Posts in Contemporary Press
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.

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.

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!

"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:

The Clarion Herald reports on the AEC

You can read the article below, or on the Clarion Herald.


 
 

Falling Asleep To The Clickety-Clack Of Success

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary


Linda Phoenix Teamer was 19 years old in 1970, the year after Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary

Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary

One of Teamer’s wistful teenage dreams as a student at Joseph S. Clark High School in New Orleans was to become NASA’s first African-American female astronaut, but first she had to come to grips with the mysterious forces of social gravity, something incapable of being plotted by Sir Isaac Newton.

In New Orleans, the business world into which Teamer wanted to plant her flag was about as white as Armstrong’s flight suit.

Teamer, now 66, had just graduated from Clark and was studying business administration as a freshman at LSUNO when a friend told her about an unusual, tiny school on Exchange Place in the Central Business District, mostly for African-American women, that not only offered to pay students a small weekly stipend but also virtually guaranteed them ready-made secretarial jobs upon graduation with major oil companies in the city such as Shell and Exxon.

It was called the Adult Education Center, which for seven years (1965 to 1972) streaked across the sky with a small staff emboldened by the vision of one woman, preparing 431 students with typing, shorthand, speech and etiquette skills that forever would change the trajectory of their lives.

Teamer never became an astronaut, but after serving for six years in the accounting department at Shell in the old International Trade Mart on the Mississippi River, she worked for 30 years as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, visiting places across the globe, places on a map she never could have imagined when, as a 14-year-old living in the Lower 9th Ward in 1965, Hurricane Betsy swallowed up her family’s home in the 1800 block of Flood Street.

One day, sitting on a bench outside St. Peter’s Square and gazing at the Roman basilica that she knew as the heart of her Catholic faith, Teamer reflected on the teacher who had made such a moment possible – Alice Geoffray, the cofounder of the Adult Education Center.

New Orleans Mayor Vic Schiro, left, businessman James Coleman Sr. and Alice Geoffray address students at theAdult Education Center in 1965. The school lasted just seven years but changed lives forever.  Photo | COURTESY JEANNE GEOFFRAY

New Orleans Mayor Vic Schiro, left, businessman James Coleman Sr. and Alice Geoffray address students at theAdult Education Center in 1965. The school lasted just seven years but changed lives forever.
Photo | COURTESY JEANNE GEOFFRAY

“We called her our guardian angel,” Teamer said. “She was so remarkable and amazing to us. We all realized that here was this Caucasian lady who somehow wanted to help us out. We couldn’t see any benefit for her. She had seven children of her own. She was our warrior.”

Geoffray, who died in 2009 at age 84, is one of those characters cut from the cloth of Dorothy Day. She graduated from St. Mary’s Dominican High School and St. Mary’s Dominican College, and after rearing seven children, she began teaching, like her husband, in public school to help keep the red beans and rice on the table. She taught vocational education at Rabouin High School in the CBD.

When a former Dominican priest, Timothy Gibbons, saw a chance in 1965 to start the Adult Education Center, he tabbed Geoffray as exactly the women he needed.

“He hired her as his secretary because he heard she had a very good reputation, as much with the students as with the employers around New Orleans,” said Jeanne Geoffray, Alice’s daughter. “But he was on his way out of New Orleans, and he dumped the whole program on her.”

In those days, even finding a home for the school was an exercise in defying the forces of social gravity. Gibbons and Geoffray approached 59 landlords to lease space, but when the building owners found out the purpose of the new venture, the buildings suddenly became unavailable.

Finally, businessman James Coleman Sr. stepped up and offered the Exchange Place location. Federally funded at its start, the school was equipped with IBM Selectric typewriters, a state-of-the-art speech lab and a time clock that students, dressed for an office job after lessons in “personal dynamics,” dutifully punched in every morning.

Dominican Sister of Peace Rose Bowen, 91, attended the school’s first graduation ceremony and came away so impressed with Geoffray that she asked her principal at Dominican High School to allow her to teach all of her classes in the morning so that she could go to the CBD and be one of Geoffray’s teachers in the afternoon.

“I just said to myself, ‘I would like to teach with that woman,’” Sister Rose said from Columbus, Ohio. “The amazing thing was the way she addressed the whole person. She had a course on novels so that when the women got into an office setting, they would have a sense of familiarity with those books. She was trying to get them to be at ease as conversationalists.”

Sister Rose said students were so inspired because they had seen what previous graduates had gone on to achieve, and they wanted to row in the same direction.

Stepped in to help

When one of the prospective graduates couldn’t afford a nice dress for graduation, Sister Rose said “Alice told her to get a dress and put it on her account. She told me, ‘You know, I have to dress professionally and nicely, but I don’t have to have really exceptionally good-looking clothes. I would rather give it to a girl who needs it.’”

Geoffray’s own children were partners in the school’s success, often taking the bus after school to do their homework in the CBD. Jeanne Geoffray, the sixth of seven children, attended Fortier High School.

“The reason I didn’t go to Dominican was we didn’t have the money,” Jeanne said.

Jeanne said her mother made room in the family home for an unwed, pregnant student. After the student delivered her baby, she placed the baby for adoption with Catholic Charities.

Other students felt Geoffray’s protection.

“There was one young woman whose husband had abused her, and she came to school with black-and-blue marks,” Sister Rose recalled. “One of the other students told me she was going to do whatever she could to hang on and get through school because she could see what it would mean to her.”

The school had an incredible success rate. About 94 percent of the students graduated and went on to quality, good-paying jobs, Jeanne Geoffray said.

“There were tutors who would sit you down because they didn’t want to lose anyone,” Teamer said. “They wanted to make this program work by any means necessary.”

Jeff Geoffray, the youngest of Alice’s children, and Jeanne are collaborating on a book about the Adult Education Center. Jeff is a movie producer in California, and he knows his mother’s life is a story waiting to explode onto the screen. It is so rich that it might take the form of a long-form series rather than merely a two-hour film.

It’s that big. She was that big.

“My mom was a Catholic, and she knew the Golden Rule,” Jeff said. “That’s what she lived by. She wasn’t about changing the world, but she knew that there was a need with these women. She thought, ‘We can teach them skills and get them jobs.’ She told us she had never been in an environment where the students wanted to learn so much.”

Sweet sounds of success

Pamela Wimbley was the youngest of four sisters who attended Geoffray’s school. Even before she set foot inside, she had heard all about it from her eldest sister Carol, who didn’t have to say a word.

Every night, as Carol practiced her speed typing on the manual typewriter she had rented to help her improve, Pamela would be in her bedroom, trying her best to fall asleep. Carol was pushing herself to reach the 32 words-per-minute required of a Shell Oil secretary.

“Whether it was the constant clickety-clack of the keys hitting against the paper as she spelled each word aloud, the ping of the bell signifying she had come to the end of the margin or the sound of the carriage return to start anew, it was good to my ears,” Pamela recalled. “It was a sweet lullaby that would sing in my ears, until I fell off to sleep.”


Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

Former AEC Teacher, Sharon Ryan Rodi, Honored

Sharon Rodi was an integral part of the Adult Education Center throughout the years.  She was Alice Geoffray’s invaluable assistant/secretary (she was the woman behind the woman) as well as an unforgettable teacher.  Her incredible work continues on to this day.


Catholic Foundation honors Rodi, pro-life advocate 

Clarion Herald

By Beth Donze, October 11, 2017

Sharon Rodi. Photo from Clarion Herald.

Sharon Ryan Rodi became aware of the scourge of abortion in 1973 – in the wake of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court case legalizing the practice.

Shortly after the landmark decision, Archbishop Philip Hannan called a meeting at St. Anthony of Padua Church to bolster participation in a ministry called “New Life.”

Rodi and a few young mothers like her were among those in attendance.

“I don’t think I had even heard of abortion. I had these two little girls and I thought this is terrible that a mother would be in such a situation that she would feel she had to take the life of her child,” said Rodi, who became New Life’s president shortly after learning about the group.

Rodi and about 50 volunteers worked from a downtown office on Camp Street to provide overnight pregnancy tests, pregnancy and adoption referrals and a 24-hour hotline for women in distress.

“I thought, ‘These women need help during this difficult time.’ We were there trying to encourage them to have their babies,” Rodi said. “I remember thinking in those early days that this was important, and if we didn’t do something about it now, in five years we’ll still be fighting this. Well, of course we still are.”
 

Humble award recipient

Whoever crosses our path, we have a responsibility to reach out to them and to do what we can, whether it’s our family member or somebody we don’t even know.

Rodi, a retired attorney, has been named this year’s recipient of The Catholic Foundation’s St. John Paul II Award, given annually to a layperson or permanent deacon who models Christian stewardship and has an outstanding record of volunteer service, high moral character and exemplary values. Rodi will receive the award at the foundation’s Oct. 19 dinner at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside.

“I still can’t believe it. I belong to a lot of things, I do a lot of things, but I don’t feel I’m deserving of it – it’s quite an honor,” said Rodi, 75. “There is a group of us who from the beginning have done this (pro-life work) and have stuck with it, so I don’t feel it is me who is being honored,” Rodi said. “I feel it is the whole pro-life movement here in New Orleans that has been so successful in trying to make people understand what abortion is: the taking of a life.”
 

Baseball daughter

Rodi grew up as the oldest of four children in St. Dominic Parish. Her father, Jesuit and LSU baseball standout Connie Ryan, went on to play second base for the Boston Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies. After a 12-year playing career, Ryan coached and managed major and minor league teams in Milwaukee, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, Austin and Corpus Christi.

Consequently, throughout Rodi’s childhood and into college, she and her siblings would pull up stakes at the end of the school year and take up summer residence in the city where their father was based.

“We would always go to the local parish church and become part of that community for a few months,” Rodi said. “The nice thing was, you always came home.”
 

Worked in adult ed, pro-life

Rodi, a graduate of St. Mary’s Dominican High and Dominican College, married her husband, Mark, in 1965. That same year, a Dominican priest recruited Rodi for her first job: teaching disadvantaged women secretarial, business and life skills in a federal adult education program administered by President Lyndon Johnson’s Manpower Development and Training Act.

'72 Sharon Rodi, Tina Harper, Floyd McLamb, and Dr. Alice Geoffray at the Adult Education Center

Rodi continued to pursue her interest in helping the marginalized, switching her focus to the unborn and their mothers by joining New Life, the forerunner of ACCESS Pregnancy Centers.

After attending the first Right to Life March in Washington, D.C., in 1974, Rodi felt called to add lobbying and advocacy, at both the state and federal levels, to her anti-abortion outreach.

“We would go to Washington just about every year for the march, but we would also visit with each one of our congressmen,” she explained. “In those first years, they didn’t even know why we were there. ‘Abortion? What?’ You really had to educate them. We were there to say, ‘This is the law of the land right now and we want it reversed.’”
 

Helped guide immigrants

In 1976, Rodi’s pro-life ministry expanded when she was recruited by Catholic Charities to help the city’s influx of 12,000 Vietnamese refugees find jobs. She became director of the office of Refugee Social Services, whose assistance included medical, mental health, housing and employment services, and English language instruction.

“It was the most comprehensive refugee program in the country,” Rodi said proudly. “Other places would split it up, but somehow, Archbishop Hannan had gotten the whole bundle here (in New Orleans) under Catholic Charities.”

“The Vietnamese people were so appreciative and so easy – they wanted to work, they were happy to be here, and they easily assimilated into our community,” she said, recalling how low-cost housing and start-up money would be allocated to help immigrant families, including those from Cambodia, Laos, Cuba and Haiti, get on their feet.

“I’ve often thought that the Lord knows how to work things out,” Rodi said.

'72 Sharon Rodi with Lucille Le'Obia at an Adult Education Center graduation

Became lawyer in mid-life

As the need for refugee services waned, Rodi decided to do something she had been mulling over for a while: In 1985, at age 44, she enrolled in nighttime classes at Loyola Law School.

“All these kids were there who I knew because their parents were my friends,” chuckled Rodi. “I told them, ‘I know I’m the oldest one here, but you don’t have to rub it in. Call me Sharon.’”

She also has received two papal accolades – the ‘Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice’ and ‘Lady of St. Gregory’ awards.

Rodi went on to have a 17-year career as an attorney for the firm Adams and Reese, all the while maintaining her pro-life work with ACCESS, Louisiana and New Orleans Right to Life, and becoming a regular spokesperson on the issues of abortion and refugee needs in local television and print media.

She currently serves as the Louisiana delegate for National Right to Life, succeeding New Orleans/Louisiana Right to Life founder Bob Winn in that role.
 

A prayer-centered life

The Rodis, parishioners of St. Clement of Rome Church since 1967, are the parents of two daughters: Shannon Nash, 50; and Erin Rotolo, 48. Retired for 10 years, Rodi enjoys playing golf with her husband and traveling with her six grandchildren, “two at a time.”

But “retirement” is a loose term in Rodi’s world. Her boards and causes have included Catholic Foundation efforts such as Catholic Women in Action and the Women’s Giving Circle; St. Clement’s school board; Notre Dame Seminary; the University of Holy Cross; St. Mary’s Dominican High; the Southern Province of Dominicans; the Willwoods Community; St. Michael Special School; and St. Vincent’s Maternity Guild.

She also has received two papal accolades – the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” and “Lady of St. Gregory” awards; the Proudly Pro-Life award; alumna of the year recognition from both Dominican High and Dominican College; and the archdiocese’s Distinguished Catholic Graduate award.

Rodi said her faith is fed by a nightly rosary and her favorite prayers: the Memorare and the Lord’s Prayer, the latter which she says “encapsulates how we should live.” “If we don’t forgive others, we can’t be forgiven ourselves,” Rodi said.

Her faith also is animated by Jesus’ powerful reminder: “What you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.”  “We’re here for everybody,” Rodi said. “Whoever crosses our path, we have a responsibility to reach out to them and to do what we can, whether it’s our family member or somebody we don’t even know.

“If everybody felt that way, Rodi added, “we wouldn’t be in the shape we’re in.”