Juan LaFonta

Fighting the Good Fight and Making the Case for a Better New Orleans

By Edwin Buggage
Editor-In-Chief

Dedicated to Helping Young People
Juan LaFonta’s face is emblazoned on TV and billboards all over New Orleans. Many know him as an attorney, but some don’t know that he has been on the frontlines for almost two decades giving back to the city that’s given him so much. In addition, his story of overcoming personal obstacles to become the success he is today is one of inspiration.

Inspiration for the Next Generation
Last year he took a group of kids to see the movie Black Panther and saw how transformative it was for them to see a Black superhero on the screen. He says of the experience, “It was great seeing how excited the kids were seeing a film that celebrated our culture and diversity. I rented out two theaters paying the kids’ admission, giving a red-carpet experience to children. It was amazing to see their eyes light up watching a positive reflection of themselves on the screen.”
LaFonta wanted to build on this idea and this summer is sponsoring field trips to the movies for 100-150 children for eight weeks from various area summer camps, including some NORD camps. Kids from YaYa, Tam’s Dance Company, First Pilgrim’s Baptist Church, Goal Getters & House of Healing, Pleasant Zion, SUNO’s Healthy Minds/ Healthy Bodies, and Boys and Girls Club will have the opportunity to enjoy the movie of their choice at The Broad Theater. “I chose to do this because there are many people doing great things in the community. I also wanted to do my part, by giving opportunities for growth and to encourage them to look beyond their surroundings and realize they could be anything they want to be in life.”
He is not simply sponsoring the kids; he is there spending time with them; speaking with them and helping them aspire to reach higher. “I don’t just go to the movies and leave them there. I go with them, go in the popcorn line. I think it is great for the kids, seeing somebody who has come out of the community and struggled who is with them that can tell them if they study and stay focused, they too can become a success.”

Art from the Heart
LaFonta, in addition to being an attorney, has an extensive background in the arts. His sister Dana LaFonta was Director of Artist Services for the State of Louisiana. And as the nephew of acclaimed theater actor, director and choreographer Vernal Bagneris, he was exposed to the arts at an early age and wants to give the young people of the city that experience as well. So, he’s partnered with Barry Kern and Mardi Gras World to have an art class for 500 kids from around the New Orleans area. “I have a serious background in art, theatre and music. I wanted to give children an outlet to express themselves. I wanted them to have that one day they can look back and say this is where I learned to draw… this is where I had this great day with Mr. LaFonta and so many other kids. We will have 22 Art teachers available throughout the day to teach different types of art. Several famous, local artists from the community have agreed to come teach the children.”

Winning on and Off the Field
The breadth and depth of his giving is as immense as his heart is big and like on the billboards, sometimes LaFonta is like a superhero coming in to help those in need. LaFonta expounds upon one of these instances. “A cook and his wife were carrying a football team at A.L. Davis Park on their back… they testified in front of City Council to get mentors not money. They agreed to continue using jerseys from another park from the 80s. A husband and wife saved up money every year to take care of the cheerleaders and football players. I felt compelled to help and contributed monies that would help them get jerseys. This story was featured on WDSU.”
As someone who is committed to giving back, he says of his dedication, “I am trying to sponsor something every quarter to get more and more children exposure to positive things in our culture. I feel it is my duty to use a portion of my income to facilitate positive experiences for kids in the community.”

The Importance of Supporting Black Businesses
LaFonta is also a proponent of supporting Black businesses. He is also putting his money where his mouth is by beginning an initiative to underwrite advertising for other Black businesses. Explaining why he launched this he says, “More Black businesses would advertise if they could, if they had the capacity, but a lot of these family businesses and Black businesses, they are run by family members. And when I was first doing this, I didn’t really think I would pay the large amounts I pay for advertising. For a small business oftentimes, this is so far out of their thinking because they have to pay a staff and take care of family. I want to give them access to something they normally wouldn’t have access to and let them have something that can help move them along to increase their visibility.”
Continuing he says, “The first couple of businesses I’m spotlighting really looked out for me when I didn’t have any money and was hungry. There were people who opened up their doors and fed me for free and took care of me. Places like Dunbar’s, Neyows, those people are family or like family. If I didn’t have food they said come on by, we got food. We know you ain’t got no money, but you’ll get it to us when you become a lawyer – you’re good. It’s about helping those who help themselves. They were helping me because I was pushing to do better and because of that they took care of me. So, as I have become successful, I live by the verse from the bible that says, ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ Too many people forget that.”

Helping Rebuild New Orleans one Brick at a Time
Today LaFonta as a private citizen is doing much of the work that he began as an elected official, helping bring back the city from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina where he served the New Orleans community as the former Chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, and as the former State Representative of District 96. In these troubling times for the city, he served as the lead negotiator in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, resulting in 1.2 billion dollars that were used for redevelopment, repair, and new initiatives for the city and region. This is all part of the work he continues to do because of the love he has for the City of New Orleans. He is not alone in doing great works and credits being influenced by and getting much needed help from family, friends, church groups, his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, his wife Shyla, who is a constant source of love and support and most importantly God that guides him in his mission to make New Orleans a better place for all.

I Am My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper
Speaking of why others should do what he does, LaFonta says with passion ringing in his voice, “God created us to love other people and be your brother’s and sister’s keeper. I don’t believe we were put on this earth to make money and just buy Gucci, Fendi and Prada. We are put on this earth to help other people that are God’s children. I think when you forget you are put here to help others and to help your community you miss the boat.”
LaFonta is someone who’s experienced many obstacles and says he owes a debt of gratitude to so many people who have helped him along in his journey. “I have overcome a lot in my life to become who I am today. I have a lot of people to thank, family members extended family, and friends. Without them I don’t know what kind of person I would be. Those are people who didn’t have a lot but gave so much, offering me half the bread they had. And there’s no way I could have done what I’ve done without a whole community rallying behind me to help me.”
Continuing, he says, “I think that’s one of the things that’s missing in this community today, that we’ve forgotten, is that we all stand on the backs of those who came here before us. And we’ve come so far only because we’ve helped one another. I am trying to remind people that we need to get back to that and this is the only way we can become a better city.”

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