Viewpoint: Who will help build a more equitable New Orleans?

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Protesters demonstrate at Esplanade and Claiborne avenues on May 29. (Brooke Brown photo)

As America come to grips with the inequities that have held back our country and many of its citizens, individuals, educational institutions and businesses large and small are beginning to envision what they can do to help right historic wrongs and build a more vibrant economy.

Michael Fitts

Visionary leaders like Michael Fitts, president of Tulane University, have stepped up with promises of scholarships and meaningful programs. Late last week, Fitts and his wife agreed to donate $100,000, a little less than 10% of his annual salary, to fund scholarships for students who show leadership in racial equity and diversity activities. Fitts also pledged that Tulane would take transparent, measurable steps to further anti-racist goals including a race equity education initiative, develop a new hiring and management strategy aimed at the recruitment and retention of minority faculty members and establish a Health Equity Institute.

On the national level, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin recently unveiled a $120 million gift to two historically black universities and their parent organization, which is headed by former Dillard University President Dr. Michael Lomax. St. Augustine High School just announced a $1.5 million gift from the #StartSmall Initiative funded by Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and Twitter and Square. The donation — one of the largest in St. Aug history — was due in part to an old school friendship between a Twitter official and a St. Aug development officer. Other local organizations including Covenant House, Second Harvest Food Bank, Total Community Action and World Central Kitchen also received funds through Dorsey’s philanthropy.

As the COVID-19 economic crisis has unfolded, many New Orleans restaurant owners have taken responsibility to feed their employees and their families.  The New Orleans Business Alliance created a multi-million dollar Gig Economy Relief Fund whose donors include Gulf Coast Bank, Entergy, Capital One, Verizon and the Gayle Benson Community Fund, among others. Benson recently designated Juneteenth as a paid holiday for the Saints and the Pelicans.

The Greater New Orleans Foundation activated its Disaster Response and Restoration Fund to assist families and others in need and announced more than $400,000 in grants through its Louisiana Service and Hospitality Family Assistance Program. OffBeat Magazine posted to its website a partial list of Black-owned New Orleans restaurants and encouraged readers to patronize them.

Certainly these efforts will help some New Orleanians get through the economic downturn that COVID-19 has created. Yet, long-term change such as workforce training is needed. The service industry must begin paying more employees a living wage. Employers could create tuition-free programs to improve skill levels as well as clearer pathways to management and other entrepreneurial opportunities.

Every business – no matter what size – could also help build a skilled workforce through paid internships, fellowships, part-time jobs or scholarships for deserving individuals of all races.

According to a report released this morning by The Data Center, more than 110,000 workers in the eight-parish metro New Orleans area either received benefits or filed an initial unemployment insurance claim in the week ending June 6. Clearly, there is a need for additional jobs with higher wages.

GNO Inc.’s Michael Hecht says that COVID-19 is forcing global economic changes that will offer a range of new economic opportunities that New Orleans is uniquely positioned to secure.  Tourism alone may no longer sustain us.

Let’s hope that local business leaders will work cooperatively with the education community and those citizens eager to learn new skills. Only through this triangular synergy will New Orleans emerge as a more equitable city better prepared for the new global economy.


NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson and 7th District Captain Nick Gernon will address a Peace With The Police Rally on Thursday, June 27. The rally will be held from 10 a.m. until noon at St. Maria Goretti Church, 7300 Crowder Blvd.   Coordinated by former legislative candidate and community activist Anthony Jackson Jr., the rally is an opportunity for a peaceful dialogue between civilians and local law enforcement officials. For more information, contact Jackson at 504-377-1687.

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at

One thought on “Viewpoint: Who will help build a more equitable New Orleans?

  1. Thank you President Trump for protecting former and current Veterans. A 10 yr sentence should be given to Landreau and LaToya the destroyer for allowing Lee, Beauregard and others to be removed. Sleep soundly Andrew Jackson. Someone finally stops the carriage of history.

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