Angela Blanchard is CEO of Neighborhood Centers Inc., a nonprofit that works to rebuild Houston communities. Before participating in a panel on how immigration reform could affect life in Houston, she talked Janis Joplin, tacos al carbon, and gardening in the Zócalo green room.
What would your theme song be?
The first thing that pops to mind is anything Janis Joplin because I’m of the era. So I had to sing karaoke recently, and I can’t sing at all, so I sang “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.”
What food would visitors to Houston be mistaken to miss?
You go to Ninfa’s and you have tacos al carbon.
What surprises you most about your life right now?
Well, I’ve done the work I’m doing now for 30 years, and I largely don’t like limelight and stages, and now our work is getting a lot of attention. So the most surprising thing is that I’m spending a lot of time speaking to people about what’s happening in Houston, how we’re keeping this region a place of opportunity, and talking about the way you transform neighborhoods, how you connect neighborhoods to opportunities.
What’s your favorite memory of the neighborhood where you grew up?
The railroad tracks, because I grew up near the railroad tracks of Beaumont, Texas, so I watched the trains go by and thought about where they were coming from and where they were going. I still love railroads.
What’s hanging on your living room walls?
Art from this wonderful painter, a Haitian painter, who is also a colleague and co-worker of mine, and a leader in immigration work that we do. She’s a very gifted painter, and all of her art celebrates the sort of life and spirit of a city, the color in a city. And the people and families and how people are connected, so I have that all over my whole house.
Where would we find you at 10:00 on a typical Sunday morning?
In my garden. I have a huge garden, and when things get really frustrating I prune, and when I’m really mad I weed, and the rest of the time I tend and water.
What’s your worst habit?
Worrying. And overworking. I love what I do so much that it’s hard to stop, knowing that. I literally go to bed knowing exactly how many people need what we do versus how many people we’re reaching.
What profession would you like to practice in your next life?
I want to do exactly what I’m doing now in my next life. Exactly. Because there is no better life than just every day working with people who are in their aspirations and dreams, people on the road to something better, people creating a life out of their own imagination. Every single day, that’s what I see. It doesn’t get better than that.
What’s the most underrated thing about the Houston community?
I think the world’s just started to take notice of us. We were not noticed for a really long time, but we’ve been recognized a lot lately and appreciated for our welcoming spirit. That ends up mattering the most to people: how welcoming we are.
What do you wake up to?
Coffee and a pastry. It’s a Cajun thing. Really, really, really strong coffee.