So Let It Be: An Interview with Carol Bebelle of New Orleans

If you attended the CIN 2010 conference in New Orleans, you might remember the community bus tour stop at Ashé Cultural Arts Center, where we ate amazing regional cuisine (including, unforgettable bread pudding!) and heard the music, cultural and history of Louisiana. Since today marks the 8th year since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the CIN blog Collective Influence is honored to share a BPM 2013 “Of Dreams and Mountaintops” interview with New Orleans resident Carol Bebelle, co-founder of Ashé. An abridged version of this interview appears on


Carol Bebelle, co-founder of Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans

A native New Orleanian, Carol Bebelle co-founded Ashé Cultural Arts Center (Ashé CAC), along with Douglas Redd,  in 1998. Ashé CAC is dedicated to community and human development using culture and art, and it became a central player in the rebuilding of New Orleans post-disaster, particularly in the Central City community and the city’s cultural landscape.

Bebelle is a graduate of Loyola and Tulane universities. She has a 20-year career in the public sector as an administrator and planner of human service programs. She also is a consultant offering planning, development, and grant writing services to human service programs. Her clients are non-profits, religious programs, entrepreneurs and artists.

A published poet and essayist, Bebelle is a popular panelist and commentator on the transformative power of culture. Her written works can be found in various anthologies, reports and journals. For Black Philanthropy Month, she generously shared her thoughts as a part of the “Of Dreams and Mountaintops” interview series. An abridged version is below and her full interview can be found at Collective Influence.

Black philanthropy is . . .

Black philanthropy is the sharing of your personal or collaborated resources, time, treasure and talent with others, not necessarily related to you, for the general good and love of the community.

What are your thoughts on where America stands 50 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech?

Dr. King understood clearly that all things are relative as did the founding fathers in their notion of “a more perfect union.” Dr. King’s inspiring and much studied words give us clear standards to measure by as well: poverty diminished or disappeared, justice in bountiful presence, people enjoying the pleasure of life without judgment, equal access and opportunity. These standards still remain as unmet goals for our democratic society.  We are neither perfect nor have we arrived at the gold standard of a fully activated democracy.

We are however, tangled in a great tension regarding the culture and values that will guide our path to tomorrow. There are those who have made the choice to follow established, conservative, safe and exclusive paths which protect many and limit the access and opportunity for too many others. These are not ruthless Americans or inhumane Americans. They are mostly Americans afraid that the consideration and opportunity for others will be at their personal expense. These are Americans who have been coddled into a false sense of security that strength can be built at the expense and on the backs of others. These Americans have not reckoned with the notion that taking yours and limiting who else gets theirs creates a karma that eventually brings everybody down.

We can ill afford the loss of the ingenuity, the spirit, the humanity and the life force of so many Americans from the mainstream working and middle classes. We can ill afford the loss of the new enthusiastic immigrating American who helps those of us who have become jaded realize the value of American citizenship in the final analysis.

Protecting our commitment to the ideal of democracy means we must be in the democratic covenant with every American not just some. Every time we misunderstand the circumstance of poverty as a character flaw, every time we suppress our humanity and harden our hearts to the needless deaths and violations of our fellow Americans, homicide, capital punishment, life imprisonment for juveniles, domestic violence, poor public schools and other public accommodations, chronic unemployment, a healthcare safety net (insurance and public health services), hate crimes etc, we further burden the ascent to the democratic standard and we compromise American life for all.

America still has work to do. Even in death, Dr. King continues to be a drum major for peace and a standard bearer for democracy. The question remains where are the believers in the vision and the dream? Are you working in the field of solutions?  If not then you are indeed part of the problem. Words are not deeds. One helps us craft the plan the other fulfills the promise of the plan. Dr. King was an inspirational visionary and a brave doer. Can we be both? Will we speak belief, hope and power into our democracy by daring to live lives that offer equality, liberty and justice for all.

When it comes to society or our community, what is your “dream” or aspiration?

An end to poverty.

An existence that has working class as a launch and minimum starting point for every family.

An end to racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism and adultism

An existence that is full of opportunity for all.

An assured existence that is safe and secure for all.

An existence where all children are valued and given a high quality education and preparation for life.

An existence where prisons are ended and institutions that work to really rehabilitate those who go astray are used to replace them.

An existence that values family in every form it comes.

In terms of your philanthropic endeavors, what’s your “mountaintop” or highest achievement to date?

Realizing that generosity is not a quality available only to those who have large excesses of money. Being generous in the contribution of money, time and sharing yourself, even and especially when it is not convenient, is part of the formula for democracy.

 Name a book that has shaped your philanthropy.

Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists, by Valaida Fullwood (2011)

Visit and get involved in BPM 2013: An August of Dreams and Mountaintops.


Contributed by Valaida Fullwood: Described an “idea whisperer,” Valaida brings unbridled imagination and a gift for harnessing wild ideas to her work as a writer and project strategist. She is a founding member of Charlotte’s New Generation of African American Philanthropists and author of “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists.” For more, follow, @ValaidaF and @BlkGivesBackCLT.

About valaida

writer. thinker. listener. idea whisperer. traveler. mad word geek. absolute scrabble freak. drinker of life. da*n good friend. ridiculous foodie. imaginative dreamer. afflicted party planner. kind conqueror. okra lover. hillbilly w/ southern roots far-stretched global sights. author of book that reframes portraits of philanthropy. Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists |
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