Once Upon a Dream Home
Cherie Duckworth’s hope for economic reinvigoration in New Orleans East
Pictured is Cherie Duckworth, President of the neighborhood association and long-time resident of East New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, Duckworth has held out hope that the area will experience a reinvigoration, and she plans to stick by her dream home until it happens.
Prior to moving to their home in Mark Subdivision in 1998, Cherie and Mervyn Duckworth Sr. would drive around the subdivision looking at houses that were beautifully garnished with Christmas decorations. It was these memories of the neighborhood that stood out most prominently to the young couple when it finally came time to purchase, and they knew right away: their dream home was in Mark Subdivision.
“As a child growing up in New Orleans East, I always knew we lived in what’s considered suburbia in New Orleans,” said Cherie Duckworth. “My friends who lived Uptown looked at us differently. You had arrived living in New Orleans East. The Plaza Mall opened an ice-skating rink, we went shopping, we’d go to the movie theatre there — we did it all in New Orleans East. We didn’t have to go anywhere else in the city to get quality products and services.”
Duckworth was born and raised in New Orleans East. She attended Wilson Elementary, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Mary’s Academy, and finally the University of New Orleans. She met her husband, Mervyn, while attending school in the area, and it was a match made in heaven.
Mervyn owns Duckworth Curb Master Inc., a landscaping business in New Orleans East, where he and his team work to beautify the area. Mervyn’s parents have also lived in New Orleans East all their lives. His brother, Ore Duckworth, and wife, Sandra, are the proud owners of Sassafras Creole Kitchen, located just off Franklin Ave near UNO.
“When we decided we wanted to expand our family and upgrade from our first home, we looked at several other subdivisions, but none of them compared to our quest to live in Mark Subdivision,” said Duckworth.
Duckworth’s son, Mervyn Duckworth Jr., lives in New Orleans East as well. He was able to find a home in the same neighborhood where his parents purchased their first home — Willowbrook Subdivision. He attended school in New Orleans East until the 7th grade, when Katrina hit.
“When Katrina hit, we had an opportunity to live in Houston,” Duckworth said. “But I longed to be home, not to just be in New Orleans, but to be home in Mark Subdivision. My home is my safe haven, it’s my refuge, my shelter. It’s what I know and what I want to know.”
While economic hardships have taken a toll on the area, Duckworth is seeing things every day that make her hopeful that New Orleans East will see its glory days once again.
“When the New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Co. opened, I smiled, because I frequented the one in Metairie,” said Duckworth. “We are getting a new PJ’s Coffee, and that’s great!
Duckworth also highlights the New Orleans East Hospital, Wyndham Garden Hotel, Walmart and the new state-of-the-art East New Orleans Library as signs of economic growth in the area.
“For people who migrate to New Orleans East, this place is a land of refuge for them,” Duckworth said. “You can live in single-family dwellings, and you can be a homeowner.”
Mark Subdivision has 116 lots, with 115 houses and one empty lot. A large amount of property — approximately 95 percent — in the neighborhood consists of homeowners.
“I have no need, want or desire to move,” said Duckworth. “What my desires are is to see the area come back to what it once was. I want it to come back and flourish.”
Duckworth’s desires are already coming to fruition. One exciting project in the area is from developer Roland Von Kurnatowski, who plans to turn Lakeshore Landing by the Lakefront Airport into a water park and outdoor music venue.
“I’m excited about the new outdoor music venue,” Duckworth says. “I do go to concerts, I love music and I’m a musician. Plus, that will bring about additional businesses.”
As Vice President of Workforce Development at the Urban League of Louisiana in Mid-City, Duckworth has a 12-mile commute into the city. After long days at work, Duckworth says she “always smiles when turning into Mark Subdivision.”
Duckworth has no plans to leave her dream home in Mark Subdivision any time soon, and she welcomes new neighbors with open arms. “As long as I’m in New Orleans, I plan to stay in my home in New Orleans East.”