The New Orleans Agenda

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012                       For Immediate Release
Damon J. Batiste
Son of David R. Batiste Sr. and Patricia Cummings Johnson

Grandson of Jean Jeffrey and Estella Curtis Batiste


Batiste Family at the Alunay All Blues Festival
 Damon Batiste with father David and brothers Jamal, Russell, and Ryan at the Alunay All Blues Festival in France (photo credit: J.R. Thomason)


by: Helena Deville Shaw

CSAN 3250 - History of Anthropology of New Orleans

Tulane University

Dec 2011, updated December 2012


NEW ORLEANS AGENDA - "Most of the time, folks think that I'm a lot older because they've heard about my work for a while," says 43 year-old percussionist and New Orleans cultural icon, Damon Batiste. "They think I'm this old man, you know, like in my 70s."  Batiste has deep roots in New Orleans culture.  He's been a part of the Batiste Brothers Band since 1978 and is the son of keyboardist, David Batiste.

Damon, his father David, his brothers
Damon, his father David, his brothers - Jamal, Russell and Ryan

According to Paul Batiste, Damon's uncle and leader of the Batiste Brothers Band, The New Orleans Batiste family holds the title of, "Louisiana's largest musical family."  Damon's grandparents, on his father's side, are John Jeffrey Batiste and Estella Curtis Batiste. 

John Jeffrey Batiste, born in 1913, with Cajun French roots, is from New Iberia.  In recent years, the Batiste family learned they were related to other New Orleans legendary artists who shared the name Batiste, even though some of their names were spelled differently.  According to Damon, his family is related to, Alvin Batiste - a musical educator and clarinetist; Harold Battiste - a record label founder, composer and saxophonist, as well as the band director for Sonny and Cher; and Milton Batiste who played the trumpet "always with a smile."

"Well, we didn't know that we were even related," says Batiste.  "Harold, you know, someone went to the genealogy institute and found that out and the name [John Batiste] was really Jean Batiste, but because of the Africans birth certificates, a lot of times the name didn't matter on the birth certificate.  You were who somebody else said you were.  So in those days, birth certificates weren't a big thing.  So some folks put two 't's or a 'p' in the name."

Estella, African-American, was born in 1915 and raised in Georgia, but not unlike many African-Americans, her ancestry is unknown.  Just as Neb Sublette points out in his book, The World That Made New Orleans, "slaves in the United States have lost their ancestral vocabulary, and were raised from birth to have no past and no future, as members of an eternally subjugated caste whose great-grandchildren would be born into slavery."

Estella and Jean Batiste met in New York City and settled in New Orleans.  They had seven boys, including Damon's father, David.

Estella was 92 years old when she died in 2007, and Jean just passed away June 27, 2012 at 99 years old.  According to Damon, his grandfather was one of the first African-American business owners in the Ninth Ward.  When David was 17, his father bought the boys a piano, but Estella was the musical driving force in the family.  She taught music to her children and was responsible for the creation of the Batiste Brothers Band.  But before that, David's band was called David and Gladiators.

"Well, David and the Gladiators was my father, and the Gladiators became the Batiste Brothers Band when my dad went on to join the Meters," says Damon.  When David left the Meters and joined the Batiste Brothers Band, Damon and his brother Russell also became part of the family band.  "I think he was fifteen years old at the time, and I was thirteen."

As young as six and seven years of age, Damon was on the stage with his father, along with a variety of major Blues artists, including Jackie Wilson.  So Damon has been surrounded by talented musicians his entire life.  The Batiste Brothers Band toured Japan on a regular basis, making Damon a world traveler at a very young age.  He also comes from a very large immediate family, with fifteen brothers and sisters.

Damon went to St. Stephens Elementary School and St. Augustine High School, then attended Southern University of New Orleans and the University of Southwest Louisiana.  At the age of 19, while still in college, Damon started working with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

"I was the Assistant Director with the community events for the kids," says Damon.  Because of his knowledge and experience in music, he played a unique role in the development of Jazz Fest for a number of years.  He has also performed at Jazz Fest over the years with the Batiste Brothers Band.

Damon also played an instrumental role in the development of music venues along Frenchmen Street.  Initially, he was even an investor in Ray's Boom Boom Room on Frenchmen Street, where he played together with his good friend, Mardi Gras Indian Chief Shaka Zulu in a band called Damon Batiste and the New Orleans All Stars.  Chief Shaka Zulu is a renowned New Orleans stilt dancer, and owns the Golden Feather Restaurant and Museum across from Congo Square.  Zulu is also a Vice President of NOSACONN, and works very closely with Damon on many of his projects.

Damon has performed with other prominent New Orleans bands as well.  He recorded a live funk song with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, featuring the djembe drum.  He's also played with George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars in their HBO special in Aruba.

But Damon has committed his adult life to preserving and growing New Orleans culture and music through a variety of programs and ventures.  His accomplishments are both numerous and admirable.

In 1998, former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial selected Damon as the New Orleans Cultural Ambassador to South Africa.  Damon was asked by the State office of Economic Development to go to South Africa on a fact-finding mission during the African Renaissance - at the end of Apartheid in South Africa.  Their goal, to develop trade and business opportunities between New Orleans and South Africa, was a great success, motivating Damon to continue pursuit of cultural bonds and trade between South Africa and New Orleans.

"Africa was being explored on just the possibilities," says Batiste, "but I took my own initiative after visiting townships to say that, now that government has given me a chance, how can I do it and keep it going as a non-profit, where it's tied to government with relationships, but I'm not a government employee?  So I formalized, with the help of South Africans because I had to work closely with them.  It was pretty amazing to South Africans for somebody from America to just come over there.  You know, it's just taking ownership and not really asking anyone what should be done."


So in 1998, Damon created a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization to promote music, art, culture, film, trade and arts in education, for economic development and tourism, between the United States and Africa.  He named the organization "New Orleans South Africa Connection, Inc." (NOSACONN) and has worked tirelessly with countless ambassadors, celebrities and government officials, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

NOSACONN's mission is a great success story, with a long list of accomplishments.  In 2004, NOSACONN sponsored over 150 South African artists, highlighting South Africa, at the 2004 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  Damon also prepared a mission statement for South Africa, at the end of Apartheid, which he believes resulted in South Africa hosting the 2010 World Cup.  He's made numerous trips to South Africa, and was even able to attend Nelson Mandela's 80th birthday. 


In October and November 2010, NOSACONN sponsored the KCAP Drummers, Dancers and Theatrical Performers from Durban, South Africa.  They performed for the New Orleans City Council and participated in the New Orleans Halloween parade.

In December 2011, Damon traveled back to South Africa for a film festival he has been involved in developing.  This year, for the first time, both Winton Marsalis and Lil' Wayne visited South Africa during the film festival.

One of the most exciting and promising of Damon's achievements is the NOSACONN-sponsored, "AM/PM After School Program and Summer Camps."  This unique after-school enrichment program's motto is, "Linking Worlds Together that are Worlds Apart," and is focused on academic as well as cultural arts enrichment.  The program is operating at five New Orleans schools, serving over 700 students and is dedicated to the realization of the five following measurable goals:

1. Participants will demonstrate increased academic achievement in reading and mathematics;
2. Participants will demonstrate improved social skills and class participation/homework completion in other subject areas;
3. Participants will demonstrate positive behavioral changes (i.e. attendance, decrease in disciplinary actions, respectfulness, and a decrease in other adverse behaviors);
4. The AM/PM program will provide services that benefit the entire community, including families, as well as collaborating with other agencies and non-profit organizations; and
5. The AM/PM program will aid in increasing students' knowledge, participation, and skill in the arts. Participants in the program will improve their skill in one artistic discipline per semester session. 

The program, funded by the 21st Century Grant, has been a huge success and viewed as an exemplary program.  Its vision is based on the premise that children will achieve in a safe, caring and supportive environment, when goals are set with high expectations, and the adults that care for them are committed to their academic and social development.  Sponsored activities in the cultural arts program include a marching band, dance, creative writing, visual arts, film, photography, foreign language, and media technology. 


But by far, that is not the only area where Damon Batiste gives back to the New Orleans community.  The Batiste family was approached by Senator Mary Landrieu to create an innovative new approach to learning, utilizing one failing urban school.  The school they chose was Live Oak Elementary School at 3128 Constance Street.  Thus, the Batiste Cultural Arts Academy was co-founded by Damon Batiste in 2008, and it too has become an exemplary program.

"It made sense to them because there was a big need to bring the community into this thing," says Damon.  "At the start of this, the whole city changed because everything became education and charter schools.  So we set up a movement...  I would say the movement that we started here is probably going to be one of the biggest movements in the history of education.  We are now one of the best places for innovation in the whole country.  It's become an example of how you do things.   I told my dad, I said, 'Dad, watch what happens.'  It's been a great transformation to be a part of something like this." 


A father himself, Damon and his wife Johana, have two daughters and a son.  His daughters, Leileh Marie and Nala Jean, have shown early signs of their own musical interests.  His son, Damon Batiste, Jr. (D.J.), born with cerebral palsy, is a source of inspiration for Damon. 


Motivated by music, Damon has made a concentrated effort to utilize every creative asset at his disposal to preserving, teaching and promoting the culture that is New Orleans, as well as serving as an advocate and role model for New Orleans' at risk kids. 

"My greatest gift," says Batiste, "is actually seeing creative children.  When I look at them and they smile, that means so much!"

Damon Batiste is currently in the process of expanding NOSACONN cultural

David Batiste at the Alunay All Blues Festival
David Batiste at the Alunay All Blues Festival in France (Photo: J.R. Thomason)

relations between New Orleans and other parts of Africa, including, but not limited to Uganda and the Congo.  But he has also started a new venture in promoting similar cultural exchange programs between not just New Orleans, but all of French Louisiana, and France.  On his first trip to Paris, he immediately sparked interest in his new idea.  Because his efforts have been so successful between New Orleans and South Africa, he believes he can achieve similar success between Louisiana and France, and he is well on his way. 


A NOSACONN delegation, including Damon, his father David, his brothers - Jamal, Russell and Ryan, along with musicians Donald Harrison, Jason Neville and Cyril Neville, as well as Chief Shaka Zulu just performed at the Alunay All Blues Festival, just outside of Paris, Nov 19 - 24.  The New Orleans delegation showcased two successful performances: A Tribute to Congo Square, and the Batiste Family Extravaganza.  Damon also served on the Congo Square panel for a colloquium conference during the festival.  It is safe to say that Damon's new cultural partnership between New Orleans and Paris is off to a good start.

It is hard to believe that a single individual could accomplish as much as

Damon Batiste at France's Alunay All Blues Festival
Damon Batiste on stage at the Alunay All Blues Festival in France (Photo: J.R. Thomason)

Damon Batiste at the age of 43, but the fruits of his labor are ever-present from New Orleans to South Africa.  With exciting new ventures on the horizon, Damon Batiste will go down in history for his dedicated works and commitment to improving the education of urban children as well as preserving and promoting the cultural uniqueness of New Orleans. 


Click to learn more 






The Teacher Who Changed My Life 

An Essay Contest By New America Media and New Orleans Ethnic Media



WHAT:  The New Orleans Agenda is partnering with New America Media (NAM) and other media partners in New Orleans, LA to organize an essay contest on teachers. We invite you to write a short essay (500 words max) describing the teacher who changed your life or the life of your child.  Who is this 

Dreamstime - Male Teacher

remarkable person? Did this person mentor you, open your mind to a subject that became your passion, help you in a personal crisis?


DEADLINE: January 14, 2013. (Mail-in entries must be postmarked by then).  All entries are subject to the co
ntest's Official Rules attached below.


All contestants must reside in New Orleans or the surrounding parishes. You can ONLY enter one of the following categories:
1) Teenagers between 14 to 18 years old;
Write about a teacher, who is not your relative, who teaches in public or private school in the city of New Orleans or the surrounding parishes.
2) Adults 19 years of age and older;
Write about a teacher, who is not your relative, who teaches in public or private school in the city of New Orleans or the surrounding parishes who have changed your life or the life of your child.
3) Teachers in Memory

Write about a teacher, who is not your relative, who might have passed away or lost contact with, or a teacher who taught you in your home country.



Essay writers are invited to write up to 500 words. In English or inthe writer's native language. In-language submissions will be translated prior to final judging. Essays should be sent us via email or regular mail, along with the Entry Form (See below).



Distinguished educators, journalists, scholars and advocates will select a winner from each category. Judges will look for evidence that the teacher opened up a new pathway of knowledge or opportunity for the student that he or she had previously not been aware of, or that the teacher inspired or fostered a love of learning. We are looking for real life examples and expect the entries will help us expand our definition of what a "great teacher" is.



Winners in the "Teenager" and "Adult" categories will each receive a cash award of $500 and the teachers profiled will also receive an award of $500. Winner in "Teacher In Memory" will have the honor to pick a local public school in New Orleans or the surrounding parishes to donate a $500 check made by NAM.



We will host a special presentation of the awards in New Orleans in February. Winning essays will be published by NAM and other media outlets.





The New Orleans Agenda

392 East 6th Street

Edgard, Louisiana 70049



An Essay Contest by New America Media and The New Orleans Agenda







Deadline to receive all applications: January 14, 2013 - Please review contest rules.



Contestant Information




Mailing Address: ______________________________________________

City: _____________________ State ___________ Zip Code __________


Home phone: ___________________________

Cell phone: _____________________________

Language of essay:_______________________

Category:     ___14-18 yr old   ___19 yr old and above   ___Teacher In Memory

Where did you learn about this contest? ____________________________________

Please provide a biography (No more than 200 words) about yourself on a separate sheet of paper or attachment if submitted via email.


Teacher Information

Name of Teacher:__________________________________________________

When did you meet the teacher?______________________________________

How did you meet the teacher? _______________________________________

Where does/did this teacher teach (school name)?________________________

Address of the school: _______________________________________________

City ____________________ State _______ Zip __________________________


Submission Information:

All entries must be received by Monday, January 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm. Applications should only be submitted once in one of the following ways. Each contestant can only submit one entry in any of the 3 categories.




Mail completed entry form and essay to:



The New Orleans Agenda

attn: Vincent Sylvain

392 East 6th Street  

Edgard, LA 70049



**Please indicate on the envelope: Teacher Who Change My Life Contest, OR,

E-mail completed entry form and essay as an attachment (word or PDF) to:




**Please write "Teacher Contest" in the subject line**

"By entering, I agree to the complete Official Rules, which I understand include my agreement to grant the contest sponsors a broad license to publish and otherwise use my entry for their own purposes."


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­__________________________________________                           _______________________

Signature                                                                                            Date


___________________________________________              _______________________

Minor's Parent or legal guardian (If under 18 years old)              Date







The Teacher Who Changed My Life Essay Contest




1. Eligibility.  The Teacher Who Changed My Life Contest (the "Contest") is open only to legal residents of the city of New Orleans or the surrounding parishes (including Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and Washington.), Louisiana, who are fourteen (14) years of age or older at the time of entry.  Employees of Sponsors (as defined below) and each of their respective related companies, as well as the immediate family (spouse, parents, siblings and children) and household members of each such employee are not eligible.  The Contest is subject to all federal, state and local laws and regulations and is void where prohibited by law. 


 2. Sponsors.  New America Media, 275 Ninth Street, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103 and The New Orleans Agenda  (the "Sponsors"). 



 3. Agreement to Official Rules.  Participation in the Contest constitutes your full and unconditional agreement to these Official Rules and the decisions of the judges and the Sponsors, which are final and binding.

4. Entry Period.  The Contest begins on November 14, 2012 at 12:00 noon Central Time ("CT") and ends on January 14, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. CT (the "Entry Period").  

5. Entry.  To enter, during the Entry Period, fill out the entry form, provide a biography of yourself (no more than 200 words), and submit a short essay (no more than 500 words) in English or your native language on one (1) of the following topics, as applicable to you:  (a) if you are between fourteen (14) and eighteen (18) years old, write about a teacher who is not your relative and who teaches or taught in a public or private school in New Orleans or surrounding parishes and who changed your life (the "Teenager" category); (b) if you are nineteen (19) years old or older, write about a teacher who is not your relative and who teaches or taught in a public or private school in New Orleans or surrounding parishes and who changed your life or the life of your child (the "Adult" category); or (c) write about a teacher who is not your relative but who taught you and with whom you have lost contact, who taught you in your home country, or who has passed away (the "Teacher in Memory" category).  If you submit an essay in a language other than English, New America Media will translate your essay prior to judging.  Your entry must be true, your own original work, and must not have been entered, in whole or in part, into any other contest, promotion or exhibition, or otherwise published or distributed.  The Sponsors reserve the right, in their sole and absolute discretion, to refuse to accept any entry for any reason.


During the Entry Period, submit your entry form, biography and essay to Sponsors by email to  or by mail to The New Orleans Agenda, 392 East 6th Street, Edgard, Louisiana 70049.  Emailed entries must be received by Sponsors during the Entry Period, and mailed entries must be postmarked during the Entry Period.  Limit:  one (1) entry per person.  Subsequent entries will be void.  Entries will not be acknowledged or returned.  Illegible entries will be disqualified.


6. Selection of Potential Winners.  On or about February 8, 2013, a panel of judges will select one (1) potential winner from each of the three (3) categories of submissions, as described above.  Entries will be judged on how well the essay conveys a portrait of the teacher and how descriptive it is of the teacher's impact.  In the event of a tie, the entry with the higher score for how great the essay conveys a portrait of the teacher will be the potential winner.  Potential winner will be notified by email, phone or postal mail.  If the potential winner cannot be contacted within five (5) days of the first attempt to contact him/her, the entrant in that category with the next highest score will be the potential winner.


7. Requirements of Potential Winners.  Except where prohibited, each potential winner must complete and return an affidavit of eligibility and liability/publicity release (the "Affidavit/Release") within ten (10) days of being notified.  If a potential winner fails to sign and return the Affidavit/Release within the required time period, if notification or prize is returned as undeliverable, or if Sponsors determine in their sole discretion that a potential winner is ineligible, an alternate entrant will be selected in his/her place.  If a potential winner is a minor, his/her parent or legal guardian must sign and return all requested documents and accept the prize on his/her behalf.  Unless prohibited by law, acceptance of a prize constitutes permission for Sponsors to use winner's name, picture, likeness, address (city and state), and biographical information for advertising and publicity purposes, worldwide, without further compensation. 

8. Prizes.  The winners of the Teenager and Adult categories will each receive Five Hundred Dollars ($500), and the teachers that they profiled in their entries will also each receive Five Hundred Dollars ($500).  The winner of the Teacher In Memory category will have the honor of selecting a public school in city of New Orleans or the surrounding parishes, Louisiana to receive an award of Five Hundred Dollars ($500).  All federal, state and local taxes and all other expenses not specifically mentioned herein are the responsibility solely of winner.  Prize is non-transferable and non-assignable.  No substitution permitted, except that Sponsors reserve the right to substitute a prize with another prize of comparable or greater value at Sponsors' sole discretion.

9. Sponsors' Rights to Entries.  By entering, you grant to the Sponsors a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, fully sublicensable (through multiple tiers) and transferable license, without additional consideration to you or third parties, to (a) publish, reproduce, distribute and display (publicly or otherwise), adapt, modify, edit, translate, make available to the public, make, sell, offer to sell, import and otherwise use and exploit (and have others exercise such rights on behalf of the Sponsors, through multiple tiers) your entry, in any format or media now known or hereafter developed; (b) create derivative works from and incorporate your entry into other works or into the Sponsors' or their designees' products or services; (c) use your entry for the Sponsors' advertising and promotional purposes; and (d) use your name, photograph, portrait, picture, voice, likeness, statements, and biographical information for the Sponsors' advertising and promotional purposes in connection with your entry, for the purpose of administering and promoting the Contest, any future Sponsor promotions, and/or the Sponsors.  You hereby waive any and all rights that you each may have under laws worldwide that concern "moral rights" or "droit moral" in connection with your entry. 

10. General Conditions.  In the event that the operation, security or administration of the Contest is impaired in any way for any reason, Sponsors may, in their sole discretion, either (a) suspend the Contest to address the impairment and then resume the Contest in a manner that best conforms to the spirit of these Official Rules, or (b) award the prizes according to the applicable judging criteria from among the eligible entries received up to the time of the impairment.  Sponsors reserve the right in their sole discretion to disqualify any individual they find to be tampering with the operation of the Contest or to be acting in violation of these Official Rules or in a disruptive manner.  Any attempt by any person to undermine the operation of the Contest may be a violation of criminal and civil law, and, should such an attempt be made, Sponsors reserve the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law.  Sponsors' failure to enforce any term of these Official Rules shall not constitute a waiver of that or any other provision.  In the event of a dispute as to any online entry, the authorized account holder of the e-mail address used to enter will be deemed to be the entrant.  The "authorized account holder" is the natural person assigned an email address by an Internet access provider, online service provider or other organization responsible for assigning e-mail addresses for the domain associated with the submitted address.  In the event that an entry is confirmed to have been erroneously deleted, lost or destroyed, entrant's sole remedy shall be another entry into the Contest.  If any provision of these Official Rules is held to be invalid or unenforceable, such provision shall be struck, and the remaining provisions shall be enforced.

11. Release and Indemnity; Limitations of Liability.  By participating in the Contest, you agree to release, indemnify and hold harmless Sponsors, their respective parent and related companies, and each such company's respective officers, directors, employees, and agents (collectively, the "Released Parties") from and against any claim or cause of action arising out of or related to, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, participation in the Contest or receipt or use of any prize, including, but not limited to:  (a) claims that your entry violates any copyrights, patents, trademark rights, publicity rights or other rights; (b) claims arising from any use or other exploitation of, or failure to use or exploit your entry; (c) claims arising from any breach or alleged breach by you of these Official Rules; (d) claims of misappropriation of ideas or other intellectual property; (e) claims arising from any technical, translation or printing errors, including errors that may prevent you from submitting an entry; (f) claims arising from unauthorized human intervention in the Contest; (g) claims arising from lost, late, damaged, postage-due, misdirected or undeliverable mail or e-mail; (h) claims arising from errors in the administration of the Contest or the processing of entries; and (i) claims arising from injury, death or damage to persons or property.  You further agree that in any cause of action, the Released Parties' liability will be limited to the cost of entering and participating in the Contest, and in no event shall the Released Parties be liable for attorneys' fees. 

12. Disputes.  Except where prohibited, you agree that any and all disputes, claims and causes of action arising out of the Contest or any prize awarded shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, and exclusively by the appropriate court located in the State of Louisiana. All issues and questions concerning these Official Rules, your rights and obligations, or Sponsors' rights and obligations shall be governed by the laws of the State of Louisiana without giving effect to any choice of law or conflict of law rules.

13. List of Winners.  For the results, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to New America Media, 209 Ninth Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94103, Attention: The teacher Who Changed My Life Essay Contest.  Requests must be received by March 15, 2013.









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Vincent T. Sylvain, Publisher
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