Shell Shocked

Last Friday some friends and I went to Zeitgeist Multi- Disciplinary Arts Center to watch the documentary Shell Shocked about the murder rate in New Orleans. It isn’t just statistics and crime scene photos. It is about the children, the families, the community that is plagued by the most terrible disease: murder. There are interviews with community and religious leaders, students, parents of murder victims and footage of news clips, all set against the backdrop of a post-Katrina New Orleans. I don’t personally know anybody who has been murdered, so it is very hard for me to try to relate or understand what the majority of New Orleanians have gone through. I have, however, seen the aftermath. Not the bloody, hysterical, anger filled aftermath, rather the apathetic, unhopeful, broken down aftermath.

Watching Shell Shocked was really interesting to me because I am fascinated by crime and gang culture. I have seen just about every documentary on the Bloods and the Crips, MS 13, LA Riots and the like, in addition to all of the episodes of Locked Up available on Netflix. But this was different. It was different because it is the same, and, because it is my city; it isn’t some far away West Coast city that has class and race issues that devolve into riots and gang violence. It is my backyard, it is my adopted home, it is my community, it is my neighbor.

It was also interesting because these are things that people who choose to live in New Orleans know. I know that murder happens all the time. I know that most of the time black, young adults are involved. I know that the 9th ward and 7th ward are some of the most dangerous areas. I know these things. But for some reason having someone show me, formally present me with the facts, is very upsetting. Maybe it’s because I know these things in the back of my mind; that I am always subconsciously aware of. But it is different to sit in a room with people and view your city from a person perspective for an hour.

One of the most jarring things to me was the ease and calm with which the youth discussed murder; not just murder, but the murder of their friends and family.

“I got two brothers who got shot. So yea, it’s a lo- it runs through my family, but that’s the closest, my brothers.”

“I know about ten people who have died to a violent death.”

“They all died before they even turned 17.”

“It’s almost natural that you know somebody who got shot. Like, if you don’t know nobody, somethin’ wrong wich’ya”

It is so upsetting to me that this is what the next generation thinks is natural. There is nothing natural about murder. Not only do they feel like it is natural, but they feel like there is no hope. This is a sentiment I have heard time and time again. “But Ms. Emily, what you think we can do?” “Not nobody gonna listen to me.” “Naw it’s too late for New Orleans.” When I hear students talk about murder like this my heart breaks. They should not be desensitized to such rampant violence at such a young age.

But then again, what can be done? What can be done to undo generations of marginalization, poverty, racism, and poor education? I don’t have the answer, but I refuse to think that nothing can be done. I firmly believe that the first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging that it exists and opening a real dialogue about it. I believe that is what John Richie (the director) is working towards. As I see it there is a dichotomy between the way that “outsiders” view New Orleans and the way that New Orleans really is. I think that Shell Shocked is trying to show the human side of the New Orleans’ negative statistics. Like I have said so many times before, murder doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it affects all of us.

I hope that this will inspire you to purchase the documentary here. Richie has challenged us as a national community to reach 5,000 downloads by the end of July. If we reach this goal he will donate $1,000 to Youth Mentoring Connection NOLA.

The point? We need to do better for our next generation.

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Addition to the OMB post

This picture is the essence of everything that OMB:NOLA has worked to make students realize. The only ingredient missing is the catalyst: difference.

Don’t fear those who are different from you, this ignorance will only lead to hate. We, as people, are not so different. We all love, we all laugh, we all smile, we all cry, we all fail, we all hurt. It’s time we stop merely existing, and start actively co-existing and recognizing the similarities rather than focusing on the differences. After all, we are all made out of bones.

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The point? Is up there.

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 thenĀ  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 andĀ  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!

Normal. Wait what?

You are standing in front of a 23 black, 1 white and 3 Hispanic students grades 4-6. You ask the question “how many of you know somebody who has died?” They all raise their hands. Now you ask “how many of you know someone who has been murdered” and 2 or 3 hands go down. Now you are standing in front of 24 students with their hands raised.

Scene Change

You are now standing with 4 black and 1 Hispanic students grade 12 in front of the Murder Board (2 different photos for each word). You are all looking at the over 1,200 names of people murdered in NOLA between 2007 and 2012. One student starts crying and says “3 of my ex-boyfriends are on here.”

Scene Change

You are standing in front of 13 black students and 1 white student grades 3-6. You are not in a normal school, you are in an alternative school. This school caters to the bottom 3% students in NOLA, students who have been kicked out of “normal” school for violence, drugs, truancy, etc. or are coming out of juvie. You are reading the book “Brothers in Hope” about the Lost Boys of Sudan. One boy raises his hand and says “I’m scared at night too. I sleep under my bed because I don’t want to hit by a stray bullet.”

Scene Change

You are having a conversation with 1 black student grade 12 about “Cooked” and he tells you “my 2 older brothers are in jail. Both finally understand that they did something bad and needed to be punished. Not ‘they’re just putting black males in jail’.”

Scene Change

You are having a conversation with 1 white student grade 9 about different last names among siblings. She says “I hate that all four of us have different last names. It makes my mom look bad and it makes me look bad. It’s embarrassing.”

Scene Change

You are chatting with 1 black student grade 10 about his childhood and he tells you that he started smoking pot in 3rd grade, dealing crack in 5th grade and by 6th grade he was addicted to pills, consistently car jacking people and sentenced to juvie for 3 years for possession of stolen property and 2 counts of attempted murder.

Scene Change

You are standing in front of 18 black students grade 7. You ask “what is one thing that New Orleans is known for?” A few students yell out “murder!”

The point? When did this become the norm?

Further reading:

Fed up, New Orleans looks to shake Murder City title

Metro Area Murder Map