Silence Is Violence

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Program for Peace event

Date: Fri, May. 30, 2008

May 21, 2008

Hi, everyone—

This afternoon, SilenceIsViolence will sponsor an important event at Sound Cafe, marking the return of Rabouin High School students to our home base after many months’ absence. A ninth-grade English class from Rabouin will read from their original memoirs and poetry, expressing their experiences of the past few years. The participating students have studied memoirs from the Holocaust, and their own writings respond and react to what they have learned from Holocaust victims and survivors and what they have encountered themselves during the years following Hurricane Katrina. We invite you to come hear what these students have to say, what insights they have to share, and what powerful sources of information and guidance our young people can be as New Orleans continues to recover.

WHAT: Rabouin students read from their memoirs and anti-violence poetical works

WHEN: Wednesday, May 21, 1pm

WHERE: Sound Cafe, 2700 Chartres Street at Port Street

Free and open to the public.

The power of programs such as the Rabouin memoir project render more disturbing some news emerging recently from the Recovery School District: That some of our most historic and community-based schools, including Rabouin and Douglass high schools, are slated for closure in the next few years. Rabouin and Douglass are the two schools that SilenceIsViolence has worked most closely with on music- and literature-based anti-violence projects over the past couple of years. There is no question that these schools have struggled in the post-Katrina educational landscape (and before), but they also offer opportunities for reaching and nurturing our young people that will be squandered if they close.

Douglass, for example, boasts an acclaimed writing program called Students at the Center, which is directed by Kalamu ya Salaam and Jim Randels and has proven inspirational to scores of at-risk kids over the past twelve years. Rabouin, meanwhile, was the source for YA/YA (Young Aspirations/Young Artists), a youth arts organization that has kept hundreds of young people off the streets and engaged in the visual arts since 1988, exporting positive examples of New Orleans culture around the globe in the process. Rabouin students continue to work closely with prominent local arts institutions such as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

If these schools close, these programs will be lost. Less sensational, but just as damaging, educational and community voids will be left in the neighborhoods these schools occupy.

What is the trade-off? What is to be gained by the closure of these schools and the dispersal of students to other schools and to trailer classrooms? We do not really know, because no true public discussion about their proposed closure has taken place. What we do know, and what we experience daily in the form of overt crime and more subtle unrest, is this: The closure of neighborhood schools and the accompanying disruption of the delicate social networks our young people form and rely upon have terrifying implications for our still-recovering city. Public safety is directly impacted by disoriented communities. The cycles of youth-centered violence gripping our city demonstrate the petty but very real ways in which this disorientation can fuel fearful territorialism and threaten entire communities.

As students finally settle into new school communities, we should be very cautious about disrupting these communties anew. We would like to see a more open discussion of the reasoning behind and the benefits of closing Douglass and Rabouin, because the cost to the students who identify with these schools would be quite high.

We also have an update on the subject of the National Guard’s presence in New Orleans. On Monday, members of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association hand-delivered about 3,300 signatures to Governor Jindal’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Stephen Waguespack, asking that the National Guard remain in New Orleans beyond the current June 2008 deadline for their departure. Thes citizens then met with Mr. Waguespack and presented their case, which he discussed with them at some length. Thanks to all of you who signed the petition, to Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans for endorsing the petition and organizing an email campaign to Governor Jindal, and especially to the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association for spearheading the effort. We had a terrific City Walk through Holy Cross on May 10, and we are very glad to be working with such a dynamic neighborhood association.