We frequently hear about a growing economic polarization in the United States. Although it’s hard to know exactly how wealth is distributed, because it’s not always easy to measure accurately, the commonly held belief is that, currently, 1% of the wealthiest people in the country have 40% of the wealth.
In an ideal world, we’d all be as rich as Jeff Bezos. But we know that’s just a fantasy and unless there’s some sort of revolution, we’re always going to have wealthy and less wealthy members of our society. Which brings me to this question. Have you ever been to Tipitina’s? The Maple Leaf? Jazz Fest? Or Mardi Gras?
I’m sure you’ve noticed that at all of these places it’s hard to tell who’s wealthy and who’s not. Although there are vast differences between socioeconomic groups in New Orleans, we have these unique, regular meeting grounds where our differences are left behind. There’s a kind of unwritten Law of Human Respect in New Orleans. We understand that wealth and privilege are not always earned, and are not always distributed fairly. And we understand that some of the poorest among us enrich us all with the greatest art.
It’s in this uniquely New Orleans spirit that I want to introduce you to my lunch guests.
Chuck Morse is the Executive Director of Thrive New Orleans. Thrive is a nonprofit organization that focuses on four programs. “Thrive Housing & Development” provides affordable housing. “Launch NOLA” provides small business training. “Thrive Works” is a job training program that incorporates the Restoration Thrift Store on St Claude Avenue. And “Thrive 9th Ward,” known as “T9,” is a community center.
Johnny Liss is co-founder of JAM-NOLA.
JAM NOLA is a 5,400 square feet, twelve-room self-described “cultural funhouse”. It’s somewhere between an immersive art experience, an overwhelming, explosive dose of visual New Orleans and Instagram Heaven – with an accompanying soundtrack compiled by George Porter and Tank from Tank and the Bangas.
You may have heard the term, “Bread and Circuses.” It was originally coined as a derogatory description of society – meant to suggest that most people are so focused on their own mundane lives all they care about is survival or distraction. In New Orleans, we’ve elevated the bread and circus mentality to a coveted way of life. We refer to it here as keeping our priorities in perspective.
Chuck and Johnny represent the two sides of the New Orleans coin, the bread and circus. We all need balance. We need to eat and keep a roof over our heads. And we need to go out and have fun. Thrive New Orleans and JAM NOLA provide the opportunity for both of these poles of our New Orleans existence.