A JEDI Interview with Leona Tate
Jonathan Leit

 

Read below for a short blog post that accompanies the video interview with Leona Tate, linked at the bottom of this page.

I’m a father to daughters in the 2nd and 3rd grades–our seventh year as part of the StG community–and in 2020 I joined the Board of Trustees, serving as chair of the Facilities and Master Planning Committee and as a member of the JEDI Task Force. It’s with intention that I’m opening my post with these common self-identifiers: they represent something much deeper for me, the marriage of personal and professional passions that I’ve long pursued at home and in my career, and now more recently engage with at StG. 

Through my work in community development real estate, I partner with nonprofit organizations to rehabilitate historic buildings and build new ones that create affordable housing, community facilities and commercial spaces. As a professional in one of our country’s most historically racist and extractive industries, I hope to make incremental change by bringing investment that benefits low-income populations and communities of color towards addressing generational inequities. Meanwhile, along with my wife, we teach our daughters about civil rights history, the ongoing discrimination against people of color, the inherent privilege that comes from our whiteness and the importance of being citizen social justice fighters in our everyday lives. 

In commemoration of Black History Month, I’m very proud to use this space to shine a light on Leona Tate and the story of public school desegregation in New Orleans. On November 14, 1960, six long years after separate black and white schools were ruled unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, six-year-old Leona Tate, Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost were escorted by U.S. Marshals through a crowd of shouting protesters to attend McDonogh 19 in the Lower 9th Ward, becoming the first African Americans along with Ruby Bridges to attend formerly white-only schools in Louisiana. The three young girls attended 1st and 2nd grades alone, under the protection of the Marshals, in an otherwise empty building while their white peers fled for parochial and private schools elsewhere.

More than six decades later, the Leona Tate Foundation for Change is an equal partner with our company in owning and transforming the McDonogh 19 school campus into the Tate, Etienne & Prevost (TEP) Center. With construction now completed, the TEP Center will soon reopen as a new kind of educational space that will be home to an interpretive center on the history of school desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans; an undoing racism training space by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond; and 25 affordable apartments for seniors. 

On the occasion of McDonogh 19 being recognized as a State of Louisiana Civil Rights Trail site–the second such historical marker in New Orleans, along with Dooky Chase’s Restaurant–I sat with Leona to talk about one of the city’s seminal but largely unknown civil rights stories (visit the U.S. Civil Rights Trail site for much more from around the country). After many years of working together, we’ve become family, and I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned in furthering my own ongoing racial equity journey. I can’t help but see the resonance for our StG community: throughout her life, Leona has boldly embodied the values of perseverance, compassion, integrity and respect. I constantly marvel at her strength and grace and hope we’ve set our daughters on a path towards becoming women just like Leona.

To Watch the Video Interview with Leona Tate, Click Here!

(A few brief pauses exist in the video when screen freezes occurred.)

 

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  • Parent Voice