New Orleans Lake Charles is a medium-sized city of nearly 80,000 people, the fifth largest in Louisiana, close to the Texas border. It’s the home of oil refineries and chemical plants. Texans driving over the border made casinos big business for a while. In recent years, it has become a majority-minority city with over 48% African-American another 3+% Latino, and 43.4% whites now. The mayor is a Republican which is an oddity in a big-ish city in Louisiana.
Lake Charles has a special place in ACORN’s work and history. There has been continuous organization there for more than forty years, rooted deeply in the northern, African-American section of the city. We’ve always had an office there during that entire period, but, uniquely, we probably only staffed that office and organization for less than a year of the entire forty. This was an organization run and led by great members and leaders throughout that period, and particularly over the last more than thirty years by Lanny Roy as the chair of NIC-ACORN. NIC stood for Neighborhood Improvement Coalition, but it was always NIC-ACORN, so to tell the truth, I had to ask what the letters really stood for and would have sworn the “N” stood for Northside.
Lanny Roy passed away at eighty over recent days. I hated to miss the funeral of this great leader, long time comrade, and friend, but when I said I was scheduled to be in Canada for a meeting with the organizers, no one questioned that Lanny would have wanted me there with them, rather than siting still in a church pew. Lanny was a great local group leader, but he was also an active presence on the national board as one of the Louisiana delegates, junior only to Beulah Laboistrie. The organization always came first to Brother Roy!
He would show up at many board meetings, leadership conferences, and conventions in one big ride after another, first a Lincoln and later a van. He would fill the car with members and roll out, rather than going on the bus. I wasn’t surprised to hear that his mechanic was one of the people who spoke at his funeral. He always had on a tie and a black hat. You knew Lanny was in the room. You knew whenever he got up to speak, it would be serious, and it would be about what was best for people. It would never be personal.
He was a rock that never wavered. If he was your friend, he was always your friend. If he thought you did right, he would be with you forever. He has a small part that always moves me in “The Organizer” documentary, where he speaks forcefully through his deep Louisiana accent that the “thing about ACORN is that is member run. What the member wants, that’s what ACORN does.” Maybe that’s not an exact quote, but it’s darned close. He and his members proved that in Lake Charles year after year.
He had been injured working in one of the Lake Charles plants and was on disability for decades, while raising a mess of children spread throughout the area. The Catholic Church had been key in the original organization of NIC-ACORN in the 1970s, and Lanny had been a member from the beginning partially through that connection. He always persevered, as the old folks say: community leader, NAACP, feature of the black weekly, presiding over the annual bank fair, and anywhere and everywhere he was needed.
We thought we had lost him a dozen different times, but there he would be once again, making his presence and his voice heard. He was a great leader of ACORN in Louisiana and A Community Voice, the ACORN affiliate, and he will be missed.