Unemployment Blues

Since getting my masters in 2012 I have had a rocky start to adult-hood. I have gone from being unemployed for three months to getting four jobs in three days, to quitting one job (Starbucks at Harrahs…who can really blame me for that one), to having “artistic differences” and being down to one part-time job and one full-time volunteer gig, to basically being unemployed for the entire summer. My days, nights and weekends are filled with job hunting. Hours of sitting on my computer weeding through jobs I don’t want, jobs I’m under qualified for, jobs I’m over qualified for and trying not to get kidnapped from Craigslist. My time is also filled with trying to sell myself in approximately 250 words. Then there is the seemly unending stream, check that, waterfall of rejection. I feel so played because I don’t even get to sell myself in person. Then I wonder did I spell something wrong? Did I write the wrong organization name? Do I not have enough experience? All of this really begins to take a toll on the ol’ self-esteem and it can easily land you feeling down in dumps and full of self-pity.

I know that this problem is not new and that I am not alone. I also know that nobody wants to hear somebody bitch about being unemployed and I don’t really want to bitch about being unemployed. You may be asking yourself “…ok…then what is your angle?” My angle is this: as I stress and search and write and send and follow-up and cry and repeat, I cannot help but think about all of the other people who are unemployed and have been for months, years, decades?

See, even though I am basically unemployed and literally (not figuratively, oh no, literally) drowning in higher-education induced debt, I am still incredibly lucky. I am lucky that I don’t have kids right now, I am lucky that I have a supportive (soon to be) spouse, I am lucky that I have a computer, that I have constant access to the internet, that I have time to job search, and that I have good reading and writing skills. I constantly wonder about the people who don’t have these things. What about the single mom who has three kids and can barely scrape by, who wants a higher paying job but doesn’t have the time (or energy) to search? What about the 20-something year old who didn’t get accepted to college (or didn’t apply- it’s not for everyone) and doesn’t have access to a computer, or the internet? What about the 40-something year old man who just got out jail, has no recent work history, has a criminal record, and doesn’t know how to read or write- let alone fill out an online application? What about the millions of people who have been marginalized for generations and told that they wont or can’t amount to anything, that they wont or can’t get a high paying job?

This, more than my current lack of employment, has been weighing on me constantly. I helped a young mother fill out a “scholarship” (read: voucher) application for her daughter. I was dumbfounded when I realized that she lacked basic computer skills. She didn’t know how to google, she didn’t know how to type, she didn’t capitalize any proper nouns, she had a hard time understanding the directions and prompts. I totally take my consistent internet and computer skills for granted.

Now imagine that almost everybody you have grown up around deals drugs, or had babies young, or doesn’t have a stable job, or has a drinking problem, or a drug problem, or lives with two other families in a shotgun, or is in an abusive relationship, or can’t read or write past a third grade level, or has a record, or didn’t finish high school, or has any combination therein. How can you believe that you will be the exception? Who do you turn to when you have a question or need help? Who do you list as references? Where do you begin to look for a job? Where do you have access to a computer? When do you have the time? What do you list as experience?

I don’t understand why there aren’t more programs out there to help adults learn how to use computers, learn how to write a resume, learn how to write a cover letter, learn how to interview, learn how to get an e-mail address, learn how to search for jobs, learn how to fill out online applications. I have no doubt that youth focused organizations are important and crucial in New Orleans; the whole point is to try to curb these problems before they become life habits. However, where are the programs that are adult centered? Are adults not interested in these types of programs? I find that hard to believe. I am willing to bet that adults, just like kids, need to be empowered to believe in themselves, to believe that they can accomplish things if they put their minds to it, to believe that asking for help is ok, to believe that they are worth more than they give themselves credit for. Just like kids adults need a support system and a champion in their corner pushing them to set the bar higher and go for it. Who knows, maybe I’ll start an adult resources center…anyone up for a challenge?

The point? So many people take so many seemingly simple things for granted, like being able to surf the net. Realizing that so many of us are so lucky is humbling and grounding.

Global Problems, Local Problems. (One Million Bones: New Orleans)

I’m honestly surprised that it took me until my 9th post to bring up One Million Bones: New Orleans aka my baby chil’ that I have worked so super hard on and is about to grow up and leave my life. But really. Here is a brief summary of the project:

One Million Bones is a social arts initiative geared towards raising awareness and funds for victims and survivors of genocide through art and education. Students across the US have participated by hand-making bones. These bones will be displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC June 8-10, 2013 as an artistic representation of the atrocities witnessed everyday in other countries.

One Million Bones: New Orleans has partnered locally with over 40 schools, universities, businesses and community organizations to contribute over 67,000 bones (and dollars) to the national goal of 1,000,000 bones.

Since I began working on this project in NOLA in April of 2012 I have said that we (New Orleans) have a special connection with this project. For this reason I wanted to reach as many middle and high school students as possible, especially students in failing schools. I believed that these students understood the project better than most, and they also needed the message of hope and change more than others.

I use this prezi to introduce the word “genocide” and various aspects there of. We talk about who genocide affects, where it has happened, how it happens.

WHO: Most of the students understand right off the bat that genocide affects everybody. That it is not something that happens in a vacuum. The most interesting conversations came from our discussions about child soldiers. I think this is because they are the same ages as these children. One thing that I found shocking was that many students were not shaken when we talked about what child soldiers do (drugs, murder family members, etc). They also understand that if it happens to other people it can also happen to us.

WHERE: Most students could only name the Holocaust. Don’t get me wrong the Holocaust was a tragedy, but it is not the only genocide. I then  bring up this map of the world. I explain that each blue dot is a different country where genocide has occurred. I have them name countries they see: America, Mexico, Australia, Japan, China, Russia, Sudan, Germany, and so on. This blew their mind.

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HOW: I then ask the students to tell me how this can happen. What makes people capable of killing other people. The most popular answers are: hate, fear, power, greed and ignorance. Some others are: scapegoating, violence and learned behavior. We discussed each one and then concluded that they are connected.

This takes us from the global to the local: New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS: I then ask “what is one thing New Orleans is known for”. Without missing a beat the students reply “murder”. We then discuss the similarities. WHO: Everyone, but mostly the black community, and primarily young, black, males. WHERE: All over New Orleans. There is no “safe” or “dangerous” neighborhoods by the classic urban definition; no community goes untouched. HOW: hate, fear, power, greed and ignorance; scapegoating, violence and learned behavior.

All in all my personal goal for OMB:NOLA is to have New Orleans students learn more about their world, but also see that there is value in service and activism. I ask “what do we do? What do you do? Throw up your arms and say ‘hope I don’t get shot today.’ ” Most say no. Some students have fought me on their ability to make change. Saying “What can I do? I am one person. I can’t do anything” To which I responded “You can make a change. It may be small. Maybe you don’t sell drugs anymore, and your cousin sees you and  he stops selling drugs, then your auntee stops selling drugs, then before you know it your it your block is drug free. Individual change is what collective change is made of.” I also impress upon them that I cannot make the change, they need to make the change.

Here are some pictures from some of our events.

Anna’s Arts for Kids:

Tommy proudly showing his spine!

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Me teaching Bre, Gabby, Serenity and Taliya how to make a sacrum!

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The girls showing off their work.

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C.F. Rowley:

The reality of violence is more jarring when interpreted by children.

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Deckbar & Martyn Alternative:

Me teaching students about genocide.

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We did a mini installation with all 500 bones that they made.

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NET Charter:

One student has really taken the project to heart.

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Students bonding over the creativity of the project.

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Working diligently on ribs.

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Showing the students how to make long bones.

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Each bone has a name, a story, a life, a loss.

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St. Mary’s:

The girls showing that they exceeded their 500 bones goal!

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Students with Ms. Delone!

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Showing the students how to make bones.

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Son of a Saint:

Me & Sonny with the crew!

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Local to Global: 10,000 Installation

OMB:NOLA put on an installation linking the local and global issues addressed by this project. Students from Anna’s Arts, Urban League College Track, Tulane and the community came out to participate!

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Devin, Janelle, Emmanuel, Breial, Sonia and I in front of the murder board. (over 1,200 names since 2007)

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Urban League College Track:

My amaaaazing students making bones!

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Damien showing his pelvis that he dedicated to his friend.

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Anastasia and her friend writing the names of those murdered in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes on bones.

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The point? Nobody asks about what is really going on in New Orleans and what is really happening to our children. But these children are making a difference one by one. The only thing that I can hope is that this project rubbed of on them and they will continue to recognize the violence but work towards hope and change. These students have forever changed my life for the better, and for that, I thank them.

***OMB:NOLA and Second Line teaming up are offering 10 high school students who have participated the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC for the National Mall Installation, all expenses paid! This will be an amazing opportunity for local New Orleans youth to not only travel to the U.S. capitol but also to participate in the culmination of all of their hard work.

The funds raised will go towards student travel costs (flight & metro), hotel rooms for 3 nights and food.

I would also like to encourage everyone to check out our GoFundMe page and donate!

The Ice Cube Epiphany

*Check out the links, most are songs*

For most people who know me, you know that I am in love with Ice Cube. Don’t ask me why, maybe it’s his pyroclastic flow, maybe it’s the fact that he looks like a teddy bear, or maybe it’s his prestige as an actor…who knows. Point is I love him, and his music.

I have gone through phases of listening to rap, I really like it, I hate it, I love the lyrical genius, I hate the constant derogatory undertones. Ultimately, I have landed on side of liking rap. From a cultural standpoint it is important, as my mom always says “rap is urban storytelling”. As silly as it sounds, it’s true. It is people passing their life stories onto the community by way of oral tradition. One of the reasons why I have an appreciation for rap is because I like listening to and decoding what artists are saying. (I’m not talking about bullshit pop-rap, I’m mainly talking about 80s-90s early 00s rap). Listening, not passively, but actively listening to rap is so interesting. And, it was, often times, ignorantly, hilarious to me. My middle-class, white, country life is so far removed from the stories told in these songs that I had a hard time believing them. I’d ironically sing along to Bitches Ain’t Shit, but I had no frame of reference, no sense of understanding that this is actually, more or less, what life is like for some people, a lot of people.

This brings me to a sad epiphany and back to my love of Ice Cube. I was jamming out hard one day to my “straight up g-thuggin'” cd, when Hood Mentality came on. I’d heard the song before, but I hadn’t ever really listened to it. And I had certainly never listened to it in the context of my work (long story short I work with at-risk youth of all ages). Not only does the song mix a dope beat (that’s right) with well thought out sarcasm, but it also seriously delves into realities of growing up in the hood.

1. “Fuck school, nigga, I’ma be a dope dealer”- I have had so many first hand experiences with youth and drugs. First, there is always that parent who is a crackhead. Their child stops going to school, stops bathing, they roam the streets. Then they get evicted because of unsafe living conditions, not to mention they haven’t had power or running water for a few months now. Second, there is always that parent who is a drug dealer. Crackheads come up to the house while the kids are there, get high, get belligerent, the feds bust down the door in the middle of the night and the kids get pawned off to some neighbor. Third, there are always those kids who are the drug dealers. Children are our future, and also future dealers, unless something stops them (death, jail, hope, positive role model). I have had multiple students talk to me about dealing drugs at a young age: elementary school. I have re-told some of the stories and people don’t believe me. Sometimes I don’t believe them either. Not only are children witnessing drug culture all around them, but the are engulfed in it and often times see no other way out. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Right?

2. “if I grow a little taller, everybody tell me I’m gon’ do it, I’m gon’ be a baller”- Far too often, boys especially, are told that sports is the ticket out of the hood. I’m not telling students not to reach for their goals, but they also need to realize that the chances of them being the next LeBron, Jordan, even Rush (I didn’t say it they did) or the next Sproles, Brees, or Graham is slim. This is not a logical or probable goal for most students. (Yes, there will always be that epic all American dream story and I’m sure some waspy white lady will be happy to play the role of “stable mother-figure”). This does not mean that students get a pass on academics or trade skills, because lets face it, unless you’re a Shaq or a Jordan, the chances of you going broke after making it big are seriously high. This a very real conversation I have had with multiple students.

3. ” ’cause you read your first book in the penitentiary”- This is the line that really brought it home for me. I have a student who did not know how to read until he was in juvie in 6th grade. Sixth grade and he didn’t know how to read. This line is what made me realize what I had been too ignorant to see before: this is life for hundreds of thousands of youth around the country.

The Point?
This life doesn’t seem like life in the all mighty America.