Monday, May 13, 2013

Shellshocked, a documentary on New Orleans Gun Violence (Video)

Apropos posting given yesterday's shooting at the Mothers' Day second line parade in New Orleans. From the film's website.
New Orleans, Louisiana is the murder capital of the United States. For the last decade, statistics have shown murder rates four to six times higher than the national average. Eighty percent of the victims are black males, mostly in their teenage years. This is the city's greatest neglected crisis with profound implications for the issues of violence and crime most American cities face. New Orleans government, law enforcement, community leaders, and well-intentioned citizens cannot agree on a prognosis or a solution to this situation. Wherever a disagreement is escalating into violence, an execution is being planned, or a victim is taking his last breath, it is more than likely a youth is witnessing or carrying out these actions.

Shell Shocked attempts to bridge the gap of this disconnect by hearing the ideas, opinions, and testimonies from activists, community leaders, police, city officials, youth program directors, family and friends of victims, and the children who live in these violent circumstances. We are looking for positive solutions to an extremely negative situation.
At, three poems by children about New Orleans gun violence.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

NOX, a 2005 Pre-Katrina Film About the Economics of Violence and Poverty in New Orleans, Is Food for Thought

WARNING: The one-hour documentary below contains foul language, including heavy use of f-bombs and the n-word. It also contains naked women and sexually explicity scenes in the French Quarter as well as real incidents of violence. You've been warned. The company 2 Mindz Productions produced the video.

The documentary New Orleans Exposed was uploaded to YouTube in August 2012, but it's a much older video; it was originally released in May 2005, before Hurricane Katrina. Falling into the "guerrilla filmmaking" genre, it covers the dire economic conditions plaguing a significant part of New Orleans's black community. (These conditions remain the same today for many families.) The film discusses the flow of guns into poor neighborhoods, the city's deficient education system, and offers opinions about over- and discriminatory policing of black neighborhoods. The concern about unfair policing practices has been in the news here again with Mayor Landrieu's attempt to void the consent decree that addresses questionable police tactics.

Evaluating possible reasons for the many shootings in New Orleans, some of the men in the video claim that the city is not a gang-controlled city, but one where every man is for himself. However, clips of youngsters promoting pride for one housing project over another suggest some kind of gang mentality has been at work; they talk of beefing over territories and indicate that some of the rivalries spur violence. Viewers may keep in mind that many of these housing projects have been demolished since Hurricane Katrina flooded the city.

As for shooting incidents and deaths, you will see people still in their hospital gowns showing staples up their arms and stomachs, the result of doctors removing bullets. One young man shows gun wounds from at least five separate shootings over his body.

The poet Kalamu ya Salaam also appears in the video and says that in some parts of the city, it's easier to get a gun than a book. He also reminds viewers that none of the people with the guns in poor communities own factories that make guns.

New Orleans is no longer called the "Murder Capital of America," as mentioned in the video. Chicago seems to have taken that title. But New Orleans still has more than its share of killings.

The video moves on to say HipHop is saving some young men from the streets, and one young man says that when they sing about violence they are not glorifying it but telling what they've been through.

I don't know whether this documentary will help anyone understand anything about the climate that breeds violence, but the film certainly provides food for thought.

Musically, the culture represented is the same that produced Young Money and Lil Wayne. The video features Soulja Slim and his funeral second line. The rapper was gunned down in 2003.

Before Hurricane Katrina's aftermath unfolding on television revealed the level of poverty, racial divides, and the failing education system in New Orleans, this documentary would have come as a shock to many people. The face of New Orleans in travel shows is much more clean and romantic. However, nearly eight years past Katrina, perhaps the video today will only provoke a head nod.

Nevertheless, the scenes show people who have never seen the underbelly of New Orleans how much of the city exists beyond the French Quarter and how much of it is not very pretty. The vision and raw voices in it will never be featured in a tourist commission commercial, but for anyone trying to understand the violence in this city that runs beside its rich artistic culture that so much of the world loves, this film is worth a look.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Que Sera Sera"? -- How do urban mothers cope with fear?

If you've heard Sly and the Family Stone's version of that Doris Day classic "Que Sera Sera," then you'll recognize that Corinne Bailey Rae is doing Sly's arrangement in the video above. I found her rendition particularly moving (as I do the Family Stone's rendition), but I feel that Rae's soulfulness, her bluesy clutching of her guitar later in the song, may have resulted, sadly, from the young singer suffering loss.

This is a 2010 performance. Her husband, Jason Rae, died in 2008 of a suspected drug overdose.

Considering that this blog is the Urban Mother's Book of Prayers, a reader may ask, "How does Corinne Bailey Rae singing "Que Sera Sera" relate to crime or attempts at spiritual evolution in New Orleans? Surely the blogger can't be saying "Que sera sera: whatever will be will be" about chaos and tragedy. That would be throwing up one's hands and giving up, right? If we say that, how shall we stand?

How can we stand in the face of tragedy or how do we stand day to day is indeed the question.

I have to give some context for approaches to the song "Que Sera Sera." I grew up as a black girl in New Orleans hearing that song at the beginning of The Doris Day Show during the late 1960s, and she seemed to sing it on almost every variety show at some point. Here are the lyrics by Ray Evans.

Que Sera Sera
When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be?
Will I be pretty, will I be rich?
Here's what she said to me.

Que Sera, Sera:
Whatever will be, will be.
The future's not ours, to see.
Que Sera, Sera.
What will be, will be.

When I was young, I fell in love;
I asked my sweetheart, What lies ahead?
Will we have rainbows day after day?
Here's what my sweetheart said.

Que Sera, Sera:
Whatever will be, will be.
The future's not ours to see
Que Sera, Sera.
What will be, will be.

Now I have children of my own.
They ask their mother, What will I be?
Will I be handsome, will I be rich?
I tell them tenderly.

Que Sera, Sera:
Whatever will be, will be.
The future's not ours to see.
Que Sera, Sera.
What will be, will be.

I knew the words when it was a Doris Day hit, and in my mind her version will always be lively and lovely sort of playful like Ella Fitzgerald's "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." But I remember when, as a grown woman, I listened to Sly and the Family Stone's version again after not hearing it for many years. In my 40s and in the midst of a dying marriage, I recall thinking to myself that Sly's version was a black mother talking, a mother considering the pain to come that an innocent child would never expect. A black person or any other person who's known pain and loss will probably not sing a Doris Day version of this song.

In the original lyrics we hear a woman telling of her questions as first a child, then as a young woman entering marriage, and later as a mother herself answering her own child. The child and the young woman see only joy ahead. "Will I be pretty, will I be rich?" and "Will we have rainbows day after day?" The adult answering does not burst the bubble of naïveté. She merely answers,  "Whatever will be will be." (In Corrine's version the question is, Will I be lonesome day after day?) In the Doris Day version, the woman singing the song sounds as though her life must have been pretty happy-go-lucky. (Either it was joyful or she's been scarfing down a lot of Valium and vodka.) The woman in Sly's version (vocals by his sister Rosie Stone, I think) is much more contemplative and Sly's responding vocal erupts with plaintiveness.

Likewise, in Corinne Bailey Rae's rendition, as one can tell by the expression on her face in the video as well as by her vocals, there seems to be no Doris Day in her mind skipping through the daisies. There's loss. When her bass player (guitarist?) sings the response, there's sorrow. This version, which is also Sly's version, turns "Que Sera Sera" into the call and answer of bluesy prophecy: "the future's not ours to see", so prepare.

To say "que sera sera" to oneself is also a healthy response in some circumstances, such as during the long period of coming to terms with someone's death. In the context of Sly and Croinne's renditions it becomes a pillar of the "Serenity Prayer" -- "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to face the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

When we have the wisdom to recognize what we can't change, we may say "que sera sera" to that and move forward. If we move forward seeking the courage to change what we can change, then we move forward with hope. I've learned that often what we can change most effectively is our own attitude toward whatever we face. What I've been facing most lately, however, is undulating fear.

Recently, I felt the immense weight of New Orleans crime personally when I received a call that a relative had been shot in the neck while walking home. He is an only child, a fine young man of 22. A gang wanted his iPhone or some other gadget that is not worth human breath. It''s possible he will be paralyzed for the rest of his life, but we hope that is not true.

We pray with his parents that he will be whole again, that the doctors will perform something akin to a miracle, but in the meantime, what do we say to his parents? I cannot say, "I know what you're going through" because I do not know and hope I never will. Neither can I reveal my anger because how is my anger useful to them right now?

After I'd processed the news, I can't describe the rage I felt. If someone had asked me what should be done to the young men involved in the shooting, I would have said, "Lock them up. Throw a way the key. No hope for 'em." This kind of thinking goes against my tendency to hope that with the right resources and support almost anyone can change.

Despite hearing of horrific violent crimes daily on the news, there's nothing like hearing someone you know has been shot, and after the anger begins to subside, and you recall that you and your family live in the same city not too far from where the shooting occurred, you become aware of another emotion--fear. How do I deal with the fear that this too-close-for-comfort crime has planted in me, not fear for myself, but fear for my own children and their futures?

Whatever will be will be is the solace the mother in "Que Sera Sera" offers a child obsessing over her future, a saying that helps humans compartmentalize worry. The ability to box off such fear is valuable living in New Orleans or any other violence-stricken region, I suppose, such as Chicago, the Middle East, Mexico, or the Congo. However, I'm not convinced compartmentalizing works with no side effects given what medical science tells us about how the body handles repression and stress.

Compartmentalization may help us cope and move forward in our daily lives, but mishandled stress will manifest somewhere else either in how we interact with others (in irritability and callousness, for instance) or in our own bodies as obesity and other diseases. Knowing that kind of health information itself becomes a nugget for worry. Such fearfulness can lead to depression, to psychological paralysis,  and other psychoses; it must not go unchecked.

By unchecked, I mean unexamined fear. Unexamined fear is the fear that drives us to climb in bed and pull the covers over our heads or to buy a gun and begin shooting at shadows. When instead we examine our fears desiring to find solutions to whatever drives the fear (often some problem that we cannot control alone), then we at least may begin to seek healthy coping mechanisms.

I struggled with this need to find or return to healthy coping mechanism shortly after my young relative was shot because not thinking, my son, who is about the same age as the wounded relative, did something minor that forced me to look at my fear. Without telling me,he left the house the other morning on his bike while I was sleeping and rode to the Wendy's. Yes, we had food in the house, but out of the blue he decided he wanted a fast food breakfast. This scenario was eerily similar to what happened to our young relative whom I had visited in the hospital mere days before my son's Wendy's excursion. Seeing up close a young man in his prime with tubes in his nose and braces or casts from the lips down due to a gunshot wound makes the nightly news intimate.

I found out my son had left the house because I was awakened by my cell phone ringing. I picked it up and saw he was calling, but when I answered, the call was gone. Immediately I called back but he didn't pick up. I got up and when my daughter told me that her brother was out of the house, my heart shuddered in panic.

Fifteen minutes later he was home. He had dialed me accidentally, but I fussed anyway because I had imagined him stopped by a gang with some gangster snatching his phone before I answered, and then I saw him on the ground, bleeding. In an instant, upon waking and missing his call, I had replayed my relative's shooting in my mind and switched out the relative's face with my son's. It was not mother's intuition that engulfed me but terror, and I wanted my son to see and know that terror. I wanted him to see it and be more careful, to learn not to leave the house unnecessarily, to take no risks ever. I wanted him in a cocoon, an impossibility I realized because my son is 21 years old.

Frowning at him, I trudged back to my bedroom and tried exorcising my fear. It cannot be banished though because it is legitimate. That something could happen to either one of my chidlren--car accident, biking collision, gunshot wound to the head--is not a far-fetched irrational thought. Asking them to stop living their lives so I can be fear-free, however, is. Attempting to control others when we feel we have no control is a common reaction to fear, but I have to do better. I know that I must find more constructive ways to deal with possible darker futures over which I have no control.

My method is always to return to writing poetry for a while and to write prose, such as I am doing now. In other words, I use verbal art to process grief, loss, and fear the same way, perhaps, Sly and Corrine use music. Still, sometimes I wish I could move to the woods, way out away from people, away from danger and the potential for loss. After all, self-contemplation is beneficial, right?

And yet, too much isolation is rarely a good thing and never effective insulation from loss. If you are human, you will lose someone at some point. Voluntary isolation is really the self-imposed loss of human connection, the illusion of dodging bullets.

It would be easy for a writer to choose isolation. Writing poetry, essays, and fiction is not a team endeavor for most writers. But given where I've placed myself, home in the city of New Orleans, I cannot chooe such a segregated life. And as much as they fool themselves, neither can those who flee the city for its suburbs. So, I will continue to seek ways to plug myself into the community, finding moments  to help others more. In so doing, it's possible that I will be part of a solution, a conduit for progress and health.

I see that I must embrace the world and life and learn through improving my community (rather than simply complaining about it) how to release the tension of worrying about possible futures over which I have no control. In this way, I practice a control I can manage, self-control, which benefits us all because most of us can control how we relate to others if we choose to do so. The future is not ours to see, but if we can see ourselves changing ourselves to cope better with life now, then perhaps we will find the courage to make a future better than the violent past.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Raw Hypertext: Prose Poem on the Aurora Massacre

Raw Hypertext
by Nordette N. Adams

First, I heard that one of the victims, Jessica (Ghawi) Redfield, who aspired to be a sports newscaster, "narrowly escaped death" at the Toronto Mall shootings on June 3. She wrote about it at her blog under "Late Night Thoughts on Eaton Centre Shooting." As MTV reports, "Redfield escaped the incident unscathed, only to be counted among the victims of Friday's shooting."

Perhaps we should consider here that humans love
and revere guns more than the mysteries of breath,
more than the quest for sapient connections.

Second, Warner Brothers has pulled its preview of Gangster Squad, which was supposed to run in theaters before The Dark Knight Rises, because the end of the trailer has a scene of gangsters shooting up a movie theater. Although Gangster Squad is a period piece, taking place in the 1940s, the studio rightfully understands that given today's shootings in a movie theater, showing such a scene to moviegoers would seem callous, but still . . .

Perhaps we should consider here that humans love
and revere guns more than the mysteries of breath,
more than the quest for sapient connections.

Third, and finally, Gabbie Giffords has been mentioned during news coverage of today's tragedy. The congresswoman was shot last year during a massacre at a speaking event but survived. What I'm recalling here is the eerie coincidence of the July 15 episode of HBO's Newsroom.  Last week's show, "I Will Fix You," ended with breaking news of that horrific Arizona massacre and who has the right to declare a human dead. The characters had been involved in a variety of petty, personal dramas when the news of the shooting broke; the tragedy seemed to snap them out of their insular worlds and wake them to our American crisis and weeping. has decried the episode as Aaron Sorkin, the show's writer, firing blanks at the Second Amendment, America's right o bear arms just in case the government evolves to a socialist state and revokes our right to kill each other. Today, however, although I'm sure the Breitbarts would object, Sorkin sounds civilized.

Perhaps we should consider here that humans love
and revere guns 

more . . .

© 2012 Nordette N. Adams

From the longer post, "The Colorado Shooting: processing our fragility and the odd coincidences in this tragic moment" at WSATA.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pay closer attention to It has answers.

This program,, seems like a possible solution to some of the issues that plague poor communities. From its website:
Families need decent affordable housing and comprehensive support to move toward self-sufficiency. For the past three decades, ACHIEVEability has engaged their families in comprehensive and holistic services to promote personal growth, including the pursuit of post-secondary education. Families benefit from stable housing and personalized coaching provided by ACHIEVEability to ensure their long-term success.
I'm going to donate and observe this organization more closely. I like its holistic approach, so I'm currently checking around to find out if the image I see in this video and on its website is an accurate reflection of its success. I do not believe we can completely eliminate poverty in the next one hundred years, but I do think we can put a big dent in it.