Barely five years after tasting his first bite of gumbo, 32-year-old J.B. Watkins would be using the dish as a metaphor to describe St. Roch, the section of New Orleans’ 8th Ward where he planted St. Roch Community Church (SRCC).
“It’s a healthy mix of everything,” he explains. “It’s very urban, very artsy. It’s a conglomerate of a lot of different cultures all gathered in one place.”
Historically a German settlement, St. Roch — like most of New Orleans — bursts with the remnants of French influence in its architecture, food, music, and art. The congregation of St. Roch is no less diverse. African Americans. Caucasians. Asians. Visitors from Africa and the Latino community. Professors. Mechanics. Stay-at-home moms.
Pitted against this vibrant culture, uglier things — poverty, crime, and physical devastation — scar the neighborhood. Youth who’d rather sell drugs than go to school. Mothers who lose sons in senseless shootings. Homes destroyed by merciless storms.