Urban Heroes 2020

Stay tuned for news about this year’s Urban Heroes luncheon.

2020 Heroes
The Urban Conservancy’s 2020 Urban Heroes Awards Luncheon was held on Friday, March 6th 2020 in the beautifully restored Art-Deco Lakefront Airport.

Joseph O. Evans IIIPrincipal/Partner, Evans + Lighter Landscape Architecture

The Honorable Calvin Johnsonretired Chief Judge of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court

Phyllis JordanFounder, PJ’s Coffee & Tea Company

Bivian “Sonny” Lee, IIIFounder and CEO, Son of a Saint

Jenga MwendoDirector of Backyard Gardeners Network, former Deputy Director of Crescent City Community Land Trust

Keynote Speaker

Peter Ricchiuti, A. B. Freeman School of Business Professor of Finance and host of NPR’s Out to Lunch.”


Date:          Friday, March 6, 2020

Time:         12:00-1:30pm

Location:  Walnut Room, New Orleans Lakefront Airport

                     6001 Stars and Stripes Blvd  |  New Orleans, LA  70126

Doors open at noon and lunch will begin promptly at 12:30pm. Cash bar available.

Buy Your Tickets Here

Early Bird prices until February 1st! Use code: earybird10

Introducing our Heroes

Joseph O. Evans III is a Principal/Partner at Evans + Lighter Landscape Architecture. He is an environmental designer, sustainable development specialist, and adaptation professional who brings his expertise to projects pursuing a high level of sustainable systems performance.

Joe is an expert in nature-based approaches to stormwater management and green infrastructure, and he is a pioneer in the development of these strategies and technologies in the New Orleans region.

As an interdisciplinary artist, Joe’s practice bridges the disciplines of ecology, composition, and sculpture. The aim of his firm is to lift the human spirit and celebrate our ties with the earth and the living systems that thrive upon it.

Evans has served as the Board President of Groundwork New Orleans, is a member of the Horizon Initiative Water Committee, the New Orleans Water Collaborative, and has served on the board of the New Orleans Healing Center. He has been an expert for the AIA’s Center for Communities by Design, Sustainable Design Assessment Teams, and serves as a consultant to many local urban farming initiatives.

Joe also instructs the Launch NOLA Green Business Academy, a 12 session hands-on course that equips landscaping professionals and contractors with the business knowledge and technical stormwater management skills to strengthen and expand their business into New Orleans’ growing water management industry.

The Honorable Calvin Johnson is a retired Chief Judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. He established the first Mental Health Treatment Court in the State of Louisiana in 2002. By 2005, this Special Court was selected as one of four demonstration courts in the Country. Prior to establishing the first Mental Health Treatment Court, Judge Johnson served as Drug Court Judge from 1994 until 2002. As Chief Judge at the time Hurricane Katrina struck, Judge Johnson directed proceedings and maintained Court functions simultaneously across eight statewide locations.

Following his retirement from the bench in 2008, Judge Johnson was enlisted by the Governor to serve as the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Human Service District (MHSD), an agency created by the State legislature to oversee the delivery of publicly funded, community based behavioral health services.

After leaving MHSD Judge Johnson performed consulting work for Magellan Health Louisiana, Futures Education and The Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (CADA). The consulting work for CADA specifically focused on a Reentry program for those Justice involved with Behavioral Health issues. Judge Johnson has worked with the Federal Monitors appointed by Judge Lance Africk of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana around the issue of proper care for defendants with mental health issues in the Parish prison. Judge Johnson served as Criminal Justice Commissioner for the City Of New Orleans from 2016 to May of 2018.

Judge Johnson received his undergraduate degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge in 1969, served four years in the United States Air Force, and then received his Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School in 1978. He was Professor of Law at Loyola Law School for nine years and Judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court for seventeen years.  

Phyllis Jordan is the Founder of PJ’s Coffee & Tea Company and a longtime member of community and nonprofit work across New Orleans. In 1977 Phyllis founded PJ’s on Maple Street. Over the years, she transformed her business from a retail store to a flourishing café with coffee beans roasted in-house. Soon it became the local coffee shop staple we know today. After significant growth, Phyllis sold PJ’s in 2002.

Next, Phyllis served as a board member and board president for the Green Project. She became the organization’s Executive Director in 2005, and held that position for 9 years from 2005 to 2014. Since then, she returned to serving on the board of directors.

In retirement, one of Phyllis’ biggest passions is the Symphony Book Fair. She spends her time recycling books to benefit the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and getting books into the hands of New Orleanians at low prices. Presently, Phyllis also volunteers with Compost NOW, the Look Before You Open campaign, and No Waste NOLA and serves as Chair of the Executive Council of WWNO radio station.

Phyllis lives in the Carrollton area, where she leads her neighborhood organization Green Carrollton,  and has a butterfly garden, vegetable garden and chemical free yard. She has two sons and tries to live a sustainable, green life.

Bivian “Sonny” Lee, III is the Founder and CEO of Son of a Saint. He has dedicated his life to enhancing the lives of fatherless boys. Prior to founding the Son of a Saint, Sonny served as chief aide to Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans. He was previously the Director of Operations for the New Orleans Zephyrs AAA Baseball Team and Director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute.

Sonny graduated with honors from St. Augustine High School and later earned a degree in Marketing and Management from the University of New Orleans. A TEDx speaker on community service, decision-making and the importance of education, Sonny’s nonprofit work has been highlighted on CNN, Al Jazeera America, NPR and local television stations and newspapers. His work on behalf of the community and the Son of a Saint organization has garnered him numerous awards including 2016 New Orleanian of the Year from Gambit Weekly, 2017 Southerners of the Year from Southern Living, and 2018 Homer Hitt Alumnus of the Year from University of New Orleans.

Jenga Mwendo is the Founder of Backyard Gardeners Network and former Deputy Director of Crescent City Community Land Trust. She has worked in equitable land use in New Orleans for over 10 years and is a graduate of the Master of Sustainable Real Estate Development (MSRED) at Tulane University. Jenga currently works as a Project Analyst at Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, a New Orleans based nonprofit organization dedicated to transformational development across the Gulf Coast region.

Since 2007, she has dedicated her time to strengthening New Orleans’ Black community and especially the Lower Ninth Ward – organizing neighbors to revitalize and create gardens, plant trees, and develop support systems to encourage and support the culture of growing in the neighborhood. While at the Crescent City Community Land Trust for three years, Jenga worked on securing permanently affordable housing and commercial development.

Jenga has also worked with the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, leading a Lower 9th Ward Food Action Planning initiative, and with Tulane Small Center as a Community Organizer. She is a graduate of the Southern University Agricultural Leadership Institute, a 2010 TogetherGreen Fellow, and a 2011-13 IATP Food and Community Fellow.

Jenga has received numerous awards and recognitions for her work including 2010 Cox Conserves Heroes, the 2011 Gambit 40 Under Forty, and the 2014 EBONY Magazine “Hero Next Door.”

Keynote Speaker

Peter Ricchiuti, host of NPR’s “Out to Lunch” and Founder of the Burkenroad Reports.

Peter Ricchiuti teaches finance at Tulane University where he has received numerous teaching awards. In 1993, he founded the investment research program Burkenroad Reports, updated this year to include a section on sustainability, and now serves as its Director of Research.

Peter has been featured widely in the financial media including; The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, CNBC and BARRON’s. He has addressed more than 1100 groups in 47 states and several countries.

Peter is also the host of “Out To Lunch,” a weekly business show on National Public Radio in New Orleans.


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