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My City, My Story 

Local students find their voices through The Neighborhood Story Project.

Ashley Nelson moved to the West Bank with her dad three years ago, but she knows that's not really where she's from. 'Lafitte is my neighborhood,' the 18-year-old says. 'That's where I was born and grew up.' It was in the Lafitte housing project that neighbors crowded around to comfort her after the death of her mother. Her father still drops her in the project most mornings on the way to work, so she can visit with her grandmother and some of her neighbors before she goes to school.

Nelson is one of six students at John McDonogh Senior High who participated in The Neighborhood Story Project, a fledgling writing program operated in conjunction with The University of New Orleans and the Literacy Alliance of Greater New Orleans. In a cozy office just one block from the Esplanade Avenue high school, the students -- a mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors with an interest in writing -- have gathered every day since September to create a series of books about their neighborhoods.

They started with the basic tools of journalism, learning how to ask open-ended questions and put interviewees at ease. From there they moved to story circles and exploratory essays, sharing experiences and writing in a collaborative setting. They also read the book Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago, based on radio documentaries by LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, two teenage boys who portrayed the rough, poor neighborhood where they lived. Our America, with its blend of black-and-white photographs, transcribed interviews and narrative, served as a model for the books the John Mac students would create.

By November, Nelson and her compatriots were knocking on doors and putting microphones in front of people they were used to seeing every day. To create Between Piety and Desire, siblings Sam and Arlet Wylie collaborated on a single book about their block of St. Claude Avenue, interviewing everyone from their mom to the guys who hang out in front of the store downstairs. Ebony Bolding wrote about the part of the Sixth Ward where she grew up. Waukesha Jackson discovered that one of her Ninth Ward neighbors was a former Black Panther. For her portrait of Lafitte, Nelson mixed her observations with interviews of people like Dorothy Grace, who collects cans for Southern Scrap. And Jana Dennis plumbed her mother's generous personality, exploring how she had become the one person who everyone in her Mid-City neighborhood came to for help in fixing their hair or for a meal.

At the root of the project is the idea that what young people see and experience is hugely important. That's especially true since the neighborhoods the teens in The Neighborhood Story Project write about are mostly off the map of middle-class experience, plagued by levels of illiteracy that make first-hand, insiders' accounts rare. By bridging the gap between the written page and life in their various neighborhoods, the students forged ties between John McDonogh Senior High and the neighborhoods served by the school. They also helped topple the stereotype that John Mac is nothing more than a bad school -- a perception that the young people are acutely sensitive to in light of a shooting at the school two years ago.

For teachers Rachel Breunlin and Abram Himelstein, it was essential to help each students make a positive difference in their communities. Both teachers worked with the Students at the Center writing program and credit that program's co-directors, Jim Randels and Kalamu ya Salaam, as mentors. The biggest difference, they say, is that Students at the Center is modeled on bringing the community into the school. 'We work on bringing the classroom into the community,' Breunlin says.

All of the students came to the program with an interest in writing. That interest will reach a new level at the authors' official publication party. Sponsored by New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason's One Sweet World Foundation, the event is scheduled for Wednesday, June 8, at the New Orleans Board of Trade. (For the time of the event and more information, call 251-7821.) The Neighborhood Story Project is also scheduling a book release party at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at the American Federation of Musicians Hall at 2401 Esplanade Ave. (For more information on that event, call 451-4842.)

The freedom the students enjoyed in the program was key to doing the work, Sam Wylie says. 'In school it was write this and write that,' he says. 'It made me feel like I don't want to write anymore.' Asked what he thought about the project's subtitle, 'Our Stories Told By Us,' Wylie nods. 'That's what it is,' he says. -- Lili LeGardeur

HEDE: Ashley Nelson

In Ashley Nelson's The Combination, she paints a nuanced portrait of Lafitte, one of downtown New Orleans' oldest public-housing complexes. She lets the readers hear from the owner of the corner store and members of the Residents' Council -- and weaves her own family's history through the daily life of the community.

From 'Help From the Strangest Places'

I live in what can be considered a community: a bunch of people of all ages living together. Yet people don't call where I live a community; they call it the ghetto. To be honest, for a long time it never felt like a community to me because it seemed like everyone fended for themselves. But I was wrong and I apologize. Although it took me some time to realize it, now I see.

When my mother passed away, it was a hard time for my whole family but I think I took it the hardest. I had what I call a 'sometimes' relationship with my mom. Sometimes we got along and sometimes we argued. Thinking back to the bad times, I am sorry I didn't walk away instead of fussing and trying to prove a point when she was right all along. My mom and I had an open relationship and I could tell her anything. We talked all the time about boys, sex, drugs -- things parents don't usually talk to their kids about. When I look at photograph of her now, I remember how close we were and it makes me miss her so much. Because I really do.

January 10, 2002. The day my mom passed. I still remember the day of the funeral. It was cold but I refused to wear a coat. The sky to me looked dark, which isn't strange to me at all because everything that day through my eyes looked dark. I cried endless tears that day and questioned God repeatedly, Why?! I'd scream on the inside, Now I have no one. Do you know I have no one?

After the service my family went to my grandma's house to cry, I guess, because that's all I saw -- people crying and holding each other. I sat in this blue chair my grandma had since as long as I could remember and put my head in my lap and finished off where I left off at the funeral home. I cried. I cried like a baby in desperate need of a bottle. I cried as if I were a 14-year-old girl who'd just lost her mother and had no shoulders to lean on and I had that right because it was true.

I looked up after hearing noise and it was a bunch of people I've never associated with in my life bringing cold drinks and food, and consoling both my family and me. They offered help in any way they could. That day, that cold and distant day, I never got to thank those people and let them know how much what they did meant to me. I know it's been a long time but I haven't forgotten. Hopefully, one of you will read my book and see how much you touched my heart. As I've gotten older, I've seen how this kind of caring happens all over Lafitte. It no longer seems so strange at all.

'Rain, Rain'

Rain, rain, go away. Please come back another day, is all I thought about on rainy days in the hood. No one is outside. Nothing's on TV and if there is, someone's already watching another show. I wonder where are all the usuals who hang in the project? You know, the hustlas, the users, the kids who see the transactions, the moms and dads, the homeless men and women who know nothing but the Lafitte. Where are they?

Once on a rainy day, I realized something. Most people find peace on Sundays, 'The Holy Day,' but in the hood, we find peace on rainy days. Look out the window on one of these days and you'll see no one and all you'll hear is raindrops. The kids playing, the women getting their hair fixed, boys playing basketball, people making a living have all disappeared. There's just echoes of women shouting to their children, 'Sit yo ass down,' and guys hollering, 'Come here, shorty. You fine, yeah.'

See, Sundays come once a week but we all know rain comes every now and then, so our peace isn't a weekly thing. It comes and goes, and to me it's precious every time.

HEDE: Arlet and Sam Wylie

In their book Between Piety and Desire, brother-and-sister team Arlet and Sam Wylie talk about the regular and the irregular life of living above a neighborhood store. They remember how their parents kept them inside to avoid the struggles of the neighborhood, and interview the people who hang out on the block.

From 'T'

Remembering people on my block is kinda hard because a lot of people have come and gone. They might live in another neighborhood or stop hanging in mine or just pass every now and again. But one person I distinctively remember and have known ever since I was 11 or 12 years old is this boy we call T. My sister Ariel had a big crush on him.

When he came around I would get excited just as much as her. If I was in the back room, she would call me and say, 'T outside,' and I'd say, 'Girl, for real?' and we'd both take off running to the living room window. When we went to the stairs, he was always there. Ariel and I would talk to him until eventually the conversation stopped being the three of us and turned to just the two of them. Ariel used to go downstairs and chill with him or walk around the corner to be away from everyone and everything. But their long conversations ended and now they just speak whenever they see each other.

I always said T was the coolest boy that hung downstairs in front of my house. His clothes aren't three sizes bigger than his body, he doesn't look hard, like he's had a hard life or doesn't care about nothing or nobody. Maybe that's why the police never bothered him as much as they do the average black teenage boy hanging on the streets.

When he got arrested outside of my house a few years later, something felt empty on the Avenue. His face wasn't there, his smile was gone, and our conversation with him was lost.

After T got out, some days he spoke to me while I was sitting on my porch. He always asked me about school and whether I had a boyfriend. He used to always tell me, 'Man it's hard out here,' and I began to wonder why. I know you can speak something into existence: if he says and believes in his mind that he's addicted to the streets, he won't be able to leave them. But T is the type of person who can do whatever he puts his mind to.

After awhile, he started to act funny. When he'd see me, he wouldn't say anything and just kept walking. I was so mad at him after I had considered him the coolest boy on the Ave.

A: I'm here with T and we're here on the block. Why did you move here?

T: My mama moved here. Talk to my mama cuz I didn't really move here, ya dig? I was livin' with my moms.

A: How old were you when you moved here?

T: Probably like seven.

A: And before living around here, where did you live?

T: In the Desire.

A: And how old are you?

T: I'm 20.

A: How do you feel about the neighborhood?

T: I love it. It's nice. Beautiful. I love the neighborhood. The people. I love everything about it. There's a good feeling out here.

A: What do you do for money?

T: I work hard. I'm a hard-working young man, ya dig? I do a little carpentry work on the sides. You know, that's what I do. I get down like that.

A: If you could change one thing about your block, what would it be?

T: The police.

A: What do you mean?

T: The aggravating-ass police.

A: Do they sell drugs on this block?

T: (Pause) They do a little something, you understand. They do a little something -- they got their slingin'.

A: You don't think they need to change that?

T: Hey, that's life, you know what I'm saying?

A: How is that life?

T: That's been going on since before we was out here. You know what I'm saying?

A: How could you want to change the police being around here, if they're doing stuff that's illegal?

T: They've got some brothers out here that are workin' their ass off, and they still ain't getting no work down here. You gotta live, you gotta eat, and down here -- shhh -- you wear your ass out. You got to work three jobs to get out of here.

A: What you mean 'out here.'

T: In the streets. That's what I mean. In the streets.

A: Why are you in the streets? I mean, you have a house, right?

T: Yeah, I got a house. Something attract me to the streets.

A: Have there been any killings on this block?

T: They've had many killings on this block. Plenty. Seen them with my own eyes. Yeah, they had plenty.

A: Could you tell me about one of 'em?

T: I got to think. They just recently had one. They had one right around the corner, you know? And they had one back in the game when I was like about 11 around the corner on St. Claude and Desire. Somebody got his head bashed in by the little payphone booth. Head shot. Brains all over.

A: You know what that was about?

T: No, not really. Nobody don't know what it is about. [Maybe it was] drug related, gang related, do you feel me?

A: What is the worst thing about your block?

T: Just the hate. Just the shit they do out here. It be good one minute, then the next it be flakin. Say we hang, [but sometimes there's] still some beef among supposed to be friends. They hate. They hate like crazy around here. -- Arlet Wylie

From 'Violence in the Neighborhood'

Whether it's day or night, it's always a bad idea to hang around my block. There have been a lot of times when there's been violence and people have been hurt or even killed.

I always thought my block of St. Claude Avenue between Piety and Desire was backwards -- like it doesn't belong where it is. There's a hospital, a few clinics, a church, a children's daycare, and a bunch of stores all packed in one spot. You'd think it would be a good spot to live. Well, it's not.

Have you ever been awakened out of your sleep because of gunshots or the sound of someone trying to break into your house? I have. I was young, too -- about 9 or 10. It was right before I went to sleep and I'll never forget it. I was just sitting in my bed, listening to my sister's radio when I heard two boys fussing over drugs and money. I can't remember every word they said, but the last thing I heard was, 'All right, wait 'til I get back.'

I peeked out my window but no one was there; all I saw were cars passing by. Already being tired, I laid down in my bed and went to sleep. Just as I drifted off, I heard those loud gunshots. Immediately, I remembered what my parents told me to do. I got on the floor and stayed there until my dad said it was OK to get up. My heart was beating fast and I was breathing hard. I thought a bullet was going to hit me through the wall or window. From then on I never liked to look out of that window. I guess I was traumatized.

Some days -- almost everyday -- I imagine what it would be like if I could win the Powerball and move away from this block. My money would be in the bank and half of it would be invested in Wal-Mart stores. Then I come back to my senses and see that's a long way from St. Claude Avenue. It would be all up to a game of luck or working really hard for years and years. I know my fantasy is possible, but it's definitely not probable. -- Sam Wylie

From 'Growing Up With My Dad'

My dad is tall with a big stomach. When he sits down he puts his hands on top of his belly like an armrest, or like he's pregnant. He used to be good looking when he was younger, but now he looks old. He dyes his hair to cover up the grey. He wears Muslim hats that he makes himself. He says he wants to convert to Islam, but has never joined up with the religion. He wears leather jackets, carries a pool stick wherever he goes, and finds his clothes in thrift stores. When his pants get too small, he'll cut them into shorts and use the other material to make another hat or something.

My dad moved with his parents to the United States from Belize when he was 12 years old. His daddy opened up a car repair shop near the Florida Projects in the Ninth Ward and the family lived above it. Once his parents were set up, other relatives started moving into their house, too.

My dad's a hustler. He's done just about every hard-working kind of job. He owns a mechanic shop in the Ninth Ward and used to run a barroom below our house. On his free time, he taught himself how to be a magician by reading books and watching tapes. Now people pay him to do birthday parties. He can make animals disappear -- cats, puppies and special birds. He keeps buying white doves to use in his tricks and they never make it more than a year.

I loved my dad so much I think my mother was jealous. When I was in pre-K, if my mother had brought me to class, I would try to rush her out the door and wouldn't stop pushing until she was gone. If my dad brought me, I used to holler and scream and clinch tight to one of his legs -- so tight that if I were to grip any harder you'd have to pry me off with a crowbar.

One time he was building a box to make people disappear for one of his magic acts. When he was test-running it, he asked me to be his assistant. My brothers and sisters gathered in his room for the performance. I stepped into the black box and he closed the door and put a black sheet around it. I felt the box spin around a few times and I started to get scared. I thought maybe I would disappear for real. I couldn't see anything. I heard the hinges squeaking as he opened the door and heard him say, 'Ta Da!' but I was still in the box. I heard my siblings say, 'Where Sam at? Where Sam at?' I didn't know either. I thought when I stepped out of the box, I might be on another planet. He had that kind of power. -- Sam Wylie

HEDE: Jana Dennis

Jana Dennis examines one the most diverse blocks in New Orleans in her book Palmyra Street. Through interviews and photographs, Dennis paints a portrait of a Mid-City block in flux. The reader watches as her family constructs community by participating in the church and the Golden Arrows Mardi Gras Indian Tribe.

From 'Palmyra Street: An Interview with Mark Damico'

J: What is it like to live in New Orleans?

M: I've lived in New Orleans for 25 years. You know, I've been all over the world and something always brings me back. I think it's the fact that this city has a character unlike any other city on the face of this earth. Have you ever been to Vancouver? I lived there for two years and it was the cleanest city; everybody's healthy, everybody's good looking. But the city has absolutely zero soul. There's a filthiness to this city that keeps you here. It's depth. It has atmosphere you can touch. It's pristine in its dirtiness. It's like we celebrate the fact that this city is --

J: Dirty.

M: I don't mean dirty in this like, 'Ick, it's dirty.' It's just like, it's grimy and it's gritty and it smells like swamps and gunpowder, and tar and red beans. It's just a mixture of everything good and bad you can imagine. And it completely evens it out. The city has a soul. It has a very spiritual sense to it. I don't mean spiritual in the religious sense.

J: What it's like to live on Palmyra Street?

M: I've lived all over the city of New Orleans and so far this has been my favorite place. Before I was living here I was living uptown on Panola Street. I was paying about 1,200 bucks a month. I had 15-foot ceilings, two stories -- it was beautiful. And I was like, 'You know what? I want a little bit more culture.' I found this place, and immediately the first day I moved in, [a neighbor's] asking for five dollars for cigarettes and a beer. And I was like, 'This is where I want to be. This is very cool.'

J: What do you like about the neighbors?

M: I like the fact that the neighborhood is culturally diverse. It's a mishmash of every culture. You've got Asian, you got Latin, you got African American, you got me, you got everybody.

J: You?

M: And how do you classify me for God's sake! The other day I was outside talking to Kristy, my girlfriend, and the kids were on the porch saying, 'This is a black neighborhood, you should leave. This is a black neighborhood, you need to leave.'

J: Ohhh!

M: I know. 'Do I look black? I'm here.' I didn't get them. They didn't like me. I bought them M&M's; now they like me. I like the fact that it's many, many families that live in this neighborhood. I'm on a first-name basis with a lot of the children. Most of the neighbors know me by name, even though I'm rarely at home because I work so much. I love the fact that when I first moved here all the neighbors thought I was a cop -- which still perplexes me.

J: I did, too.

M: You thought I was a cop, too. Every person did. There's so many different characters in this neighborhood. I know my neighborhood crack dealer. He brings in my garbage cans in for God's sake. And crazy Paul across street. The other day I walked out, he had a crowbar and he's like shoving it down the sewer. I'm like, 'Mr. Paul what are you doin?' He's like, 'AHEHEH.' He was looking for a cigarette he'd dropped down the sewer. So I gave him a cigarette.

From 'An Interview with my mother, Mary Price'

My mother worked hard raising four children by herself. She had to be the mother and the father at one time. Growing up, my soul never was hungry, my feet were never bare, my clothes never needed washing, and my family was never homeless. This woman raised and showed me how to be independent. She showed me how to work for what I want. She's a giving person and doesn't mind cooking a meal to feed a soul.

There's this thing that's happening to my mother. Little children keep coming to her when their parents need help. Sometimes she gets close with the child and then the situation changes and she doesn't see them anymore. She said she will take care of any child that comes to her until something comes up. She knows, 'My blessings is going to come one day.'

Growing up, she always wanted us to try different things. She says, 'Don't be like me, be better than me.' I don't think she realizes what a high standard she's set.

J: Why did you move to Palmyra Street?

M: I found a house!

J: How do you take care of other people in the neighborhood?

M: Oh, man. Let me see. Combing hair, changing clothes, dancing, cookin'. I can't give a lot, because I don't have a lot, but what I have, I'm willing to share. So, I think that's why God kept me where I'm at. Because I don't have no problem with giving. I don't have a problem with sharing whatever I have.

J: When did you learn to cook?

M: Oooh. I learned a lot from my grandmother and I learned a lot from, I don't know --

J: Experimenting.

M: Yeah, experimenting.

J: My first time cooking, I cooked a pot of grits and I burned them.

M: But that's all right, you kept trying. I didn't stop you. I want everybody to learn how to cook. You've got to learn to feed yourself.

J: What's the role of music and singing in our family?

M: We sing it all. We sing gospel together. We sing blues together. We sing the hip hop. We do it all. We get in here, we move the table out the way and we dance. They think I can't move no more because I don't dance in front of them. I'm not that old. I can still move when I want to move.

J: How did you decide to get into the (Mardi Gras Indian tribe) Golden Arrows?

M: For you guys to experience something you never experienced before. I wanted you guys to take advantage of doing things that were positive and to try new things. I never wanted you to say, 'Well, I wish I could have done it and I didn't do it.'

[My co-worker] introduced me to (her neighbor) Norman. He was doing Indians. I went with her because originally her daughter wanted to do it, but she didn't want to sew. She thought somebody was going to sew for her, and they told her, 'You have to sew for yourself if you want to participate.' I sewed [and my] kids participated.

The first year I did four suits. And it was a year. My auntie sewed up the basic stuff and I did all the rest of it. And then the next year, it was another year. They enjoyed it and I enjoyed seeing the smiles on their faces. It was positive and, you know, it was with the community.

HEDE: Waukesha Jackson

Starting with her relationship to her mother, Waukesha Jackson writes about the struggles that have been a part of the lives of many women in the Ninth Ward. She examines how women serve as caretakers of the community in their homes, social clubs, barrooms and churches.

From 'Interview with Evella 'Ms. Coochie' Pierre'

Ms. Evella Pierre -- known as Ms. Coochie -- stays one house away from mine. She moved to North Miro Street when the Desire Project was torn down a few years ago. Since then, the Nine Times Social Club has paraded by her house every year. Once a year, my block is packed from one corner to the next. Everybody on the block comes out for Nine Times. Even though most of the people are old, they still know how to get down when the second line stops.

Ms. Coochie has been involved in the Nine Times Social Club since the beginning because her son Louis was one of the founding members. Louis had been second lining since he was a little boy. When he got up in age, he wanted to lead his own. She explains, 'He always wanted to parade in a second line club. The first club I let him come out with was the Jolly Bunch when he was 3 or 4 years old [because] I had two uncles and a cousin that was original Jolly Boys. [When he got older] he said he just wanted to get a club out of Desire. I kept telling him it wasn't going to work out. When you say parade, you're talking about serious money, but he was determined to get a club out of the projects. And he wound up really doing it.'

The club had paraded only a few years when Louis was killed in 2000. To honor his memory as well as all of the support Ms. Coochie continues to offer the club, Nine Times makes her house a 'stop' on their parade route. In 2004, she was made queen of the parade. She said she wanted to dress in African attire. She looked beautiful.

The following is an excerpt from her interview:

'I moved into Desire in 1957. When I first moved down there, I didn't like it. They didn't really have nothing for young children to do but get in trouble. But I got used to it and over the years they had more things to do like live entertainment and football games.

'What was my address? 3702 Pleasure. Apartment D. When I was raising [my children] up back there in Desire, it was a whole lot better. We could go to bed without locking our doors at night. Sit outside ALLLL night long, drinking ice chests of beer. I would leave my door open and go to Louisa Street to the store. I'd come back home, and it would be just how I left it.

'I raised four girls [and one boy]. I never had no trouble out of none of my children. I was that type of a mama: 'If you wrong, you wrong.' I told them: 'Trouble's easy to get into, but it's hard to get out.' But I also taught them, 'Don't let nobody mess over you. Don't let nobody do what they want to do to ya.'

'I was the type of a mama where if my children went somewhere, I would go bring them where they had to go and pick them up. I had a Maverick. I would have so many children in my car, they used to call [it] an 18-wheeler.

'My children were real close. Louis didn't hide anything from the girls, and they didn't hide nothing from him. That was their onliest brother. They loved him. He knew everything about them. Louis was a person that believed in making peace with you. If y'all is friends, and he see that y'all arguing and fighting, he going tell y'all, 'Y'all friends. Why y'all want to fight one another?' If he had a dollar and you needed 50 cents, he going to give you that 50 cents.

'I never thought nobody back there would take his life. He went anywhere he wanted to go from one end of New Orleans to the other end, and nothing ever happened to him, you know. But that's the way things worked out. All I know is attempted robbery. And he didn't have money on him.'

HEDE: Ebony Bolding

In her book Before and After North Dorgenois, Ebony Bolding examines life in the Sixth Ward. She talks to her neighbors on North Dorgenois, interviewing newly arrived doctors, members of the church, and a neighbor who has moved back to the neighborhood where her mother grew up.

From 'Twisted Our Words'

It all started in April 2003. Head was shot at the corner of North Miro and Dumaine. People said that Caveman did it, but who knows, you can't always listen to what the people say. People thought that Caveman killed Head because both of them had had a little beef, but the rumor was that they later on forgot about it and forgave each other.

A week later Caveman was shot in the John McDonogh gym. I wasn't there and didn't see it, so I don't know how it happened. I was sitting by the gate at my high school, Clark, during the lunch break, when an undercover cop rolled up and told us to move from by the gate because they just had a shooting at John Mac and someone had been killed. I was hoping that it wasn't anybody that I knew.

I rode the Broad bus home with my friend Brittany, and she came with me to my house. By the time we got to my house most of the television crews had gone away, but there were still many policemen in the area. We were sitting on my porch just a half a block from the school when a white man with a notebook came up to us and started asking us did we know Caveman and Head. He was asking me about Head, because he knew we both went to Clark. Not realizing he was a newspaper reporter, we commented on what he had asked us, but it wasn't too much. He kept asking us if we liked Head and we didn't say anything bad because we really didn't know him that well. The truth was that I would see Caveman every time that I went by my Grandfather's house on Dumaine Street in the Fifth Ward. As for Head, I used to see him at school. I didn't have anything against either one of them. To me, they were cool people.

The next day they had a big write-up about the killing that included quotes from myself and Brittany. I couldn't believe how he twisted our words around. The reporter made it like we didn't like Head and Caveman. It was a big mess, and the reporter made more drama.

After the shooting, John Mac had got a bad name. Stories about the shooting stayed on the news for weeks and weeks, a big beef grew between the Fifth and Sixth wards, and Brittany and I were caught in between. People kept asking me, 'Why you said that about that boy, why you said this?' I would just tell them to mind their business, because everything you read in the newspaper is not true. The conflict got to the point that people were telling me that I should watch out, that people were going to do me something. My mom got worried about me, and Brittany's mom got worried about her, so they pulled us out of school for the rest of the semester.

The next year, Clark wouldn't let me back in because they said I wasn't in the district anymore because they had moved downtown. What I couldn't understand was how come when Clark was Uptown I was in the district but now that it's downtown where I live I'm not in the district.

When I switched schools I really didn't want to go to John Mac but I didn't have a choice. I was feeling nervous the day before school. I was saying to myself, 'People not gonna like me,' which didn't make a lot of sense because I already knew a lot of people that went there from middle school. I also thought there might be more drama over the newspaper article since Caveman got shot in the gym.

My first day wasn't like when you be in elementary and your mama brings you to school and walks to your class. I was all on my own. A friend of mine came got me that morning and we walked to school together. I got bubble guts when I first walked in the building and saw everybody looking all fresh with brand new everything. Boys with new haircuts and girls wearing roller wraps and braids. My first day was better than I thought it was going to be. It didn't take long for me to adjust because my friend showed me around. I saw a lot of people that I hadn't seen since elementary. They said, "You shoulda been came here in the first place." Now that this is my second year at John Mac, I'm straight. I am familiar with a lot of people and a lot of people are familiar with me. I can show the new students around because I know how it feels to be lost and not know where anything is. People don't know the real John Mac. John Mac isn't all that bad, but when someone does have a fight, the next thing you know the news people are there filming with their cameras trying to make us look bad. Yup, they put us on beam when they show us on the news and you know they just tell one side of the story.

click to enlarge Arlet Wylie interviewed her mom for a book she co-wrote - with her brother. Students began with the basic tools of - journalism, learning how to ask open-ended questions - and put interviewees at ease. - RACHEL BREUNLIN
  • Rachel Breunlin
  • Arlet Wylie interviewed her mom for a book she co-wrote with her brother. Students began with the basic tools of journalism, learning how to ask open-ended questions and put interviewees at ease.
click to enlarge In her book Before and After North Dorgenois, - Ebony Bolding examines life in the Sixth Ward and offers - her own view of the media coverage of a school - shooting.
  • In her book Before and After North Dorgenois, Ebony Bolding examines life in the Sixth Ward and offers her own view of the media coverage of a school shooting.
click to enlarge In her book Palmyra Street, Jana Dennis used - photographs and interviews to portray life on a diverse - Mid-City block.
  • In her book Palmyra Street, Jana Dennis used photographs and interviews to portray life on a diverse Mid-City block.
click to enlarge Taranika Pierre -- Ms. Coochie's granddaughter -- in a - photo taken by Waukesha Jackson for her book on Ninth - Ward life. - WAUKESHA JACKSON
  • Waukesha Jackson
  • Taranika Pierre -- Ms. Coochie's granddaughter -- in a photo taken by Waukesha Jackson for her book on Ninth Ward life.
click to enlarge Evella Pierre -- Ms. Coochie -- in 2004, when Nine - Times made her queen of their parade. - WAUKESHA JACKSON
  • Waukesha Jackson
  • Evella Pierre -- Ms. Coochie -- in 2004, when Nine Times made her queen of their parade.
click to enlarge Mario is among the people photographed and - interviewed by brother-sister team Sam and Arlet Wylie - in their book Piety and Desire. - SAM WYLIE
  • Sam Wylie
  • Mario is among the people photographed and interviewed by brother-sister team Sam and Arlet Wylie in their book Piety and Desire.
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