As I have matured and traveled about, I pay attention to the names of streets. I like to learn, observe and actually absorb my surroundings. Part of that, for me, is learning the names of streets. Though convenient, the use of the GPS Global Positioning System tends to make the brain lazy. Consequently, I still study the names of streets. And in doing so, I have happily concluded that there are the same and similar names in many cities and other states. Courts, drives, driveways, parkways, and avenues within a neighborhood or metropolitan area have the same names. This is so fascinating to me. In the summer of 2022, while traveling in Paris with my middle son, Damion, and his family, I observed many names of streets, alleyways, neighborhoods, and subway stops. I wanted to learn as much as I could about this famous city. To my delight, but not surprisingly, there were many names with which I was pretty familiar. I’ve always known of the cultural and historical connection of Paris, France, and my home city, New Orleans. Seeing it with my own eyes was totally different.
I have always been in love with words and names. It became a pastime that was limitless and didn’t cost anything. This affection started many years ago, probably when I was learning to read. As my brothers, sisters, and I began walking to the grocery store, visiting our friends, and traveling outside the courtyard, it was a necessity. The layout and design of many of the courtyards were very similar, if not identical. To return home from a walk in the neighborhood or a bus ride outside our vast community, I had to learn to read and identify the street signs. Honestly, street sign reading became an obsession.
The street names in the new development located on what was once the Desire Housing Development are appropriately named after people who poured their lives into the advancement and quality of life of the residents of the Desire area. I will not try to call any because I do not know many of them. To walk through those streets, however, you will be given a history of the people who poured out their lives for the progress of Desire. The most notable name in the area is actually one that involved the renaming of Louisa St. The name is that of a very deserving son of Desire, Johnny Jackson, Jr. Many of us witnessed as well as benefitted from his many contributions to the Desire Community, the city of New Orleans, and the entire state of Louisiana. I am proud to have been privy to the many. Mr. Jackson’s contributions and advancements to Desire and the many others.
The names of the previous streets were street names from the surrounding area that were just extended to the development. Fortunately, the street names are more relatable and traceable for the residents of the current development. We grew up reading names like Piety, Pleasure, Benefit, Abundance, Alvar, Higgins, Industry, Pauline, and Desire. These names only sometimes coincide with the life conditions of the residents after opportunities afforded by racial integration are revealed. I was shocked to see my home in one of the textbooks in my freshman sociology class at Tulane University. It was quite eye-opening. But as a deep-thinking teenager, I had begun to think of them as misnomers. I tried to reconcile them with the situations many of us lived in. Some days became more difficult than others.
My mother lived at 3411 Pleasure St., apartment B. And, as a child, I enjoyed the pleasures of Desire: pralines, frozen cups, constant camaraderie, and neighbors who loved me like family. Often, I would walk to the project office to pay our rent. This was a learning experience for me because I learned without being directly taught that my mother’s rent was based on her income. Everyone didn’t pay the same to live in a three-bedroom apartment. In the course of this transaction, I encountered the residents of Benefit St. I started connecting the dots, so to speak. The street was Benefit, so some benefits and advantages had to be. I began to realize the benefits of being raised in a community with large numbers of people in such close proximity. The people themselves possessed such gifts and talents. There were resources one might have needed to have had within reach had there not been so many human capabilities. Truly, we had the Benefit of a loving, nurturing neighborhood with countless examples of positive role models.
Abundance was one of the streets in our development. I liked it so much for many reasons. Because I lived in what was considered the back of Desire, the street, Abundance, always intrigued me. I only walked past it when the bus was delayed. It was about a mile walk from my house. During the walk, I encountered many activities and people with whom I would only interact occasionally. It was like traveling to another city. My aunt and cousins lived on Alvar St., near Abundance. That was another source of intrigue for me. Abundance St. was a section that appeared to accommodate large families with four-bedroom apartments. There was certainly an abundance of children in that area. It was filled with so much activity, endless energy, and loud sounds. Yes, Abundance, it certainly was!
The names of our streets represented a number of different things to us. After many years, it became apparent that there were some systemic issues in the area that the street names defied. But, honestly, they embodied the very essence of the heart of the community in which I lived. Years of neglect changed the narrative for some. But the meaning of the word, Desire, conjures up the thoughts, perspectives, ambitions, and visions of the residents of the entire Desire community. Their Desire to achieve led to actions that resonated around the world. I will never forget my life in Desire and the experiences that the streets of Pleasure, Benefit, Abundance, Piety, and Desire taught me.