard, “a women-owned consulting firm focused on creating high-performance organizations through human capital strategies and organizational development. “
She is also adjunct faculty at the College of Education and Human Development at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi.
In addition to her parents, Montgomery-Richard credits others with encouraging her philanthropy and desire to pay it forward: Patricia Miller, her first grade teacher; Rita Weaver Montgomery, who encouraged her to become a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a national public service sorority of which she’s a Golden Life member and has twice chaired Founders Day as a member of the New Orleans Alumnae Chapter; Dr. Cornelia Rathke, who introduced Montgomery-Richard to Raintree Home for Girls, her first board appointment; and Kingsley House, where she started as a LANO board intern and with which she has continued to work in various capacities, including Board Chair, for more than 20 years.
Montgomery-Richard is also on the boards or committees of Family Center of Hope, McDonogh 35 Alumni Association, Crescent City (La.) Chapter of The Links Inc., Blacks for Education in New Orleans (BE NOLA), Women for a Better New Orleans, Independent Women Organization and University of New Orleans Alumni Board.
Montgomery-Richard received her Masters of Public Administration and Ph.D. from UNO, after she received her Bachelor of Arts from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. She attended the Institute of Management and Leadership in Education at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and attended Cornell University, studying Diversity Management.
Montgomery-Richard is the Board Chair of the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce, where it has been focusing on helping small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic
“One thing this pandemic confirmed: small businesses are the lifeblood of this nation,” says Montgomery-Richard.
The chamber has also been meeting with key business leaders of major corporations, anchor institutions, city and state leaders regarding diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We are also engaged in discussions regarding livable wages, affordable housing, healthcare disparities, education and policy reforms,” says Montgomery-Richard. The result was that the group published a “Call to Action.”
“This is a pivotal moment in our country’s history,” she says. “The actions and commitments we make as a people and a business community will foster the economy’s growth and development at the local, state and national levels.”
During the pandemic, Montgomery-Richard has also helped with food drives, food banks and donations – she’s as a regular contributor to Second Harvest Food Bank – and has worked with Crescent City (La.) of The Links, Inc. and other organizations.
Montgomery-Richard believes in New Orleans, but also knows it needs to step up. “New Orleans can do several things to improve: Recognize the need to diversify our economy beyond hospitality and tourism; recognize the direct correlation between K-12 education and juvenile crime and engage the charter schools in the resolve; recognize there’s a direct correlation between education, a skilled workforce and the types of business and industry attracted to New Orleans; recognize a need for innovative job creation with rapid response education and training; and look to the Port of New Orleans for potential new jobs or old jobs that pay a living wage.”
This dovetails with the Ph.D. in higher education leadership she earned in 1996. “Ever conscious of the struggles of marginalized people, my research focused on welfare reform and access to post-secondary education for AFDC recipients,” says Montgomery-Richard. “My dissertation titled, ‘Time: A Barrier to Postsecondary Education for AFDC Recipients,’ explored the challenges and obstacles these families faced to obtain economic security. My work was grounded in the belief that if women on welfare were given access and opportunity to relevant education and training, they could move from welfare to work to a life of economic self-sufficiency.”
Her accomplishments have not gone unnoticed, with honors including: 100 Black Men of Metro New Orleans Champion of Economic Empowerment Award; The Orchid Society Outstanding African-American Women of New Orleans; McDonogh 35 High School Wall of Fame; YWCA Role Model; City Business “Women Of The Year”; Ten Outstanding Persons Award Family Services of Greater New Orleans; Louisiana Center for Women and Government Hall of Fame; Louisiana Community and Technical College System President’s Outstanding Service Award; Louisiana Community and Technical College System President’s Award for Exemplary Leadership; and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Exemplary Service Award.
But what brings it all together is her family, including husband Anthony Wayne Richard and son Harold Hilton Montgomery Jr. and his wife, Taleigha Crawford-Montgomery, as well as her faith in God.
“Throughout my professional career I asked God to show me my work and not just a job,” says Montgomery-Richard.
“Giving back to the community for me from a spiritual perspective is important,” says Montgomery-Richard, “because, ‘To whom much is given, much will be required’ (Luke 12:48), and as Marian Wright Eldeman so eloquently stated in her book, The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours, “Service is the rent we pay for being …’”
“I think my position in the community as quarterback of the New Orleans Saints started me on the path of volunteering. We have been blessed and feel it’s important to give back.”
“I think my position in the community as quarterback of the New Orleans Saints started me on the path of volunteering,” says Archie Manning.
It was Jake Kupp, captain of the Saints, who Archie credits as setting a good example. With encouragement from Kupp, Archie got involved with the Louisiana Special Olympics, work that he still continues.
Manning has also used his business and personal savvy with New Orleans Boy Scout Council, Salvation Army, United Way Speakers Bureau, New Orleans Sports Foundation and the AllState Sugar Bowl Committee, and he’s the Chairman of the Board of the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame.
“I ran three Archie Manning Cystic Fibrosis Golf Tournaments in Mississippi and Louisiana for 25 years,” he says.
He is currently working on a few projects for disadvantaged youth and wants to help the police department. Education and crime in the city are both concerns of Archie and his wife Olivia. They also recently made donations to food drives during the coronavirus pandemic.
Archie was born in Drew, Mississippi, and was a natural athlete – he was involved in football, basketball, baseball and track. After graduating from Drew High School, he attended University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), where he was the starting quarterback for three years. It was here he met his wife, who was from Philadelphia, Mississippi.
After graduating college with a business degree, he was drafted by the Saints. He was the quarterback for the Saints for 10 seasons before playing for the Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings. He retired after 13 seasons in the NFL.
Despite being away, Archie was always in his element in New Orleans, “I love the people and culture of New Orleans,” he says. It was in New Orleans where he started the Archie Manning Company, Manning Passing Academy and Manning’s Restaurant.
For his philanthropic work, Archie has been bestowed American Spirit Medallion by the National World War II Museum; Byron “Whizzer” White Humanitarian Award; Bart Starr Humanitarian Award; Ten Outstanding Young Americans by the U.S. Jaycees; Father of the Year from the National Father’s Day Council; Silver Buffalo, the highest award from the Boy Scouts of America; Distinguished American Award from Walter Camp Foundation; Aspire Award from Cal Ripkin Foundation; and the Gold Medal Award from National Football Foundation. This award has been given to seven Presidents, Admirals, Generals, corporate CEOs and other distinguished Americans.
“We have been blessed,” says Archie. “And feel it’s important to give back.” Adding, “It’s heartwarming to hear a story about a young person that has benefited from organizations that our family is involved in.”
“We have teamed up with the University of Mississippi Medical School and have established the Manning Family Fund, to provide health needs for smaller communities throughout Mississippi.”
Olivia Manning has taken on many roles in life – daughter, student, wife, mother, volunteer and philanthropist – putting all that she is into each.
Originally from Philadelphia, Mississippi, Olivia arrived in New Orleans with her husband, Archie, also from Mississippi, who at the time was the new quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
They had met at University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). Archie was star quarterback and baseball player, and Olivia was homecoming queen, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
Olivia joined the Junior League of New Orleans after several years, and as a member “became interested in various projects through my association with the League,” she says.
She also had three boys – Cooper, Peyton and Eli – and began to volunteer at Isidore Newman School, where they attended. They, in turn, made her the grandmother of nine. Ellen and Cooper Manning, now a businessman, are the parents of May, Arch (now a quarterback at Newman) and Heid. Ashley and Peyton Manning, a retired NFL quarterback, are the parents of Marshall and Mosley. Abby and Eli Manning, also a retired NFL quarterback, are the parents of Ava, Lucy, Caroline and Charlie.
She took on more volunteer work and leadership roles, such as Chair of “Zoo-To-Do,” and Co-Chair of Longue Vue House and Gardens’ “Sentimental Journeys” and “Key to the Cure” at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Currently, Olivia is a board member on the American Red Cross, of which she stresses a particular importance because “we have so many natural disasters in our area and they always step up.”
She has been honored with the Ole Miss Legacy Award from Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy, New Orleans Magazine Top Female Achiever in 2014, and the Olivia Manning Scholarship at Isidore Newman School.
The family was named one of the Most Inspiring Families in America by Town & Country magazine and she and Archie were bestowed the National Pathfinder Award for their work post-Hurricane Katrina.
Philanthropy is a trait that Archie and Olivia have passed along to their sons, who have contributed their time and money to a number of organizations.
In a profile about Olivia for New Orleans Magazine’s Top Female Achievers: “‘I’m really proud of the boys – of the ways that they have found ways to give back,’ she says, noting both Peyton and Eli’s foundations, as well as the work Cooper and his wife have done locally to support Academy of the Sacred Heart.”
And, Olivia and Archie haven’t forgotten their roots.
“We have teamed up with the University of Mississippi Medical School and have established the Manning Family Fund,” says Olivia, “to provide health needs for smaller communities throughout Mississippi.”