Around Town

826 New Orleans

826 New Orleans, formerly known as Big Class, is an organization that was started out of need. In 2010, founder and original Executive Director Doug Keller was a teacher who found himself in charge of an unusually large class of 43 students. Understanding that this class was too large to accommodate and meet the needs of every student, he decided to band the students together to write a book, officially forming the bones of Big Class. As time went on and Big Class grew, it eventually merged with 826 National in 2018 to become 826 National’s 9th Chapter and the only foothold for the organization in the South. 

Today, Rai Bolden is 826 New Orleans’ Program Director who, much like Keller, began as a teacher before joining the organization. Her role is to help support the Program Managers who work with young students, expand offered programs, and help build relationships with local schools and community partners to publish youth-written books.

It’s easy to say that she and the 826 staff have been wildly successful. Their 7th Ward writing center provides people ages 3-18 with programming including Wee Write–a holistic family literacy opportunity for children ages 3-18 and their families–after-school programs for older students in third egrade and beyond, and plenty of other exciting initiatives. Additionally, the Writers’ Room offers a physical writing space in The Living School that also houses their Young Authors’ Book Project, community collections for young people to view, and in-school programs like their two-week book projects and compilation book opportunities for local schools and teachers.

As 826 New Orleans reaches further out into the city, they entreat the community to stay creative. Their Pizza Poetry project collaborated with the community and local pizzerias to give over 400 young poets the opportunity to publish poems on pizza boxes, allowing their writings to be read on dinner tables across the city. It’s projects like these that staff loves to do because of how it uplifts New Orleans and gives youths of all backgrounds the chance to share their work, tell their stories, and see themselves represented in the world.

“We seek to always uplift the culture of this captivating city and elevate the voices of youth from under-represented communities,” says Bolden. “We are committed to equity and unapologetic about our commitment to centering Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ youth. Our programs and projects should always represent our core beliefs and values.”

Beyond their in-house programs, the nonprofit offers local schools in-person and virtual writing workshops for educators that provide model lessons and curriculum ideas for increasing writing productivity in the classroom, meeting ELA common-core standards, fostering a love for writing, and even field trip opportunities to the center for students who would like publishing experience. 

This school year, they published three chapbooks and released two more books for print. One such book, Colors of a City, was curated and edited entirely by 826’s Young Writers’ Council and focuses on public safety. Their Young Authors’ Book Project created A View Inside, a collection of student-produced photographs and reflections. Each project is a huge milestone for both the students and the organization which has worked with over 800 students this school year through its variety of initiatives and programs.

More recently, on May 26, the organization hosted its Living Fest publishing party to unveil its Young Authors’ Book Project publication. While it is their last major event of the regular school year, 826 has plenty of summer programming to support young writers and they are very excited to plan and implement next school year’s programming as well. 

“We are committed to providing quality programming and increasing impact numbers. We want to serve more kids and get the word out. People need to know we exist. We are committed to championing the 7th Ward community and supporting schools in the neighborhood and throughout the city,” shares Bolden.

To learn more about or volunteer at 826 New Orleans, visit their website

This article was originally published in July 2023.

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