Imagine

Editor's Note
Kimberley Singletary
Illustration by Paddy Mills

Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like if crime was no longer a problem in New Orleans.

Imagine what it would feel like to park or drive or walk at any time of the day or night, at any part of the city, without a single thought of concern for your car, yourself, or your loved ones. What would that feel like? No more alarm systems or see-through purses and backpacks. No police sirens. Buildings free of graffiti. No more active shooter drills or carrying pepper spray with your keys. No parents living in fear. No more senseless deaths.

How would these daily feelings of peace and freedom change the way you live? The way you feel about your city? Now ask yourself, what would you be willing to do to move us all in this direction?

For our CEO of the Year for 2022, the answer is clear: she’s been willing to devote her life to the welfare of our city’s youth. Since Melissa Sawyer came to New Orleans decades ago through Teach for America, she has been gripped with both a love of the city and a feeling of disgust and heartbreak at the way she says, “We continue to fail our kids.”

You can’t argue with the numbers, and they aren’t good. In Orleans Parish, 37% of youth live in poverty — almost twice the national average. In 2017, the death rate for children ages 1 to 19 in the parish was 56 per 100,000 — again, about twice the national average. Only one-third of our kids are performing on grade level in reading and math in third grade, and even less in economically disadvantaged homes.

Struggling parents have kids that struggle, and where you have struggling people, people who feel they have no hope or other options, you have crime.

For almost two decades as the leader of Youth Empowerment Project, Sawyer has been creating successful programs that are providing area kids and families who need it most with support, mentorship and connection to services and basic needs. She is a leader who leads with her heart, who innovates through barriers and is constantly asking, “What more can we do?” Her leadership has placed her organization on solid footing and helped thousands of others in our city do the same with their lives, despite a mountain of challenges.

On behalf of the entire Biz team, thank you Melissa, and your whole team, for all you do. Congratulations to you, and to our very elite group of Executives of the Year for 2022. Our city is stronger because of you.

KIMBERLEY SINGLETARY
Managing Editor
Kimberley@BizNewOrleans.com