The Descendants Project presents bonfire builders with 1st ‘Culture Bearers’ Award

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, December 28, 2022

WALLACE —The Descendants Project, a Louisiana-based grassroots organization committed to the intergenerational healing and flourishing of the Black descendant community in Louisiana’s River Parishes, awarded a local group of loyal bonfire builders on the West Bank of St. John the Baptist Parish with the organization’s inaugural “Culture Keepers” Award along with a $2,500 grant.

The group of builders, known as the “Old School Guys Getting it Done,” create unique and creative bonfires on the West Bank of St. John Parish and invite the community out for a fun-filled lighting of the bonfire on Christmas Eve. This year’s bonfire is Santa on his sleigh and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Co-Director and Co-Founder of The Descendants Project, Joy Banner remembers a time when almost every family seemed to have a bonfire on the levee.
“But the tradition died down and we almost lost our bonfire culture,” Banner said. “For decades now, this group has kept the bonfire tradition going, and we wanted to honor them for preserving the culture.”

The Descendants Project will give an annual award and grant to individuals, groups, or organizations that are working to preserve the unique cultural heritage of the West St. John community.

“The guys from Wallace have been building bonfires for about 55 years,” said Lloyd Taylor, longtime member of the group. “Some people have moved to other areas, some are enjoying retirement. But the small crew we still have does a great job. It’s a tradition that we hope to pass on to the younger generation.”

While the East bank of St. James Parish is known for the annual burning of hundreds of bonfires, St. John the Baptist Parish is the origin of the tradition. The West Bank bonfire experience offers the same festive spirit, including food and music, but with a much more relaxed atmosphere. The bonfire lighting began at 7 p.m. on  Christmas Eve. The Descendants Project also sponsored a toy giveaway for the event.

The Descendants Project was founded to preserve and protect the health, land and lives of the Black descendant community located in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. Through advocacy, resources, engaging the descendant community and creating strategies for a safe and sustainable economy, The Descendants Project works to obtain the cultural, emotional, environmental and economic justice for the community’s ultimate liberation.

Visit thedescendantsproject.org for more information.