News of "Still, We Rise" reaches more people than ever before!

On October 16, 2019, The 431 Exchange gave away its first annual scholarships. The five recipients ranged from ages 19 to 65. The event we called “Still, We Rise” was held at The Historic New Orleans Collection Museum and attended by an audience of over 100 people including graduates, teachers, dignitaries and civil rights legends. 

The press release for "Still, We Rise" was picked up by at least 105 outlets with a potential audience of over 30 million. This included placements in the national website Yahoo Finance, Chicago's Daily HeraldThe Buffalo News, and even internationally at ADVFN Mexico and ADVFN Deutschland.


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Reunion of the Adult Education Center in New Orleans features the graduates of a small, struggling school that transformed the city's civil rights

PRNewswire
NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 12, 2019

In December, 1965, a small vocational school known as the Adult Education Center welcomed an integrated class of mostly black underemployed women to begin training to become the first secretaries who would integrate the all-white businesses of New Orleans.

The effort caused an uproar at the time. The first pilot program was shut down after neighbors in uptown New Orleans objected to the school's integrated student population. After the pilot program closed, the founders went looking for a new home. In the process, 60 landlords turned them down. Finally, one brave landlord, James J. Coleman, agreed to rent them a space in a series of converted bars on Exchange Place in the French Quarter.

During its period of operation from 1965 to 1972, the school placed 94 percent of its 431 graduates in jobs with salaries above the national average, thus making it one of the most successful programs of its kind in the War on Poverty.

Graduates of the Adult Education Center will reunite on Wednesday, October 16, from 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. at the Historic New Orleans Collection, 410 Chartres, New Orleans, Louisiana. The reunion event is organized by the 431 Exchange, a nonprofit organization started by the children of Alice Geoffray to keep the spirit, legacy and camaraderie of the Adult Education Center alive.

The program was not without controversy for teaching English as a second language and for teaching African-American history and culture. The school published the first textbook on teaching English as a second language to native English speakers. It also pioneered teaching African-American makeup and hairstyles to help prepare its students for working in some of the city's most high profile offices. Last, but not least, the school was a champion of taking a humanistic approach to vocational education. So, in addition to typing and shorthand, the students worked on writing, speaking and communication skills to help strengthen their critical powers and self-image.

The school was shut down a second time in 1967 for political reasons. But a group of New Orleans businessmen and leaders rallied to keep the school alive. The school was brought back to life in 1968 as a private / government partnership that was unique in its day and became a model for other such partnerships around the country. The story of the school closing and reopening was the subject of an Emmy Award winning documentary entitled, "The School That Would Not Die" written and narrated by Mel Leavitt. Eventually, the program's success gained recognition from President Lyndon B. Johnson and a U.S. Senate committee welcomed Dr. Alice Geoffray, the school's director, and three students to testify in Washington about the reasons why the school was so successful when so many other jobs programs in the War on Poverty failed. The late Congressman Hale Boggs, the father of Cokie Roberts, who recently passed away, was a great supporter of the school.

Dr. Geoffray documented the successes of her students, many who went on to earn advanced degrees and become prominent New Orleans change agents. These stories are celebrated at the reunion by survivors and their families, as well as used to encourage new generations of success by the award of scholarships to local students.

Two Civil Rights Figures Join the Adult Education Center Reunion
 

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

—Maya Angelou, excerpted from her poem, “Still, I Rise.”


The civil rights movement has had many chapters, and we were honored to have two people with critical ties to its unfolding story at our recent reunion of the Adult Education Center: Leona Tate and Keith Plessy.

At 6 years old, wearing a white dress and white ribbons in her hair, Leona Tate walked through the doors of McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward in 1960, integrating the school with two other little girls and setting off a battle over segregation. The girls were called “The McDonogh 3,” and they were escorted by federal marshals into the school past a crowd of cursing, screaming white people being held back by police.

Leona Tate at the 2019 Reunion of the Adult Education Center

As soon as they came into McDonogh, white students began to leave. When Leona tried to talk to remaining students, they did not respond. “On my first day of first grade, it was as if I was totally invisible,” Leona wrote. For the rest of the school year and about half of the next, Leona and the two other girls (Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost) were the only students at the school. “The primary focus was never our being able to sit next to white children in a classroom,” wrote Leona, “as much as it was about equality in books, classroom and gymnastic facilities, etc. We wanted current, up-to-date books and quality scholastic materials, just like our white counterparts. It was never about ‘forced integration,’ but was and is still about fairness and equality.”

Leona continues to fight for civil rights, equality, and justice through her foundation: leonatatefoundation.org. One of its initiatives includes an oral history of Leona’s civil rights experiences, located at the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum.


Our other special guest was New Orleans native Keith Plessy, a descendant of Homer Plessy, the plaintiff in the 1892 landmark case on segregation: Plessy v. Ferguson. In the case, the U.S. Supreme Court held Louisiana could enforce racial segregation on its railway.

In 1892, Homer Plessy came aboard a New Orleans train and sat in a whites-only car, as an act of civil disobedience. He refused to leave in order to launch a legal case about segregation. In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was fair, and was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which requires equal protection to all. As a result, Jim Crow proliferated through the South and elsewhere for decades until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Judge John Harlan was the only dissenting justice in the Plessy case, saying, “Our U.S. Constitution is color-blind.”

Keith Plessy is a longtime bellman at New Orleans’ Marriott Hotel and an artist who has painted more than 100 portraits of civil rights leaders on the walls of Valena C. Jones Elementary, which he attended in the 1960s. He’s also president of the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation, which creates programs around social justice and works closely with civil rights leaders, activists, and the community. The foundation is located at: plessyandferguson.org.

Keith Plessy with Jeff and Jeanne Geoffray at the 2019 Reunion of the Adult Education Center

One of the foundation’s ongoing efforts is to erect historic markers around New Orleans, recognizing people, institutions, and social movements that have positively impacted the city. One marker has been erected outside of the location of McDonogh Elementary, which Leona Tate helped integrate. Another stands at the corner of Press and Royal Streets, where Homer Plessy was arrested in 1892 for violating the 1890 Separate Car Law of Louisiana.

We are proud to have had these civil rights warriors at our reunion and stand for their efforts, as they do for us.

NewsMaya Eilam
The Louisiana Weekly recounts the AEC's pioneering path

The Louisiana Weekly was founded in 1925 to bring news to African Americans, a mission that stands today over 90 years later. In 1968, its publisher, C.C. Dejoie Jr., became the first African American to join the board of the Adult Education Center. The father of Gwen Shepherd, Class of 1968, was a staff writer of The Louisiana Weekly, whose mission today is to “advance justice, freedom, and equality to all members of all communities at all times.”


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Gwen Shepherd, Class of 1968, leads reunion attendees in singing the Adult Education Center school song.

Stephen Geoffray plays the Adult Education Center school song, written by Alice Geoffray.

It was a reunion to mark a major landmark in the Civil Rights struggle, the Adult Education Center and its work to teach both professional skills and Black history at a time when neither were encouraged. And quite a few of the alumni who gathered honored The Louisiana Weekly with a “shout-out” (as they put it) for this newspaper’s role in establishing a school which led the charge to integrate corporate offices in the City of New Orleans.

On October 16, thirty-three graduates of New Orleans’ Adult Education Center gathered for a Reunion at the Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center, just blocks from the AEC’s former home at 112 Exchange Place in the historic French Quarter. Founded in December 1965, the small vocational school known as the Adult Education Center welcomed an integrated class of mostly Black underemployed women to begin training to become the first secretaries who would integrate the all-white businesses of New Orleans.

“During its period of operation from 1965 to 1972, the school placed 94 percent of its 431 graduates in jobs with salaries above the national average, thus making it one of the most successful programs of its kind in the War on Poverty,” Jeanne Geoffray, daughter of the Adult Education Center Director Alice Geoffray told the Weekly.

The effort triggered a firestorm of controversy at the time, with the first pilot program shut down after neighbors in uptown New Orleans objected to the school’s integrated student population. Resolute, the founders went looking for a new home, yet sixty landlords turned them down. Finally, one brave landlord, James J. Coleman, agreed to rent them a space in a series of converted bars on Exchange Place in the French Quarter.

Controversially for the 1960s, AEC taught African-American history and culture as well as English as a second language, ultimately publishing a textbook on teaching English as a second language to native English speakers. It also pioneered teaching African-American makeup and hairstyles to help prepare its students for working in some of the city’s most high-profile offices. Last, but not least, the school was a champion of taking a humanistic approach to vocational education. So, in addition to typing and shorthand, the students worked on writing, speaking and communication skills to help strengthen their critical powers and self-image.

“The school was shut down a second time in 1967 for political reasons. But my mother and a group of New Orleans businessmen and leaders rallied to keep it alive,” said Jeff Geoffray, son of Alice Geoffray. “The school was brought back to life in 1968 as a private-government partnership that was unique in its day and became a model for other such partnerships around the country.” The story of the school closing and reopening was the subject of an Emmy Award winning documentary entitled, “The School That Would Not Die” written and narrated by Mel Leavitt. Eventually, the program’s success gained recognition from President Lyndon B. Johnson, and a U.S. Senate sub-committee welcomed Dr. Alice Geoffray and three students to testify in Washington about the reasons why the school was so successful when so many other jobs programs in the War on Poverty failed. The late Congressman Hale Boggs, the father of Cokie Roberts, who recently passed away, was a great supporter of the school.

Even after it closed, Dr. Geoffray documented the successes of her students, many who went on to earn advanced degrees and become prominent New Orleans change agents. Scholarships in the name of the school are being awarded to encourage new generations of success through adult education. At the event, Gwen Shepherd, ’68, the daughter of a longtime Louisiana Weekly staff writer, led her fellow alumni in singing the Adult Education Center’s school song. Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman awarded three scholarships in the amount of $1,431 each. Hilda Mosely Smith, Class of 1970, presented another two scholarships to adult students related to the alumni. The program also included a tribute to General Kemper Williams of the Historic New Orleans Collection. General Kemper Williams was one of the businessmen who rallied to save the school in 1967 and later became one of its largest private contributors.

More than thirty local alumni of the Adult Education Center attended the reunion, including speakers Raphael Morgan, ’71; L. Vee McGee Drake, ’70; Pamela Cole Wimbley, ’71; Sandra T. O’Neal, Ph.D. ‘69; Connie Payton-Nevels, ‘70 and Gwen Shepherd, ’68. Among other notables at the celebration were Civil Rights Pioneer Leona Tate, Keith Plessy, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Judge Piper Griffin and Ellen Lee. Read more about the center here: www.431exchange.org www.facebook.com/The431Exchange.

This article originally published in the October 21, 2019 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Minor factual corrections have been made to the original article by The 431 Exchange.

NPR New Orleans calls the AEC a "Civil Rights Success"

Breaking news! NPR in New Orleans featured our Adult Education Center reunion and our groundbreaking graduates. “Our success continued for decades,” Raphael Morgan, Class of 1971, told NPR. “Many of us went on to become teachers, ministers, earned Ph.Ds., and start(ed) our own businesses.”


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Photography by Tyler Kaufman

Graduates of the long-since closed Adult Education Center held a reunion in New Orleans to celebrate their experience in a secretarial program hailed as a major success in the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights movement.

The reunion was organized by graduates now known as the 431 Exchange. It stands for the number of graduates and the Exchange Place building in the French Quarter where they attended class. They were mostly young African-American women from low-income households. Some had never had a white teacher.

In 1965, they entered the program that paid them a salary to attend the school. Most businesses were segregated at that time. Along with secretarial skills, African-American history and traditional subjects they were taught included business attire and proper office speech. They met with potential employers – like Shell Oil and city, state and federal agencies, so they could work right after graduation.

Raphael Morgan graduated in 1971.

“Later studies showed that our success continued for decades. Many of us went on to become teachers, ministers, earned Ph.D., and start our own businesses," she said.

Their salaries were three times what they had been earning. And they had benefits. Ninety percent of the graduates’ children earned college degrees.

Many testified in 1968 about the program’s success to Congress. But in 1972 it closed when funding was cut.

2019 Scholarship Winners Announced


Alice Geoffray, the director of the Adult Education Center, referred to herself as the “Fairy Godmother to 431 Cinderellas,” aka the 431 graduates of the groundbreaking school that helped transform civil rights in New Orleans and the nation. But the only “magic” Alice attributed to the school’s success was its emphasis on strengthening what she called “self-concept” (self-image). The rest, Alice said, was due to the courage and unrelenting hard work of the graduates themselves.

A year ago, when we (Alice’s daughter and son, Jeanne and Jeff Geoffray) sat down and made our plans for a Scholarship Fund dedicated to the school’s legacy, our budget allowed for only two scholarships. But thanks to the generous contribution of former Adult Education Center teacher Floyd McLamb we were able to award five scholarships in 2019. 

Below are our scholarship winners. We, Floyd, and everyone involved in this effort honor their courage, diligence and hard work, as Alice did for the Adult Education Center graduates who preceded them. 


Legacy Winners

Catrease Newsome

Catrease Newsome is our first legacy scholarship recipient. She is the niece of Gail Collins Steele, graduate of the Class of 1970. After leaving high school and having a son, Catrease was inspired by her aunt who told her, “You are never too old to attend school.” Gail was practicing what she preached: at the time Aunt Gail was 45 and working on her Master’s degree. Eventually, Catrease applied to Southern University at New Orleans as a first-time freshman at the age of 38. Catrease is currently studying for her Master’s in Computer Information Systems at Southern University in New Orleans.

Mia Robertson

Mia Robertson is our second legacy recipient. She is the granddaughter of Paulette Robertson Dunams, Class of 1969. Mia is studying Exercise Physiology and Pre-Physical Therapy at Baylor University in Texas and expects to graduate with her Bachelor’s in 2022. Mia is inspired by her entire family, many of whom have multiple degrees. She says, “Being a successful woman in life is all that my family asks of me, and I want to prove them right. My family raised me to be someone that future generations can look up to, and I don’t want to let them down.”


General Scholarship Winners

Cassidy Valentine

Cassidy Valentine is studying biology at Dillard University in New Orleans. She says, “Nineteen years ago, I came into my mother’s life, causing her to pause her educational journey.” Cassidy’s mom eventually resumed her own educational journey and continues to inspire Cassidy along her own path.

Kevon Robie

Kevon Robie is studying business management at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge. Kevon is inspired by his father, who he hopes will get the chance to see him walk the stage in 2023 as a college graduate.


Vocational Scholarship Winner

Rose Brundage

Rose Brundage is studying Medical Billing and Coding at Goodwill Technical College in New Orleans. Rose says she is a “senior with a thrill for learning.” She is inspired by Ms. Jerilyn Collins, Director of Academics at Goodwill, who has been an advocate for her and others who want to pursue their educational goals.

Event, Scholarship, NewsMaya Eilam
The Advocate tells the stories of three AEC Graduates

The Advocate kicked off our “Still, We Rise” event on October 16, 2019 with an article featuring three of the AEC graduates – Lorraine Washington ’70, Paulette Dunams Robertson ’69 and Dorothy Payton ’69. Their testimonies of the impact that the school had on them and their families help tell the story of this remarkable school and keep the legacy alive.

 
 
The four Cole Sisters (from left): Brenda, Eunice, Carol and Pamela, are Adult Education Center graduates. They are recognized with letters of commendation by Charles Blackburn, Vice President of Shell Oil Company and a member of the Center’s Board of Directors.  Leon Trice Photography

The four Cole Sisters (from left): Brenda, Eunice, Carol and Pamela, are Adult Education Center graduates. They are recognized with letters of commendation by Charles Blackburn, Vice President of Shell Oil Company and a member of the Center’s Board of Directors.

Leon Trice Photography


Fifty years ago, Lorraine Washington was a 29-year-old mother of five looking for a job.

She tried a few job-training programs. But afterward, potential employers still looked askance at her 10th-grade education or told her that her qualifications didn’t match any open positions. “It was as if the programs trained me for jobs that didn’t exist,” she said.

Then an employment agency recommended that she enroll in the Adult Education Center, an intensive secretarial training program for African-American women based in the French Quarter, at 112 Exchange Place.

The center’s groundbreaking legacy will be remembered this week as some of the 431 women who graduated from it between 1965 and 1972 gather on Wednesday for a reunion at the Historic New Orleans Collection. Two adult learners will be given $1,431 scholarships in honor of Alice Geoffray, the center’s founding director.

Over its seven-year run, the center earned plaudits by placing 94 percent of its graduates in good-paying government jobs and career positions at companies such as Shell Oil, Delta Airlines, IBM, Exxon, Chevron and Pan-American Life Insurance.

The U.S. Department of Labor named the Adult Education Center one of the most effective government-financed programs of its type; The Wall Street Journal lauded its success with job placement.

In 1968, Geoffray and some of her students even testified in front of a U.S. Senate subcommittee interested in why the program succeeded when so many other job-training programs did not.

But when Washington was first referred there, she knew nothing about it. She was skeptical: “I said, ‘Why would I believe in this program?’ I was busy enough, trying to get a GED at night while taking care of a husband, five kids and a house. I thought it would be another dead end.”

Washington ended up giving the program a chance.

In the late 1960s, even though the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 had prohibited workplace discrimination, few New Orleans companies were hiring African-Americans in professional positions.

“Back then, we faced so much prejudice, it was hard for a black person to get a job in an office, period,” said Paulette Dunams Robertson, now 72, who made a living by cleaning offices and taking in ironing before she graduated in 1969 from the Adult Education Center and was hired immediately by the Small Business Administration — kicking off a 33-year career in the federal government.

Robertson’s first assignment was dicey — each day, federal marshals escorted the three young black women to the town of Happy Jack, in ultra-segregationist Plaquemines Parish, to process loan applications for Hurricane Camille victims — but it was the start of a career that included positions at the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense. “I wanted a better job, and this fantastic program helped me get it. It changed my life,” Robertson said.

At the time, the idea of a vocational school for black women was controversial enough that when Geoffray, a former schoolteacher, began searching for a building to rent, she was turned down by five dozen landlords. Then she met attorney and businessman James J. Coleman Sr., who not only rented her the space on Exchange Place, a former barroom, but ended up chairing her board. Norman Francis, then a top administrator at Xavier University of New Orleans, was also an early adviser.

Once the center was open, Geoffray and her staff of dedicated teachers created a well-oiled machine: a no-tuition business school where students brushed up on academics while learning typing and shorthand.

Students also took classes for a “second language” — basically, “business-speak” — taught as if it was a foreign language, using a speech lab with programmed audiotapes. After all, they were told, Shell Oil wouldn’t tolerate an employee who pronounced the company's name “Shell Erl.”

“They were simply teaching us the way the business world talked,” Washington said.

When Washington walked through the center’s doors in 1970, she suffered from low self-esteem, she said. “I didn’t know how to type. I couldn’t do shorthand. If I was called on in class to stand up and give a speech, I would be devastated. I couldn’t talk. I would cry. Really and truly, I did not have the confidence to interact with people a lot,” she said.

Having grown up in segregated New Orleans, the idea of integrating an office was also intimidating to her.

But when she graduated several months later, Washington was judged to be the most improved student — and she had gained confidence. “I felt qualified to walk into any building, any office, and work as a secretary,” she said. She submitted one application and was immediately hired by a hurricane-rebuilding program run by the state of Louisiana, which she worked for until she retired 28 years later.

The women who went through the center say that its results live on, through successive generations of their families.

Dorothy Payton, now 82, enrolled in the center as a 31-year-old widow with four young daughters. Right after graduation in 1969, she had a candid moment with her interviewer at Pan-American Life Insurance: “Not only do I want this job; I need this job,” she said. With her hopes high, she walked from Poydras Street to the Adult Education Center, where she was met with a phone message, telling her she was hired.

She worked at Pan-American for the next 20 years. “I was able to raise my children to be independent,” Payton said. “And now they tell my grandchildren how they were raised.”


 
Listen to our WBOK Radio Interview
 

Early on the morning of October 16, 2019, on the day of the “Still, We Rise” event, WBOK’s Oliver Thomas hosted Connie Payton-Nevels, Jeff and Jeanne Geoffray on The Good Morning Show. We woke up New Orleanians with news of awarding five scholarships to deserving candidates ranging from the ages 19–65 to continue the legacy of the Adult Education Center. Listen to the program here:

 
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2000 AEC Reunion Video - Mr. James J. Coleman, Sr.
 
 

Mr. James Coleman generously hosted the 2000 Reunion of the Adult Education Center.

He treated over 100 of the graduates and faculty to dinner that night at the Holiday Inn. At this event, he was honored by the graduates. To set this clip-up, Mr. Coleman was and still is a “rock star” in the eyes of the 431 graduates. He was that type of man who would light up the room with his warmth and smile. Although he was a powerful figure in New Orleans, he always had time for the graduates and faculty of the Adult Education Center. He shared in the successes of these remarkable women.

This clip is especially important because this was the last time Mr. Coleman had the opportunity to speak to the graduates and his spirit definitely shines through. Enjoy!

 
2000 AEC Reunion Video - Marlin Gusman
 
 

At the 2000 Reunion of the Adult Education Center…

The Mayor’s office sent a young man named Marlin Gusman to attend the event because the Mayor, Marc Morial, was in New York to appear on a nationally broadcast television show on the same day. Marlin had no idea of what he was getting into when he arrived at the event. But, after listening to the graduates’ speeches he said he could see the “warmth and love all of you have.”

A few years later, in 2004, Marlin would be elected as Sheriff of Orleans Parish and would win consecutive terms for the following decade-and-a-half. Here is a clip from Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s remarks from that night. He came to the reunion intending to visit for a few minutes, but stayed for the entire event – mingling, talking and enjoying the stories of the school, Mr. Coleman, the graduates, the faculty and the supporters.

 
Join us October 16 in New Orleans

Still, We Rise!

AN ADULT EDUCATION CENTER EVENT

 We want you by our side as we stand for a new generation. 

 Wednesday, October 16, 2019 
1:00-3:00 PM 


Light Food & Desserts 


The Historic New Orleans Collection 
Williams Research Center 
410 Chartres Street 
New Orleans, LA 


A SNEAK PEEK OF WHAT WE’RE PLANNING: 

Awarding our first scholarships. 

Readings from the book, Exchange Place. 

Tribute to a quiet hero whose donation made it possible to continue the AEC when funding ran out. 

Updates on television pitches, the book, and the documentary contest. 

Documentary on the Adult Education Center Takes Another Step Forward
 

Over here at The 431 Exchange, we’ve got our fingers crossed, because we were just short-listed for the Spring 2019 ScreenCraft Film Fund competition. Our entry is a documentary called Exchange Place: How a Small, Struggling School Helped Transform Civil Rights in New Orleans and the Nation. The documentary features graduates from New Orleans’s groundbreaking Adult Education Center, which was a pioneer in social justice and integration during the 1960s. Over 1,000 projects were considered for this round of Screencraft’s elite grant program, which accepts a range of works, from stand-alone screenplays to fully packaged projects that need finishing funds. 

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It took a village to create and run the The Adult Education Center, and it’s the same thing when it comes to making a documentary or film. Screencraft works in partnership with BondIt Media Capital, a film & media fund based in Beverly Hills. Final grant amounts for this competition will vary from $10,000 to $30,000 depending on the scale and merit of each project. Two will be awarded to “talented filmmakers for narrative features, short films and TV pilot series scripts and documentaries that display originality, vision & exceptional potential.” The program includes creative development from the ScreenCraft team and production guidance and resources from BondIt and Buffalo 8 Productions. 

We’re excited about making this second round.

Please wish us luck as we keep moving forward! 

The Team at The 431 Exchange

 
 
Still, We Rise!

Save the date for an AEC celebration


Please join us in celebrating the Adult Education Center’s legacy as an educational pioneer in social justice. We want you by our side as we stand for a new generation:

We will present our first scholarships designed to continue the Center’s mission.

1972 Adult Education Center Graduation with Carolyn Bell (Class of ‘72) and Bernadine Irving (Class of ‘66)

1972 Adult Education Center Graduation with Carolyn Bell (Class of ‘72) and Bernadine Irving (Class of ‘66)


Save the Date


When

Wednesday, October 16, 2019
1:00-3:00P.M.

Where

The Historic New Orleans Collection’s
Williams Research Center
410 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA



Join our new Facebook page for updates!

Eyewitness News video coverage of the AEC's 2000 Reunion
 

On July 16, 2000 a Reunion of the Adult Education Center graduates took place, organized by Alice Geoffray.

In her signature style, Alice wrote letters and made calls to as many of the 431 graduates as she could find. Plus faculty members she had stayed in touch with, Mr. James Coleman, the biggest financial supporters of the school, the Mayor’s office, Angela Hill at WWL who supported her throughout her career, and Times Picayune. The rallying call went out and it was heard loud and clear.

Enjoy the segment!

–Jeanne Geoffray

 

Eyewitness News reports on the Adult Education Center reunion, 2000

 

 

One hundred of the graduates and many of the faculty members responded with an overwhelming “Yes” to attend. Mr. James Coleman offered to host the reunion at his hotel, Holiday Inn Superdome. The Mayor’s office participated by having Marlin Gusman, Mayor Pro Tempore, represent the Mayor. Angela Hill responded by saying she would do her best to have television coverage. Times Picayune said they would try to have a reporter on the scene.

It was a project that Jeff and I jumped on board to support and help organize. Sunday night came.

We knew the students and faculty would show, and show they did looking beautiful as ever in their Sunday’s finest.  Mr. Coleman arrived beaming and the staff of his hotel provided us all with a 5-star service. Then, Marlin Gusman, the television crew from WWL and a young reporter from Times Picayune arrived—all saying they could only stay a few minutes—intrigued but noncommittal.

Within a short period of time, Marlin Gusman was settled into his seat preparing for his remarks and interviews were being conducted. Midway into the program we realized these special guests were here to stay. They were caught up by the spirit of the graduates, the love and admiration by all for Dr. Alice Geoffray, the inspirational program prepared to showcase how the school made a profound difference, the students as they gave their “testimonies,”  the enchanting remarks by Mr. Coleman and the speech by Marlin Gusman.

Shortly after 9PM, the WWL crew quickly jumped up and said they had to leave so the AEC Reunion could be featured on the 10PM news. And, true to their word, the Adult Education Center’s success was back in the news again after 35 years with a little help from an old friend, Angela Hill, sending a team to cover the event.

Click a photo to view it larger.

Angela Hill features Alice Geoffray in "Quiet Heroes" news video, 1987
 

In 1972 when the doors closed at the Adult Education Center we knew our mom’s life would change but did not know how.  The day of the closing, would this be the day the music died for her?  No…it may have slowed her down for a bit but she quickly got back to business making a difference in other people’s lives as she embarked on other journeys—as State Coordinator of Career Education, as a graduate student earning her Ph.D., as an author of several textbooks used throughout Louisiana public schools, and as a leader of the vo-tech movement to name a few.  In 1987, fifteen years after the AEC closing, WWL’s Angela Hill began a special series featuring Quiet Heroes.  Another first for Alice Geoffray—as not only was this a new segment for New Orleans viewers—but she was the first person to be showcased.  Angela Hill recognized her expansive career including her seven years at the AEC.  As the camera focuses on newspaper articles and pictures from those years, you can spot some of the 431 students and a few of the school’s biggest supporters—Mr. James Coleman, Mayor Victor Schiro, Mayor “Dutch” Morial and Senator Fred Harris.  From my recollection, this segment was aired on Mardi Gras day and widely viewed as people were off from work that day.  Watching again, I loved seeing her poster “Learning Never Ends”, her describing her teaching philosophy, and her typing on the IBM Selectric typewriter as a pianist would play the piano. Enjoy the short video!     

—Jeanne Geoffray

 

Transcript

Alice Geoffray: I’ve just learned over the years that if you take it one step at a time you can get it done better.

Angela Hill: These three people have something in common. They do good things for others because they feel they can help and in their own special way they have already made an impact. Meet New Orleans Quiet Heroes. Tomorrow 6 and 10 on Channel 4’s Eyewitness News.

It has been said that success is not a destination, it’s a journey and Dr. Alice Geoffray has helped many put many people on that road. She is the first in our special series on Quiet Heroes.

Dr. Alice Geoffray is now director of special programs for the Orleans Parish School System. She coordinates all elective subjects, all vo-tech classes, all special cultural events. But Alice Geoffray’s career, her life, has been teaching students the importance of having a dream then showing them how to make that dream come true. She is the mother of career education in Louisiana.

Alice: You can just imagine when you see people get a job and see them succeed at a job and see them get better financially from a job it’s a joyous feeling to think that I had a little part in this.

Angela: Thousands of students have been touched by the works of Dr. Geoffray both in her concepts of vocational education and her philosophy of a total education.

Alice: Why can’t a plumber appreciate Shakespeare you know and why can’t a college professor be able to do electrical work? You know, why do we think that you either have to do one or the other?

Angela: What makes Alice Geoffray an amazing person is not only what she’s accomplished but how she did it. After marrying, having seven children, she suddenly became a single parent and worked three jobs while raising her family.

Alice: I went to Catholic Schools with the Dominican Sisters and you never dwelt on how hard your life was. You know you just did what you had to do and you offered it up to the Lord and it made everything seem easier.

Angela: So at age 46 she got her Master’s Degree and at age 54 her Ph.D. and in between spent 13 years teaching business education then 7 years directing the first adult education school in the city, a school which graduated 431 welfare women. 

Alice: They were women who just never had a chance because when they were growing up and going through high school there was no hope of them ever getting a secretarial job.

Angela: The school’s success caused headlines on the Wall Street Journal and an invitation to Dr. Geoffray and three of her students to testify before a Congressional committee on Human Resources. 

Alice: It was the kind of project I think that just caught people’s imagination. 

Angela: It was the turning point in her career. When it closed she worked for the State for two years coordinating the direction career education was to take and writing five books that are now used in all of Louisiana Public Schools.

But today the drive to help students find direction in their lives has not diminished. A leader in the vo-tech movement, Alice Geoffray has just hit her stride. But her motivation remains the same.

Alice: That something I did made a difference in other people’s lives, that’s important to me.

Angela: This is Angela Hill.

Garland Robinette: What an inspiration.

Angela: Yes she is.

"Exchange Place" Dallas Reading at The Cultured Cup

Sunday, January 13, 2019

 

On a cold Sunday in January, Jeff and I kicked off the book Exchange Place with a reading at The Cultured Cup in Dallas, Texas. Guests arrived and were welcomed by the store’s owners, Kyle Stewart and Phil Krampetz.  The traditional afternoon tea food selections were being served and the coffee, tea and champagne were flowing before we picked up the microphone to start the event.

Setting Up for the Reading Event – Phil Krampetz, Jeff Geoffray, Jeanne Geoffray and Kyle Stewart

Phil Krampetz and Kyle Stewart, Hosts and Owners of The Cultured Cup

 

Traditional Tea Selections by Kyra Effren – here are just a few of the offerings on that day.

Scones by Kyra Effren

Coconut Macaroons by Kyra Effren

Chocolate Mini Cupcakes by Kyra Effren

 

We were wondering,…  

Could we ever recreate the emotion that we experienced at the 2018 Reunion? 

Would Jeff’s part of the book captivate an audience of people who did not know the story of the Adult Education Center? 

Would others agree we had an incredible story?  

During the Q&A part of the program we planned, would anyone from the audience have questions for the 3 graduates – Joy Barbarin ’68, Connie Payton-Nevels ’70 and Raphael Morgan ’71 – who proudly represented the 431 graduates?

 

Raphael Morgan ’71, Connie Payton-Nevels ’70 and Joy Barbarin ‘68

 

YES to all!  

You could hear a pin drop during the reading.  The audience was enthusiastically receptive, the emotions were high and questions were asked of the graduates.  Lots of laughter and tears were flowing.   We should have provided tissues!  Most often asked question –– when can we buy the book?  We had to say “not yet” as our editor puts her touches on the chapters, Jeff sends the book to publishers, and television/movie options are pursued.

 

Jeanne Geoffray

Jeff Geoffray

 

To give you a taste of the reactions, here are just a few of the notes we received in the week following the event.

 

Xiaolan Zhou

Dear Jeanne,

Just want to drop a message to thank you and Jeff for bringing the book reading! Stephen and I AND our daughter Brinia, truly enjoyed the reading and meeting with some of the most extraordinary people! I, not as poised as Jeff, had tears rolling down several times during the reading. (Wasn’t prepared and didn’t have any tissue handy…) Can’t wait to know more about the many lives that the Adult Education Center has changed and the many stories wait to be shared. We are sending all the good energies for all channels to be open for the success of your book/film/series!

Thank you for inviting me to the 431 Exchange group on Facebook, Jeanne! I hope this part of the history gets to reach more people. If there is any way that we could get involved to help, please let us know! 

Thank you, Kyle and Phil, for introducing us to the story of Alice’s life, and for inviting us to the reading! It is a gift for our soul!

Love,
Xiaolan Zhou


Brinia Zhang

 

I felt  empowered – not only am I a student but a woman and a person of color.

Brinia Zhang


Hi, Jeanne, 

Thank you for the moving event. I enjoyed talking to you and Jeff to hear about your mother’s inspiring stories and the book/movie thoughts. 

Best,

Stephen Zhang


Pam King and Edith Meffley

Dear Jeanne and Julian,

What a wonderful celebration you master minded for the book, your mother, and her protégés.  Edith and I were uplifted by your sweet mother’s attitudes and achievements—and by the legacy she’s left through you and 431 women and more.  

As always, your branding was consistent and charming.  (A separate thank you is on its way to Kyle and Phil!)  

We look forward to updates on Exchange Place, to book signings and sitting in the audience when Jeff receives his Oscar.

You amaze us!   Love, Pam and Edith


Kurt Koenig

 

Jeanne and Jeff,

Congratulations on getting to this point in honoring your mom’s life, her work, and all the wonderful accomplishments of the Adult Education Center.  Continue to enjoy the journey – this clearly is a story that will be read, heard and seen by many more people in the upcoming months and years.  Best wishes as you move forward with the process and thanks for sharing this story with us.   

Kurt and Laura Koenig


Stephen Smith and Dee Ann Douglas

The best afternoon EVER at The Cup!

Mesmerizing and I can hardly wait to get my hands on it!! I again want you to know just how grateful I am for The Cup!   You and Phil make such a difference in many of our lives beyond words.  I’m very serious.  You all are the CHEERS of the coffee/tea world and a Mecca of learning.  I always come away having learned something.  Love you guys tons!  Grateful for the day I walked into your place in Addison!  Please dreams!  I am off to bed while reminiscing over today’s amazing event!

Dee Ann Douglas


Jeff Geoffray, Connie Payton-Nevels and Lynne Kennedy

 

So proud of what you and Jeff have created.   Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Connie Payton-Nevels, ‘70


Raphael Morgan

 

The book is truly an example of an amazing story.

Raphael Morgan ‘71


Jeanne Geoffray, Helen Delph and Julian Buenger

 

It was an amazing, almost overwhelming, event. Somehow, hope and sadness and shame and gratitude and anxiety and laughter came together in that small room.  And hope prevails. I look forward to learning more about your mother and these women and your siblings.

Helen Delph


Ginan Kalenik and Marilyn Paris

 

What a terrific event! And yes, I too also had tears in my eyes! What a marvelous thing you and Jeff are doing to honor your mother. I know that Alice is so proud of you both. Good job! And may each gathering be bigger and better.

Thanks for inviting me. I enjoyed it immensely.

Marilyn Paris

 
Thank You to our Contributors.jpg
 

See all the photos from the reading:

A Letter from Cheryl Tyler Golson, Class of 1966
 

After the passing of Alice Geoffray in 2009, I wrote a letter to the children of Alice to express my love and gratitude for her.  Since writing the letter and her passing, the thing I miss most is picking up the phone to call Alice.  If I had just one more call with her today, I would first tell her that it has been my privilege in the seven states I have lived to carry on her legacy of reaching out to people to try to make a difference in their lives the way she did in mine and to make people feel they are worthwhile.  I would also tell her how proud I am of myself for the life I have lived, the experiences I have had, the children I have raised and the grandchildren I love.  I thank her and my mom for being such great role models.


May 10, 2010

To the Children of Alice R. Geoffray,

First, let me tell each of you that I loved your mother and that she was so-o-o-easy to love because that was the essence of what she was all about – LOVE!!!


Let Me Start At The Beginning As I Remember It:

I vaguely remember taking a test and being interviewed for a new government program the summer of 1965 and then leaving to help a sister who was ill and living in St. Louis, MO, at the time.  I think I didn’t have much hope of getting accepted so I made plans to start a life in that area of the country; when in November of 1965, I received word that I had been accepted into the Program and MY MOTHER insisted that I come home to New Orleans and get the training being offered!!

I arrived to begin the Program of December 7, 1965 (my twentieth birthday), only to be told we couldn’t start that day.  Before leaving that day I became sick and faint, and I remember your mother’s kindness as she helped attend to me until I was feeling well enough to leave.

Cheryl Tyler at the Adult Education Center, 1966

Your mother was a savior to me from the very beginning.  Some years later, she related to me that she lobbied for my acceptance when some in the group weren’t all that impressed when they interviewed me even though I scored very high on the written test.  She related to me that the Afro-Americans on the screening and acceptance committee were pretty hard people to impress and I didn’t impress them as a good candidate for the program they were developing.  BUT, Alice Geoffray saw a diamond in the rough, me Cheryl Lee Tyler!!!

To validate her judgment, academically, I finished second in a class of 86 students in the Program and gave one of the speeches at graduation.  For me, to give a speech at the graduation program was big because we were taught “English as a second language” so that we would be ready to communicate effectively in our groundbreaking secretarial jobs in the New Orleans business community…and that we did!!!!

My first job was a receptionist for the Undergraduate Office at Tulane University and after a short time with them, I worked for the Adult Education Center on two separate occasions until I had my first child and then six months later, in August 1971, left New Orleans to never return (smile)!  I continued to work in the Secretarial field exclusively until 1975 and then I ventured into operating care facilities; my own cleaning business; and finally as a supervisor in the telemarketing division of a firm that detailed pharmaceutical drugs to physicians offices via telephone; as well as, recruiting physicians for seminars to educate them about new drugs being put on the market.  In June of 1994, I became disabled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia and a host of other auto-immune conditions.  That was the end of my career in the work-force.  But the Adult Education Center made possible the working career I experienced for almost 28 years.

Let Me Tell Each Of You How Your Mother Influenced My Life As A Working Mother:

First, I had a wonderful mother!  She was a wonderful stay-at-home mom.  She was what I needed to be the person I am today.  Dad was a nice man, but he was an alcoholic and gambler.  That turned him into a not-so-nice guy when in the grips of his addictions.  She was the stabilizing force for the family.  But I didn’t get an example of how a mother working outside of the home functions!

That’s where Alice Geoffray became like the other mother I needed.  She modeled for me how a woman could parent while working outside the home:

I knew a lot about what was happening in your lives…the ups and downs…because she seemed (to me) to be available to each of you by phone and in person when you came to the school.  Frequently, I got to know some of the reasons why you called or came by.  She really stayed very much involved in your lives as she worked very hard at her outside job.  She was always so proud of each of you and I loved to hear her tell of your many individual accomplishments.

I saw her care for her youngest, Jeff, a few times by phone when he was ill.  She felt guilty about that, but, life didn’t always allow her the ability to be there in person for her beloved children.  I saw her call him regularly to see that he was taking his medicine, eating his soup, drinking his juice; in other words, nurturing him over the phone!  She had to work and I saw her do the next best thing…in other words, I saw her adapt to the circumstances that were presented to her.

Those two examples made it possible for me to adapt my need to work and to take jobs that allowed me to work hard outside the home and to be an available mother to my children at the same time.  Hence in 1975, I started working in daycare settings and schools so that I could be an available mother to my two children in spite of my, yet undiagnosed, health problems.  (Their dad and I did, with God’s help, an OK job.  Percy, III, lives in Wisconsin and is a computer programmer and a trained massage therapist and Deirdre is a Clinical Psychologist working on her doctorate in Family and Marriage Counseling.)

Cheryl Tyler Golson speaking at the Adult Education Center Reunion, 2018


Let Me Tell You Of A Few Of Your Mother’s Acts of Kindness to Me And My Family:

When I entered the Adult Education Center Program, I didn’t qualify to receive the weekly stipend most of the other ladies received because I hadn’t yet entered the working world.  Your mom helped me earn a few dollars by creating little jobs for me at the school that she paid me to do from the school’s petty cash fund and she also found me a Sunday job at a school for the developmentally disabled.  That was well beyond her duties as the director.  Yet she did it!!! … and I had a little money for necessities.

She had me (and Percy) over to your home for her good Sunday dinners and made us feel like a part of the family.  (My mother had died in March of 1968.)

I remember when Percy, III, was born the first flowers I received at the hospital were from your mom.

I remember how she brought the whole staff to the house after I had Percy and they all brought gifts (I still have your mother’s silver comb and brush set she gave him).

But, to me, your mom’s greatest act of kindness to me was the words she spoke to me when I first told her that I was disabled and no longer able to work.  She said something like this:  “Oh Cheryl, I always knew you had some health problems because I observed how sick you would sometimes get on the job.”

At the time, in the early 90’s, emotionally I was struggling with not knowing if my health issues were “all in my head”; or, as they have now been accepted – as true, physical health problems.  To hear those words of acceptance from your mother – the person who had worked so hard all her life and had trained me to be a member of the working world was like a balm for my soul.  She didn’t see me as a failure…

Let Me Tell You What I Miss The Most:

Hearing her voice when I called saying something like this:  “Oh, Cheryl, how good to hear your voice!!” with all of the cheerfulness, brightness and gusto that only Alice R. Geoffray’s voice had!!!!!!!!

Thank each of you for sharing your Mother,

Cheryl Tyler Golson, Class of 1966