Baptist Crossroads, the community redevelopment organization birthed by First Baptist Church of New Orleans just prior to Hurricane Katrina, is expanding its strategy to work alongside residents of the Upper Ninth Ward to revitalize this historic community.
NEW ORLEANS – Baptist Crossroads, the community redevelopment organization birthed by First Baptist Church of New Orleans just prior to Hurricane Katrina, is expanding its strategy to work alongside residents of the Upper Ninth Ward to revitalize this historic community.
“Baptist Crossroads partnered from the beginning with Habitat for Humanity and Baptist Community Ministries to build 40 affordable homes for qualified, low-income residents between 2006-2007; they since have completed a total of 48 homes and have 17 more in various stages of construction.
“However, for a community to flourish, it needs to have more than one type of housing,” said Baptist Crossroads Executive Director Bob Brian. “Currently, we are exploring the possibility of a mixed-income model for our housing development. Research and experience confirm that when housing in a neighborhood better reflects social diversity, the community flourishes and becomes more economically sustainable.”
That’s not all. Baptist Crossroads has expanded its original target neighborhood to include the Florida Area and Evergreen neighborhoods between North Galvez Street and the Florida Canal.
“Together with the Bunny Friend neighborhood, this increases our focal area to 180 city blocks,” Brian said, “a unified community in which we hope to work with the leadership and residents to reestablish this community as the cultural anchor it has been for so many years in New Orleans.
“Specifically, we plan to continue building new homes, as well as renovating existing structures when preferable and cost-effective – half a dozen already have been completed,” Brian added. “We also are working hard to establish a K-8 charter school in the public education vacuum created by Hurricane Katrina, and are exploring ways to stimulate local business development.”
Essentially, Baptist Crossroads is retooling its strategic plan to reflect the resurgence of the population since the deluge following Katrina virtually emptied the Upper Ninth Ward of its proud residents.
“Crossroads itself now stands at a crossroads,” Brian remarked. “We currently are reformulating our ten-year strategic plan to embrace a more comprehensive model for community redevelopment. We want to minister to this community and its people – the ultimate goal is to be a blessing to them so that they might continue to bless the city of which they are a vital part.”
The charter school initiative is a key element of Crossroads’ plan. A charter school is publicly funded and accountable to the state Department of Education for student performance outcomes, but it is privately managed under the terms of a charter approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Among other requirements for obtaining approval for a charter, an applicant must show community support for the proposed school.
“This factor is a beneficial byproduct of our work,” Brian said. “We have been so privileged to work with the pastors and other community leaders in the Upper Ninth Ward to develop a unified voice of support for the proposed school. It hasn’t always been easy. This community includes several distinct and proud neighborhoods, but differences fade to insignificance when we focus on the need to educate our children. That’s the priority.”
Since a charter school is publicly funded, a separate non-faith-based organization – the Ninth Ward Community Charter School Association – has been set up as the applicant-operator for charter school, which is envisioned to open for the 2010 academic year. Crossroads has modeled its proposed school on the Drew School in Atlanta’s East Lake Meadows community.
“Drew was Atlanta’s first charter school,” Brian explained, “and like our vision for the Upper Ninth Ward, was part of a larger revitalization plan for an area of Atlanta formerly blighted. We visited Drew earlier this year and were impressed with the shared-wall YMCA and the link between Drew’s curriculum and the game of golf.
“When we met with Drew’s administrators, they kept saying golf was ‘their thing’ and that we should determine what best would suit our project in New Orleans. So when we got back to the Ninth Ward, we contacted Ellis Marsalis, longtime New Orleans jazz great, who now is a member of our governing board, and explored with him the idea of linking the school with the Marsalis Center for Music currently under construction in the center of our target area.”
Marsalis has helped to craft the school’s curriculum to integrate New Orleans’ culturally indigenous music across the curriculum, Brian added.
Helping to implement the expanded strategic plan is Andrew Crosby, nephew of David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist New Orleans, as community coordinator. Andrew lives onsite in the neighborhood to help facilitate relationship-building, develop leaders, and coordinate individual projects to advance overall development.
Jared Pryer serves as volunteer coordinator. He’s the person people call to schedule construction mission trips for Baptist Crossroads, and he also assists in advancing the larger vision. “We’re still a small enough organization that it’s usually ‘all hands on deck’ all the time,” Brian said. “We couldn’t do what we do without Andrew, Jared, and a very supportive board.”
“We’re also doing a lot of work to develop corporate capacity,” Brian said. “That’s the readiness or preparedness of the organization to sustain its mission. It takes a lot of grass roots work.”
For more information about Baptist Crossroads, check out its website – www.baptistcrossroads.org – or call 504.482.5775. A display area showcasing the work of this ministry will be available to people attending the 2008 LBC annual meeting at First Baptist New Orleans.
Volunteers are needed this year and next for new construction, remodeling and other labor-related projects at Baptist Crossroads. Financial contributions also are needed for materials for the houses. All amounts are needed, from $100 for nails to $20,000 for materials for an entire house.
“First and foremost,” Brian summarized, “this is a ministry for God’s glory that has many pieces – the priority of affordable housing, the foundation of public education for our children, and the dignity of the family all contribute to a quality of life for this community. We are blessed to be a part of God’s work here.”