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Front Row Seats to the Culture​

By Nicolas’ “Central City Nick’’ Holmes

As far as I can remember, I stayed on Jackson Avenue with my Granny and Paw Paw in the heart of Central City, a historic neighborhood and Black economic hub in the 3rd ward. My Grandparents lived near traditionally cooperative businesses like:

  1. Young Men Olympian headquarters–the first benevolent society established in 1884;
  2. Sadies Legendary Beauty Salon–the longest-operating beauty salon in New Orleans since 1963; and
  3. The Zulu parade route–an Indigenous/African-themed Social Aid and Pleasure Club formed in 1909, and one whose parade brings an economic boost to surrounding businesses every time it rolls. 

How does cooperation manifest in our communities, and how does it show up in our art and cultural expression? What are the benefits of restoring some of the collective memories of cooperative practices used by Black and Indigenous folks of the past?

We aim to answer questions like these through Cooperation Gumbo, a community participatory research project of cooperators, artists, and community organizers seeking to document and learn about the histories of cooperativism in New Orleans. The project will highlight cooperation in neighborhoods like the 7th Ward/Bayou Road, Treme/Claiborne Corridor, and Central City. We’ll take a multi-faceted approach to uplifting the legacies of New Orleans community marketplaces through storytelling.

We’re excited to present our findings creatively and authentically through interviews, carefully curated playlists, and engaging art exhibitions. Coop Gumbo and other organizations like Cooperation New OrleansCivic Studio, Urban Dream, Gallery of the Streets, Outlaw Radio, and Keep It In The Culture (KIITC), hope to educate and inspire people in New Orleans to become more involved in cooperative practices. 

What are the benefits of restoring some of the collective memories of cooperative practices used by Black and Indigenous folks of the past?

When I think about cooperation as sharing resources, skills, art, and tradition, I realize that I have always been surrounded by cooperation – from the many ways our people have organized their businesses to the ways we celebrate and ensure our culture flourishes in spite of institutional oppression- cooperative relationships are an essential layer of my existence, providing me with support and wisdom and showing me that anything is possible when we collectivize.

The ancestral knowledge and wisdom passed down to me by my Grandparents and Mother give me a strong appreciation for having a front-row seat to the cultural traditions I have enjoyed my entire life. As Mardi Gras 2024 roars around us and people prepare for the fun, I stand on my Granny’s porch on Jackson Avenue, enjoy the festivities, and reflect on cooperation!

Nick Holmes was raised in Central City, New Orleans, and is a fervent steward and preservationist of New Orleans’s traditional culture. Nick is a youth mentor, a co-op developer and is a co-founder of Keep It In the Culture Cooperative.

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