THE ICON: Melissa Sawyer
THE LEGACY: Melissa Sawyer is an investor, but not the Wall Street kind. Rather, she’s busy investing in the future of New Orleans. A native of Canada, Sawyer came to New Orleans in 1998 as part of the Teach for America program, working at Booker T. Washington High School. She left after two years to get a master’s degree from Harvard but returned to work for the Juvenile Justice arm of the state’s Post Disposition Project. While that program got young people out of jail, Sawyer realized there were no programs to help them when they returned to their communities and tried to get an education so they could find work. That spurred the founding of the Youth Empowerment Project, better known as YEP. Since Sawyer and two colleagues established YEP in 2004, it has grown to offer a broad range of activities, including summer camps, a literacy project and programs to help people get their high school diplomas.
THE ARTIST: Maddie Stratton
THE INSPIRATION: “Seeing for the first time the amount of dire poverty and the inequitable distribution of wealth in New Orleans was so staggering. I think that’s why I’m still here, quite frankly. We have so much work that we need to do. I don’t feel like I’ve played a big enough role in trying to make it better.” — Melissa Sawyer, in a 2016 interview with The Times-Picayune