By Kailey Broussard, Special to The Advocate
The McComb-Veazey Neighborhood Coterie hosted an event on December 3, 2016 featuring gumbo and greens. The gathering provided an opportunity to discuss ways to preserve the historic neighborhood and featured live cooking demonstrations by the LSU Agriculture Center, brainstorming sessions for neighborhood projects, and presentations by community members.
“With things like this, if the community doesn’t have ownership in the project or they don’t feel like this project reflects them or reflects the community, it’s hard to get that community buy-in,” said Tina Bingham, executive vice president of the McComb-Veazey Neighborhood Coterie.
The cooking demonstration was accompanied by questions of how the community can promote healthier diet options and promote community engagement. Ideas included junior chef competitions, a map of McComb detailing where people can find healthy food alternatives, and creating sustainable gardens.
Leonard Viltz, a McComb-Veazey resident and avid promoter of local culture, studied Pontiac Point’s map as he wrote notes on a survey sheet. “Without culture, there is no point of living because you don’t look forward to anything,” Viltz said. “People who practice their culture are more reliable; they enjoy life more. I want to see what I can do to provide some answers to … reimagining Pontiac Point.”
The event was funded by the Kresge Foundation’s Fresh, Local and Equitable (FreshLo) Initiative, which awards 26 organizations with $75,000 each to plan and create food-oriented developments.
The neighborhood coterie was created to rejuvenate a once-vibrant neighborhood that was home to such prominent African-American figures as Zydeco musician Clifton Chenier, civil rights advocate Helma Constantine and Paul Breaux, a son of former slaves who was the principal of Lafayette's first public school for blacks after reconstruction.
Bingham said gatherings like Saturday's are “a way for us to kind of validate what we proposed originally in our grant and get the community’s feedback on some things and move forward in the community.”
The neighborhood was picked for the AARP’s Best Places Award in 2015 for its attempts at preserving its heritage and the coterie’s efforts to improve the neighborhood. Their latest plan includes creating a Creole Arts and Culture District. The coterie is also vocal in discussions surrounding the I-49 connector conversation that may cut through the neighborhood.
The McComb-Veazey group is focused on improving the neighborhood’s safety and linking North and South Lafayette while maintaining each region’s culture — the latter of which Viltz said locals haven’t accomplished. “I would say African-Americans … don’t talk about it, don’t acknowledge it and they don’t realize how much they provide culture to everybody,” Viltz lamented. “Without knowing that, you’re creating a big void, and they don’t know that they’re responsible for a lot of the culture that surrounds them.”
(Featured photo in article: Tina Bingham, V. P. of McComb-Veazey Neighborhood Coterie)