Belden Batiste Is in the Giving Spirit This Christmas

Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste is just an ordinary guy who works hard every day to make things better for others. Batiste certainly has his hands full this December. In addition to co-chairing the effort to recall Mayor LaToya Cantrell and advocating for a plethora of civic and social issues, Batiste is gathering donations and recruiting volunteers for his annual toy give-away on Christmas Eve as well as a homeless outreach on Christmas Day. “Helping those who are in need is in my heart. I can’t let these holidays pass without showing the less fortunate that they too are loved,” said Batiste.

Born at Charity Hospital in 1974 to a single mother, Batiste was given the first name of Belden by his grandmother who was married to musician Henry Batiste. At age six, he received the nickname “Noonie Man,” meaning fearless warrior, from a group of older gentlemen in the Treme.

A long-time member of the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian tribe, Batiste loves to perform using the tambourine or conga drum. “As a Batiste, music is in my DNA,” he said. “I learned to play the bass drum from my uncle Lionel Batiste who everybody called ‘Uncle Lionel,’ but he really was my uncle.”

Though Batiste got the beat from his musically-inclined relatives, his passion emanated from two other important men in his life. Batiste’s father – who died when he was young – was involved in civil rights. “I remember my dad marching on Canal Street.” Treme activist Jerome Smith, also known as Big Duck, instilled in Batiste the desire to improve people’s lives. By age 10 Batiste had enrolled in Smith’s legendary youth program and summer day camp, Tambourine and Fan. “Jerome is my mentor. He rubbed off on me. He taught me to stand up, to advocate and care for people. That’s where my spirit comes from,” Batiste explained.

With Big Duck leading the way, Batiste and other youth traveled to Selma, Alabama where they advocated for voting rights and almost got arrested. “We were just kids but the police wanted to handcuff us,” Batiste said. He also got to work with activist Rosa Sanders and her 21st century youth leadership group.

New Orleanians who know Batiste well, realize he often walks around the city. As a young child Batiste was sickly. He developed severe blood clots that hampered his mobility. By age 16 the federal government placed Batiste on disability. In 2005, his leg became paralyzed and he was hospitalized. Batiste coded three times. “At one point the medical staff put the sheet over my head but several ministers had come to pray for me. Thank God they noticed I was still breathing.”

Batiste had to learn to walk again. His young son, Belden Jr. –who he nicknamed “Bookie Man,” – was a big part of Batiste’s recovery.  “With my mother’s help, I raised Bookie Man since he was one-day old. Now before he would leave for school, he’d make me get up and take a few steps. I was in great pain and didn’t want to but with his persistence I gradually regained my mobility. My doctors tell me I should walk as much as possible to prevent further blood clots and I do.”

Over the years Batiste has advocated for a wide array of issues including housing, education, crime, gun violence prevention, racial justice, mental illness, voting rights, homelessness, equal pay for women, environmental justice, better public schools and increased funding for youth programs.  Batiste is already planning his advocacy agenda for 2023. “I want to make war on mental illness, housing the homeless and showing them people really care. Crime is always a big priority, too,” Batiste exclaimed.  “It’s time for city leaders to solve the homeless problem in New Orleans, not just talk about it. The city is receiving billions of dollars from the federal government. With those funds and the will of government leaders, a real solution is possible.”

Batiste says he started the campaign to recall Mayor LaToya Cantrell because he feels strongly that the mayor is not doing her job. “Our city deserves better. We can’t go three more years with someone who neglects her duties and fails to put New Orleans first. I do not think the mayor cares about the citizens. Mayor Cantrell’s behavior has shown she is not accountable or transparent. My recall co-chair Eileen Carter and I want what is best for the city and its citizens. We are not receiving any money for our efforts. We are doing this for the people, for our youth.”

Batiste believes the recall campaign is right on track. “We are moving at a fast pace. We have accomplished so much and have gotten so much support from a broad cross-section of voters – Independents, Democrats, Libertarians, No Party, Green Party and Republicans. To say the campaign is Republican-led is an outright lie. We are unifying the city to make New Orleans better. That’s what a leader should do. The voters want change and we are bringing people together for that purpose.”

More than 100,000 New Orleans registered voters received a recall petition that they can sign and return without adding postage. “Even though we are in the midst of the holidays, the mail keeps coming in. We urge citizens to take that extra moment to sign and return the recall petitions,” Batiste said.

Batiste is a big fan of women – his mother and grandmother who helped raised him, his sister who supports his civic activism and his recall campaign partner Eileen Carter who he praised for all her hard work. “I have teamed up with the best partner – a single mother who showed me how strong a real Black woman can be – one who loves her city and is fighting for its people. Thank you, Eileen, for being that person.”

Batiste is also excited about the upcoming Recallers Christmas Toy Giveaway on December 24th (2252 New Orleans Street at 2 p.m.) and their Homeless Outreach on December 25 (Gravier Street near Loyola Avenue from noon-2 p.m.). He hopes to make a difference in 2,000 people’s lives. Though Batiste is just one person, he has been able to help the less fortunate during this season of giving thanks to dozens of small donors.

“Collecting toys, bikes, hats, shoes and winter coats for children in need brings joy to my heart. Every child is special. Every homeless person is also special,” Batiste said. The Christmas Day Homeless Outreach will include gifts of hygiene products as well as a full meal featuring turkey, ham, and all the trimmings. “No matter a person’s financial situation, each of us has the ability to help those in need have a nicer holiday. I urge people to donate $10 (noonieman123 on cash app) or purchase a new toy or a winter coat for a child. I want to speak with anyone who wants to participate. Call me directly at 259-3766. I also need volunteers to help serve meals and distribute toys as well.”

Although there are those who may consider Batiste a loose cannon, he is a force for change that cannot be ignored. “I’ve known Belden for more than 35 years. He speaks the truths others fear to whisper. He walks the walk others fear to tread…and he always stands on the right side of history,” said activist Jacques Morial.

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