U.S. Army Sgt. Lashawn Raby only comes home from serving in Germany once a year, and while it’s not for any of the major holidays or birthdays, it’s still the most important day of the year for him.
The 14-year veteran of the U.S. armed forces comes home for the annual Loop Boys Bash, a party thrown every year by a close-knit group of friends who grew up in Gardere and return home every April from wherever they are in the world to reminisce, give back to the neighborhood and remember their friends who died or were killed.
“Just for this,” Raby said Saturday at the sixth annual Loop Boys Bash at BREC’s Hartley/Vey Park. “Nothing else.”
Raby and the roughly dozen other friends who grew up on Jade and Jasper avenues — the streets connect to form a loop, hence the name Loop Boys — spent months planning the bash and spent hundreds of dollars of their own money to fund the party.
Audrey Early, the mother of neighborhood friend Tedferd T. Early, has attended the bash each year and plans to attend as long as she can. Tedferd Early was shot to death on July 18, 2006, in the 2500 block of Winnebago Street. The case was never solved.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s a blessing to know that he has friends that love and still remember him.”
The group estimates they spent about $4,000 this year, with a lot of the money going toward the food — 15 sacks of crawfish, 80 pounds of chicken, 60 pounds of turkey legs, 30 pounds of pigs feet and more than 150 hamburgers and hot dogs — to feed the hundreds of people who show up after hearing of the party via social networks and word of mouth.
Members say the reception from the community is amazing and people are always asking about the next bash.
About 350 people attended last year and several group members said they hoped to eclipse that total this year.
While they do not ask people for money, they are quick to accept donations of goods or time. Just ask Troy Taylor.
Taylor, 33, a White Castle chef, was asked by the group to man the large grill that sits atop a trailer and happily obliged.
“This is something nice for the community,” he said, adding he was thinking of throwing a similar party for his neighborhood in Iberville Parish.
Smiles, handshakes and hugs were commonplace as adults chatted with each other in the shade with plates of jambalaya and barbecue while the children ran around on the basketball courts and inflatable fun jumps. Slight breezes offered brief respites. Members say they have never had any incidents at the party, a trend they hope to continue.
Tahirah Sabree, 27, attended the party with her two children and friends. She was driving by on Gardere when she saw the large group of cars and pulled into the park to see what was going on.
“They need more people to do stuff like this,” Sabree, a Gardere resident, said.
Last year, the group began giving away bicycles to children and continued the tradition this year, giving away two boys and two girls bicycles via a raffle. The call of the raffle drew a mini stampede as children rushed to grab a ticket. Some even tried to convince Raby that they did not get a ticket during the call and needed one so they could get the bicycle of their dreams.
“I look forward to this,” said Chris “Juice” Taylor, who spearheads some of the planning for the bash. “It’s a lot of work, but I look forward to this.”
Taylor said the group is also looking toward taking a larger role in the community with teen mentoring and other events throughout the year.
He said they were never choir boys, some have criminal records and they used to consider themselves a gang at one point, but they want to show teens that they can be productive members of society living an honest life, despite where they grew up.
“We’re trying to show them you don’t have to be a product of your environment,” Taylor said.