Of Pop-Up Tents and Transitions

June 29, 2021
View source

Friends and Colleagues:

In August 2008, as Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on New Orleans almost three years to the day after Hurricane Katrina, Lisa Amoss and I were standing in a Kinko's in Metairie trying to FedEx a Louisiana Main Street application to Baton Rouge before the storm made landfall.  As ever, grant deadlines wait for no one.

Within three months, I had the privilege of becoming BCC's first Executive Director, and, almost 11 years later, I'm still somewhat in disbelief that I'm writing these words: I'm moving on.

Those of you that know me know that I have a sentimental streak, and, amidst all of the bittersweet feelings of transition and the countless amazing memories, over the last few weeks I have been thinking a good deal about my life with pop-up tents.

What's so sentimental about a lowly pop-up tent, you might ask?  Well, what began as a nearly-unattainable asset, then an embarrassment of riches, became mundane and nearly an afterthought, and then, finally, at least to me, an almost ubiquitous marker of how much our organization has changed over the last decade.  Funny how 144 square feet of metal and nylon can contain so much.

Waking up at 6AM on Saturdays to do the monthly Broad Street Bazaars (later Flea Markets), where tents were in high demand in the heat of the former Schwegmann's parking lot, we had a few tents but nowhere to store them save for a rented cargo container.  Over the years, after a few festivals and acquiring a place to store them once we bought the ReFresh Project site, BCC amassed a small festival's worth of pop-up tents, which made the rounds at Brewhahas, Bike Fests, and Boogaloos; Taco Tuesdays, info sessions, block parties, and health fairs; Drive-In Movies, community movie nights, and Soulcials; neighborhood tree plantings, business events, and customer and employee appreciation days.  If we ever bothered to map it out, we'd see the invisible tentacles of community gently connecting everyone and everything on and around Broad.

What never ceases to amaze me is how, once you put something out there, something else more often than not comes along that--had you not been doing that thing--the opportunity never would have presented itself.  Surely there are still pop-up tents floating around out there that haven't quite made their way home to BCC, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

It has been the honor and joy of my life to help lead this organization, most importantly because it has given me an excuse to work with all of you.  It is safe to say that I have grown up alongside BCC, and I have more good memories from our time together than any person can reasonably expect or deserve: from the heady days after Katrina; to beer and bike festivals and drive-in movie and community movie nights; to working with small business owners everyday; to opening day at ReFresh and the Rose Collaborative; the list goes on and on, and I won't indulge myself with too much reminiscing here.  This letter is long enough.

I can't thank you all enough for giving me the opportunity to be a partner in living our values and creating a small but mighty organization that is helping to revitalize New Orleans neighborhoods and work with some of the best small business owners in the city.  We have done some big things--bigger than we really had any business doing--and we got there by working together,  and making sure that community wants and needs were always kept at the forefront.  I know that will continue as a part of the DNA of BCC!

Moving on to the next chapter is the definition of bittersweet.  I am having a hard time imaging what it will be like not coming to work on Broad every day, and not working alongside all of you. What I do know is that BCC is in great hands!

The amazing Elizabeth Burpee will be the organization's Interim Executive Director, and BCC and its fantastic Board and myriad partners will rise to the challenge of how this organization will pivot to its next decade and beyond.  I am so excited about how the organization will grow and change as it moves beyond my tenure, and I know Liz and the Board will make sure that the transition process is a robust and successful one.  With me gone, there will now be no one who was originally with the organization when it was founded, and that is a beautiful sign of the organization's growth, longevity, and institutional well-being.  Please, continue to support BCC in any way you can!

Even though I won't be the ED, I will always be available.  I'm not going far. I'm going to work for the City, where I hope to continue building on BCC's community and economic development work.

I'll say it a thousand times: thank you all from the bottom of my heart for giving me a chance and for being on this journey with me!  It truly has been an amazing ride and an honor and a joy, and I cannot wait to see what BCC does next!  Don't ever be a stranger, because you know I won't!

I hope to see you under a tent real soon.

You always have my best.  As Hal Brown always said,

Onwards and upwards,
Jeffrey Schwartz

Executive Director, 2009-2019