Jul 262014
 
Kara Morgan's partner Trey Bornmann, clasps hands on the steps of the Lyons Center in front of a sea of her friends and supporters during a second line celebration of her life on Saturday. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Kara Morgan’s partner Trey Bornmann, clasps hands on the steps of the Lyons Center in front of a sea of her friends and supporters during a second line celebration of her life on Saturday. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Kara Lynn Morgan (submitted photo)

Kara Morgan on the parade route in 2014. (photo courtesy of Cher Groves)

Kara Lynn Morgan died of melanoma July 15, the day before her 41st birthday, but the tireless neighborhood leader is far from finished with her battle against skin cancer.

She is still fighting it — she and her many allies in New Orleans and beyond — on the fields in the park of her beloved Irish Channel.

* * *

Morgan was raised in New Orleans (though technically a Shreveport native), graduated from Mercy Academy in 1991, and had moved away from the city when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, convincing her to return. The young mother returned with her family (Trey Bornmann and their now two sons) the following spring, and her experience in public administration quickly led her to the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association.

The neighborhood association quickly decided that the best route to stem the tide of crime in the Irish Channel was to focus on recreation opportunities for children. Morgan threw herself into that project, helping create a neighborhood basketball league that attracted the attention of then-rebuilding New Orleans Recreation Department, leading to the formation of the Lyons-Burke Booster Club.

“Kara’s lasting legacy will be her pushing parks and recreation activities for all the kids in the Irish Channel,” said Ed McGinnis, a fellow Irish Channel Neighborhood Association board member.

On Saturday, a second line in her honor stopped at the steps of the Lyons Center, and McGinnis read from a letter she sent once to the City Council in support of NORD: “I’d much rather hear the sounds of joy than the sounds of gunshots in our parks any day,” Morgan wrote.

* * *

In early 2013, Morgan was diagnosed with a terminal form of skin cancer, Stage IV melanoma. She enrolled in experimental therapy and remained president of the neighborhood association, speaking alongside Mayor Mitch Landrieu later that year when the Lyons Center finally opened that summer.

Meanwhile, Morgan also turned her skills in advocacy to the battle against her disease. In March 2014, state Rep. Helena Moreno invited her to Baton Rouge to testify before the House of Representatives Health and Welfare committee in support of a bill banning minors from tanning beds. Morgan noted that she herself used a tanning bed frequently when she was a teen, and explained the ways skin cancer risks are increased by the use of the devices.

“I’m very confident that in the years to come we will look back at tanning beds the way we look at cigarettes now,” Morgan told the committee. “They are carcinogenic, they are unsafe and our kids should not be using them.”

* * *

Morgan returned to the state capital in May when Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Moreno’s bill, but in late June, her cancer took an aggressive turn, and less than a month later, Morgan was suddenly gone.

Fleurty Girl created a shirt in Morgan's memory to help raise money for the shade fund. (submitted photo)

Fleurty Girl created a shirt in Morgan’s memory to help raise money for the shade fund. (photo via Facebook)

Morgan’s work on behalf of her neighborhood and in the fight against skin cancer, however, were not finished, and are now coming together. Before her death, she asked her colleagues in the neighborhood association to create a fund to build shade structures over the playground at Burke Park and near the pool at the Lyons Center, and the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association created the “Kara Morgan Shade Fund” in her memory.

Fleurty Girl created a T-shirt to help in support of the effort, and the fund raised more than $6,000 in its first week toward its $50,000 goal, led by contributions from Morgan’s partner on the tanning-bed bill, Rep. Moreno. Anyone who wants to donate can send a check to the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association, PO Box 751025, New Orleans, LA 70175-1025.

Services for Morgan were held Saturday afternoon at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, and the sanctuary filled to standing room only with friends and admirers bedecked in the festive colors or Saints attire that Morgan requested. Her sister, Kristine Rizzuto told them that although the feisty neighborhood leader was gone, Morgan will live on through the legacy of her work and those who carry it forward:

We will not be defined by this loss. She will not be defined by her loss. Let her be known for her strength, her compassion, her heart. Let her be remembered for her bravery. Let us be her victories. We took the field with a hero and as such, we found the hero in ourselves. Now it’s our turn to lead the next group of heroes.

In the end, this disease was not my sister’s battle. The hospital was not her field. Her battle was to live, to love, to give, to unite. Her field was her community, and our hearts.

Those are the battles that matter, and those are the ones she won.

Irish Channel Neighborhood Association president Kara Morgan stands between Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former Council president Jackie Clarkson at the reopening of the Lyons Center in June 2013. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Irish Channel Neighborhood Association president Kara Morgan stands between to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former Council president Jackie Clarkson at the reopening of the Lyons Center in June 2013. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Kara Morgan (center) runs a scoreboard and timer powered by an extension cord from the home next door during makeshift neighborhood basketball tournaments in the Irish Channel. (submitted photo)

Kara Morgan (center) runs a scoreboard and timer powered by an extension cord from the home next door during makeshift neighborhood basketball tournaments in the Irish Channel. (submitted photo)

Irish Channel Neighborhood Association board member Ed McGinnis speaks at the Lyons Center about Kara Morgan's efforts for recreation in the neighborhood on Saturday, July 26. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Irish Channel Neighborhood Association board member Ed McGinnis speaks at the Lyons Center about Kara Morgan’s efforts for recreation in the neighborhood on Saturday, July 26. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Kara Morgan (right) testifies before the Louisiana House of Representatives Health and Welfare Committee in support of a bill banning minors from tanning beds. (via house.louisiana.gov)

Kara Morgan (right) testifies before the Louisiana House of Representatives Health and Welfare Committee in support of a bill banning minors from tanning beds. (via house.louisiana.gov)

Kara Morgan's friends and supporters rally Saturday afternoon in Burke Park, where the neighborhood plans to build shade structures in her memory. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Kara Morgan’s friends and supporters rally Saturday afternoon in Burke Park, where the neighborhood plans to build shade structures in her memory. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Kara Morgan (right) and her sister, Kristine Rizzuto, at Morgan's home in the Irish Channel in 2013, several months after Morgan's diagnosis with cancer. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Kara Morgan (right) and her sister, Kristine Rizzuto, at Morgan’s home in the Irish Channel in 2013, several months after Morgan’s diagnosis with cancer. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Kara Morgan, President of the Irish Channel, smiles while wearing a Saints-emblazoned Saints hat at the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association Christmas party at Tracey's bar in 2010, which included a toy drive in partnership with the New Orleans Police Department's Sixth District. (UptownMessenger.com file photo by Sabree Hill)

Kara Morgan, President of the Irish Channel, smiles while wearing a Saints-emblazoned Saints hat at the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association Christmas party at Tracey’s bar in 2010, which included a toy drive in partnership with the New Orleans Police Department’s Sixth District. (UptownMessenger.com file photo by Sabree Hill)

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  • Cher Groves

    Thank you for the beautiful tribute to Kara’s Memory.

  • ultimateliberal

    Location of Burke Park? I’ve lived in the Channel for 17 years and have never heard of it…………..Thank you for the clarification.

    • JediJenn

      It is between Second and Third Street on Annunciation.

  • Beverly Rainbolt

    Thanks so much for the coverage. And I’m glad to know that Sabree Hill is the photographer for the picture of Kara in her Santa Saints hat; it has always been one of my favorites.

  • Woobniggurath

    Kara has paid more forward in 41 years than most would accomplish

    in a hundred. Missed but never forgotten.

  • Laura Adderley

    A fine article and richly deserved tribute to a wonderful neighborhood leader. I will quibble with one line: the main point of the Burke Park and booster club initiatives was not to “stem a rising tide of crime” but because it was the right thing to do, and generally good stuff for kids, for the community etc. etc. This was the visionary super productive good neighbors, good humans culture that exemplified ICNA under Kara’s leadership.