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New Orleans

 
Jennifer and I spent a weekend in New Orleans for a wedding of two of our closest friends.  My Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Brother Jamin Butler (co-founder of Black Coffee ) married Ayron Adamson (owner of Bella Dawn Event Planning ).  Ayron was the wedding planner for our wedding, and we were extremely excited to be a part of their wedding party. 

I’ve been to New Orleans five times (mostly for conventions), and every trip was the same.  Go to the convention center for meetings all day; hit up Bourbon Street in the evening; stumble back to the hotel (sometimes drunk); wake up the next morning and repeat until the convention is over.  I love Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, but for this trip, the plan was to see New Orleans outside of the tourist areas.

What we would found was a lot of Black culture, art, music, and food. 

There were two things that were very high on my list of things to do.  The first was attending a Sunday Second Line Parade, and the second was going to Studio Be. 

New Orleans is a performance city which doesn’t stand still.  Marching bands are all over the place, and they are known for the second line parade, which typically happen in the French Quarter.  But the Sunday Second Line Parade is a little different, and it was the best parade experience that I’ve had.

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It’s always in a Black community, and it’s hosted by a different social club each Sunday.  This parade is dramatically different from the typical parade where people sit on the sidewalk and watch floats go by.  These parades usually have a small marching band, a dancing group, and a couple cars.  That’s all they need to get the party going.  Instead of watching the parade go by, spectators march and dance along side the parade.  So people in attendance can actually be in the parade. 

These Sunday Second Line Parades captures the true Black culture of New Orleans, and it was a lot of fun marching and dancing down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.  This isn’t something that you’ll see or experience in the French Quarter.

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Schedules for the various Sunday second line parades can be found on WWOZ New Orleans 90.7 FM’s website under the section, “Takin’ It to the Streets.”  Visit www.wwoz.org for parade times and routes.  Check out a video of the parade here. https://youtu.be/xSlAi41BnE8

Studio Be in Bywater (just east of the French Quarter) is one of the city’s great art exhibits.  Housed in a large warehouse, local artist Brandan “Bmike” Odums’ murals are on display.  Odums painted large murals that feature African American icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Paul Robeson, Bob Marley, Jean Michel Basquiat, and many others.  This exhibit showcases the triumphs and struggles that Black people have experienced in this country.  Studio Be should be on every tourist’s list of things to see in New Orleans.  Check out a video of Studio Be https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=346016336008256

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I planned on writing a story on New Orleans for my newspaper, the Los Angeles Standard Newspaper, so I interviewed New Orleans resident Mikhala Iversen, who showcases the city’s Black culture through the All Bout Dat Black Heritage & Jazz Tour of New Orleans (www.allboutdat.com ).  One of the main stops on the tour is Tremé, America’s oldest Black neighborhood.  This area of New Orleans is the site of significant economic, cultural, political, and social events that have shaped the course of events in Black America.  

Tremé is adjacent to the French Quarter, and it is the home of Congo Square, which is where enslaved Africans were allowed to gather on Sundays to play their drums, sing, dance, and trade their goods.  It is also the birthplace of jazz music.  Today there is a drum circle performance every Sunday.

“It’s sacred land,” Iversen said.  “It’s a very spiritual place.  One of the ways that our ancestors got through their trials and tribulations would be with music.  Black music wasn’t made to entertain anybody.  We created that to heal ourselves.”

While Iversen’s tour celebrates Black culture, it also touches on the struggles that African slaves and free Blacks experienced in this city.

“The tour consists of the story of slavery,” she said.  “The story of Jim Crow and Reconstruction.  The story of connecting the dots of the past and the present so that we can shape the future.  It’s not a political tour but it’s impossible to not touch on something that becomes politics when we talk about African American history, because so many things were put in place then that are still here today.”

Congo Square is inside Louis Armstrong Park, which features statues of jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, Sidney Bechet, and Mahalia Jackson.  Music festivals are held at the park, and the park is the home of the Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts.

For authentic New Orleans live music at Black-owned establishments, Iversen recommends Prime Example Jazz Club and Kermit’s Treme Mother in Law Lounge.  Listen to local artists perform jazz, and grab a bite to eat off of their authentic New Orleans menus.  Both of these live music venues capture New Orleans’ Black culture.

Iversen highly recommends that people visit Bayou Road, which is just outside of Tremé and is on her tour.

“Bayou Road is our only Black owned business street,” she said.  “All of the shops and vendors there are Black owned.  The buildings are Black owned.  And I take my visitors to the Community Book Center, which is our hub for academics, literature, community events.  Visitors can purchase items that are not made in China, but made by local New Orleans artists.”

While driving through New Orleans, it’s easy to see how important art is to the city.  There are large murals on buildings that celebrate Black music and culture as well as depict political and social issues.  

“The more challenges we have, the more art we create,” Iversen said.  “We need to communicate our frustrations and solutions, and our desire for community.”

New Orleans is one of the greatest food cities in the nation.  Iversen recommends Dooky Chase Restaurant, Coco Hut Caribbean Restaurant, the Half Shell on the Bayou, Morrow’s, Bayou Bistro, The Munch Factory, Loretta’s Authentic Pralines, Lil’ Dizzy’s Cafe, and Willie Mae’s Scotch House.

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