Village de l’Est is a largely Vietnamese American and African American neighborhood in eastern New Orleans to which the city has turned a blind eye. A general lack of investment has resulted in deteriorating streets and buildings. Illegal landfills dot eastern New Orleans and threaten the health of residents. Residents were even mostly left to their own devices to rebuild after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

For all its problems, however, the neighborhood can boast of resilience, resourcefulness, and cultural vibrancy. Groups like VAYLA are tackling the community’s challenges through a combination of supportive services and community organizing. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city began dumping toxic debris into the Chef Menteur landfill less than two miles from Village de l’Est “with no input from the community or thought as to how it would affect the community.” (Chris Sang, VAYLA Communications & Media Director) Fighting for their health and dignity, residents, led by VAYLA and other community groups, successfully campaigned to get the city to close the landfill.

Nowadays an issue worrying many residents is the privatization and corporatization of the school system. While this is a process that is occurring all over the United States, it has made particularly large strides in New Orleans. Called “a petri dish for the national charter school movement” by the New Orleans Advocate, the state has transformed all but six of the city’s public schools to charters under Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco and her Republican successor, Bobby Jindal. These changes have led to school closures as well as the elimination of busing services for students attending schools not in their immediate neighborhood. As a result, many students in Village de l’Est no longer have the opportunity to attend better schools in other neighborhoods of the city. Further, charters have failed to address the long-standing problem of language barriers (primarily Vietnamese and Spanish) that has hindered parents’ involvement in their children’s education. In short, according to Chris Sang, “[charter schools’] definition of accountability is different from our definition of accountability.”

As was the case after Hurricane Katrina, however, VAYLA is mobilizing its community and winning important victories in education. By filing a federal complaint, VAYLA forced schools to provide more services and materials in Vietnamese and Spanish. As a model of self-sufficiency, they organized parents to fundraise for a bus which now shuttles some high school students from Village de l’Est to the high-performing Benjamin Franklin High School. Finally, VAYLA directly chips away at the achievement gap by providing academic support as well as extracurricular activities and events such as dance, yoga, t’ai chi, art, musical performances, and film screenings.

With such a strong record of engaging the community, and in particular local youth, VAYLA feels that it is ready to build and operate its own low-power FM station. It will be located in its new facility, which already boasts a dance studio, computer lab, and common space. One of VAYLA’s hopes for the station is for it to make the already multiracial and multilingual organization multigenerational as well. To this end, VAYLA intends to feature shows co-produced and co-hosted by adults and youth. VAYLA also plans to collaborate with other community organizations to disseminate important information about social services such as the Affordable Care Act and food stamps. What’s more, the station will bring linguistic diversity to New Orleans’s media landscape. In short, VAYLA’s station will speak to the organization’s belief in “the power of social change as a just means to meet our community needs.” (