ESJ alum embraces light through prestigious scholars program

Published 11:34 am Wednesday, May 17, 2023

LAPLACE — Only a few years ago, Eian Bailey felt trapped in a dark place and attempted to take his own life. Today, the 2022 East St. John graduate is a rising sophomore at the University of New Orleans and one of only 18 students statewide selected for this year’s cohort of the prestigious  Reginald F. Lewis Scholars program.

The three-year program was created to enhance the collegiate experience of Black students through a combination of educational programs, mentoring opportunities and co-curricular experiences. Bailey was selected based on criteria that included academic merit, financial need and proven leadership skills. During his junior year, he will be given an opportunity to study abroad in Paris as he continues his studies in planning and urban development.

According to Bailey, urban planning involves a lot more than looking at blueprints and drawing pictures. He believes that an environment feeds into the community and the community feeds into the environment.

“There’s a lot of research involved in my field. It involves asking how the community feels, reaching out to people over the phone and through online surveys, things of that nature,” Bailey said. “Our cities are the way that they are because we make them that way. If we see problems in our cities – such as problems with transportation, crime, drugs – these are products of our environment, but we made our environment this way. If we want to change the outcomes of our situation, we need to address the causes.”

Bailey spent much of his childhood playing a video game where he could step into the shoes of an architect and design cities. As he grew older, he began to think critically about his surroundings and how his community could be improved. He remembers looking out the window while working at Chick-fil-A in LaPlace and seeing a man traveling down the side of Airline Highway in a wheelchair.

“One thing I wish we had better infrastructure for would be biking and sidewalks. Airline is the way you get to everything in LaPlace, but there is a lack of transportation for anyone who is outside of a car,” Bailey said. “There is such a prime opportunity to expand and give people what they need. I see a lot of people riding their bikes along the side of Airline, and that’s not safe for anyone, especially not kids. Being a young adult and just coming out of high school from Saint John, I see all of my peers who are kind of forgotten about. What are we doing for our children? Ultimately, our children of the ones who are going to lead St. John moving forward.”

Bailey is currently engaged in research about the feasibility of bringing a passenger railway through St. John Parish, connecting Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Being selected for the Reginald F. Lewis Scholars program allows Bailey to complete another research project related to his field.

“Having the opportunity to graduate with two papers under my belt would be amazing,” Bailey said.

Bailey is also part of Momentum, a mentorship created by the UNO president to keep young Black men on the path to success, and College Beyond, a program that offers financial resources to students.

Bailey is also the public relationships officer for the Muslim Student Association. Finding Islam during his senior year at East St. John restored Bailey’s faith in  as his family grappled with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. He found inspiration in “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” after his English teacher, Ms. Manning, gave him a book recommendation right before Christmas break.

In high school, Bailey was also part of the chess club and marching band. He was among a select group of students to score a 30 or above on the ACT.

Bailey’s mother, Jess Mendieta, said, “What makes me most proud of Eian is his faith. He was able to overcome so many things and never gave up. His testimony is an inspiration that no matter what you’re going through in life there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

“To come from where I was, being totally depressed, to now feeling like I’m on top of the world and that I actually have a purpose in my life is very profound. I’m very grateful,” Bailey said. “There’s a lot of darkness in this world, but there’s also a lot of light. We have to search for that light in order to embrace it.”