Michele Brierre Jean-Pierre: A Holistic Prescription to Saving a Community

Edwin Buggage | 2/22/2017, 1:21 p.m.
Michele Brierre Jean-Pierre, is a woman dedicated to giving back to her community. She is the Executive Director of the ...
Michele Brierre Jean-Pierre

Michele Brierre Jean-Pierre, is a woman dedicated to giving back to her community. She is the Executive Director of the Ellis Marsalis Center, located in the Lower Ninth Ward, named for the patriarch of the first family of Jazz and co-founded by musicians Brandford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. Since opening its doors in 2011, it is changing the lives of children using music education by engaging them and giving them the skills to lead fulfilling and successful lives.

Her journey into giving back started when her father Dr. Jean Chenier Brierre, a physician, who blazed the trail for future black doctors and his wife Nicole, both Haitian immigrants that came America in search of a better life. Recalling these time she says, “I think back to my childhood where serving those in need was a big thing that drove my parents. My father worked in the community and my mother was a homemaker who was constantly involved in things, volunteering and helping others. I had two great examples as parents. It’s the way I grew up and it’s become a way of life for me.”

Prior to coming to the Ellis Marsalis Center, Jean-Pierre was working in Public Health but always found time to volunteer in the community. “I have been giving back for a long time; I feel it is my duty. Throughout the years I have worked with kids as a tutor. I volunteered to help first time homebuyers and I also served as a parent advocate with the school system.”

She uses her experience in Public Health to approach how she runs the center, focusing on the children in a holistic way. Speaking of this she says, “Community health and what makes a community healthy are things I have tried to incorporate into the programming and planning of the center. We support the kids academically and socially, there is a component where they have access to good nutrition and healthy eating, so we provide healthy snacks for them when they come after school and they also can get a hot healthy balanced meal. We also provide homework help and we have certified teachers helping with that.”

While their program is aimed at children from ages 7 to 18, there are also services available for adult musicians and those young people who are interested in working in non-performing careers in music and entertainment. “Children are at the heart of our mission, but we work with adult musicians, who live in the village. We have a recording studio and they can come in and access our professional recording services. We have an acoustically perfect performance space. We also offer instruction in audio engineering and video editing. In addition, we have a monthly concert series with musicians from the community. There are really great things happening in the Ninth Ward.”

Jean-Pierre speaks of the challenges that children face as she harkens back to their holistic approach as key to solutions. “Part of our holistic approach to problems is that we provide safe spaces where they could come and get some additional support. Some of these children are dealing with issues of violence, death and parents dealing of rebuilding their homes and lives.” Continuing she says, “Our goal is to meet children where they are and provide services to give them a better understanding of what they needed to do to function and give them the tools to be successful. One of my greatest support stories is where we engage a whole family, where we began providing services to this young person by also engaging the parents and grandparents and we were able to intervene and get him on the right track. I am proud to say this child is thriving musically and his behavior has improved.”