Morgus the Magnificent

Anyone who grew up here in New Orleans should remember watching our beloved Morgus the Magnificent. For over half a century, Morgus prefaced the weekend horror movies with his own New Orleans style horror vignettes. Morgus, along with his sidekick Chopsley would entertain us with his weekly scientific experiments gone wrong, dissecting and poking and prodding various New Orleans B-listers, with the week’s story line progressing during the commercial breaks of Godzilla or Mothra, or Godzilla-Mothra-King Kong end of the world movies. I swear, Morgus’ dry, morbid sense of humor has affected generations of New Orleanians, claiming his rightful place alongside the satire of Mardi Gras and the unique New Orleans musical soundtrack of our lives.

Well today, the ever elusive character has proverbially come out from hiding – behold the man behind our Morgus!

Allow me to present Sid Noel Rideau, a.k.a.  Momus Alexander Morgus. Sheila Stroup of the Times Picayune wrote a beautiful article profiling Mr. Rideau with his latest contribution to New Orleans culture, the New Orleans Public Library’s Internet Story Club of America. What an admirable endeavor, and it seals the deal that future generations will have the privilege of being entertained and enlightened by Morgus the Magnificent, now publically known as Mr. Rideau. Thank you sir for all you’ve done, and continue to do for our city.

PSA for NOLA Women: Free Wellness Program

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“This Tuesday’s Women’s Wellness Program session is our monthly cooking class, held down the street at Algiers United Methodist Church on Opelousas. All women are welcome! This month we’re focusing on healthy snacks.” ~Via Common Ground’s FaceBook Page

V-Day Pileup: On Silence and Violence

There are two links in this post I urge you to contribute to, one being the fund for the recovery of the Garden District robbery and rape victim, the other for the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. Read on to see why.

More and more, I’m finding it cannot be avoided, no matter how hard women try. We are still surrounded by people who would put us in what they think is “our place,” a position that tends to be highly restrictive on any and all physical and mental levels.

Tell me I’m crazy. Go on and talk down to me, I dare you.

…the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)…

…Credibility is a basic survival tool. When I was very young and just beginning to get what feminism was about and why it was necessary, I had a boyfriend whose uncle was a nuclear physicist. One Christmas, he was telling–as though it were a light and amusing subject–how a neighbor’s wife in his suburban bomb-making community had come running out of her house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. How, I asked, did you know that he wasn’t trying to kill her? He explained, patiently, that they were respectable middle-class people. Therefore, her-husband-trying-to-kill-her was simply not a credible explanation for her fleeing the house yelling that her husband was trying to kill her. That she was crazy, on the other hand….

Even getting a restraining order–a fairly new legal tool–requires acquiring the credibility to convince the courts that some guy is a menace and then getting the cops to enforce it. Restraining orders often don’t work anyway. Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their voice and their credibility, to assert your right to control over their right to exist. About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It’s one of the main causes of death in pregnant women in the U.S. At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible.

Events and discussions will occasionally converge that lead me to a boiling point on this subject…

Why it’s disgusting and ignorant of you to imply that a woman caught large Mardi Gras beads in a risque manner, for instance. Yeah, it’s one of the oldest, sexist, dumbest Carnival tropes, but it does get tiring after a while. I caught huge, LSU-emblazoned beads just from being at the start of the Thoth parade route. Next Carnival season, I’m gonna ask the next guy I see with giant beads on what he flashed for them.

A list of the 10 cities where women earn the highest salaries is always nifty, but women are still earning less than men.

The horrific news about the murder of paraplegic Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius‘ girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who was an advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

Controversy over the Eve Ensler-organized One Billion Rising Campaign, which I only just heard about today, but I also wonder about its premise…as do many other women around the world.:

I recently listened to a Congolese woman talk in a speak-easy setting of radical grassroots feminists. She was radiantly and beautifully powerful in her unfiltered anger towards the One Billion Rising movement, as she used the words “insulting” and “neo-colonial”. She used the analogy of past crimes against humanity, asking us if we could imagine people turning up at the scenes of atrocities and taking pictures or filming for the purposes of “telling their story to the rest of the world”. Take it one step further and try to imagine a white, middle class, educated, American women turning up on the scene to tell survivors to ‘rise’ above the violence they have seen and experienced by…wait for it…dancing. “Imagine someone doing that to holocaust survivors”, she said.

I had occasion to speak with someone about the recent kidnapping, robbery, beating, and rape of a young woman in the Garden District, and large chunks of the conversation revolved around the same tropes that come up whenever something like this happens to any woman. It all came around to our living in a world where women are taught “not to be raped,” and the suspicion that comes up is generally directed first against the woman who is the victim rather than the perpetrators. When a victim’s first move is to tell her would-be comforters and shelterers “Don’t touch me. I’m evidence,” then we know who the burden of proof is on.

This hasn’t ended with the capture of the criminals and their upcoming trial. Though a large amount of funds has been raised thus far for the victim’s rehabilitation, she will need far more than that – keep contributing here. This friend of a friend of mine will be grateful.

I ask you to also consider that state budget cuts will likely destabilize what structures there are to assist women who have been victims of domestic violence as well – among them New Orleans’ own Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. They accept donations of time or money here.

Know of any other needy organizations in the city or state that help female victims of abuse, rape, or violence? Please contribute names and links in the comments. It’ll be the best Valentine’s Day gift you give. Honest.

A Brief Meditation

Over an eighth night of Chanukah dinner, I got into a discussion about the horrible event in Newtown, CT, with a friend of mine who taught for many decades.

“Where are the emergency drills in local schools for this kind of thing? Why is the security at the schools here so lax?” she worried.

It was deemed a sad thing that lockdown procedures were even necessary at schools today, but some basic measures like keeping school gates and doors locked from the outside during school hours seem like afterthoughts here. I remarked that just after I learned about Newtown, I went to pick up my son from school and observed a school staff member head for her car just outside a school side gate, get what she needed from her vehicle, then head back onto school grounds without closing the gate behind her. It’s not like it couldn’t happen in New Orleans – it did nearly ten years ago.

“They do keep the main building closed from the outside, with the only access being via a buzzer and an intercom system,” Dan said, “but if you’re a kid or teacher in one of the portable classrooms, you’re on your own,” he finished half-jokingly.

The only drills anyone runs in the schools here are fire drills, and those not very frequently. I suppose, and hope, a lockdown drill or two will be a part of the school year. The trick is trying to give the kids a sense of safety without it feeling like a police state.

At the same time, schools across the country are being so defunded that to jump up and throw loads of money at security for impoverished schools seems cruel and ridiculous. I’d prefer that the long-term solution be more money to education and the proper treatment of mental illness, and better gun control laws…

…but chances are, we’ll be debating this stuff until someone comes into an infant daycare and opens fire.

Invitation to Profiling?

I’ll admit it: I’m a slacker mom about many things, among them my son’s homework.

Well, considering his attention-deficit diagnosis, I’m not as much of a slacker as I’d like to be. I’m constantly having to remind him not only to do what he wrote down in his assignment book, but to stay in one place and do it. Bribes such as the eventual watching of MythBusters episodes, Angry Birds and Bad Piggies playing time, and dessert upon the completion of homework also enter the picture…but I’ve rarely been uneasy about the subjects he covers in school.

Rarely, I say…but not never. It has come up a couple of times. And I think we’ve been about due.

First of all, head here and check out pages 107-108. Take your time. Look it over.

Yes, you all read it right. It’s asking kids for a criminal description.

Okay. It doesn’t say what the crime is. It just says you caught someone doing something illegal and you need to write down a description of the perp for the police. In that imaginary vacuum where crime is a rare occurrence, this isn’t a big whoop, you just describe somebody.

However, New Orleans is anything but a vacuum crime-wise; in fact, this assignment could well be viewed as prep for when something happens. Much as I and many other parents I know do our best to protect our kids from it out there – whether it’s locking our house and car doors tight, making sure that no valuables (or anything that may look like it could hold valuables) are within view in either place, not doing too much alone after dark, or just not watching the local news – we still can’t keep our kids from hearing about it. Crime affects us all here in one way or another. Our neighbors have had things stolen out of their yard. I had a bicycle stolen right out of my foyer last year. Hearing gunshots is not an unusual occurrence, sadly. Trust in the police is a laughable concept. And that’s just addressing the likelihood that an assignment like this will become something more.

As to the actual description of a criminal: shouldn’t it be “alleged criminal,” first off, or does that point out how farcical “innocent until proven guilty” can be? Also, there’s a little something known as profiling that happens even with the best of us. My son chose not to do this assignment and got a zero on it (even after repeated reminders from my husband all through Thanksgiving week to do it), but when he did do it the second time around (which his teacher has him do as practice), he used this episode of one of his favorite shows as inspiration. Something makes me wonder if studies have been done on what types of people 9-to-10-year-olds describe as “criminals” and why. I’m sure if we could hold that mirror up to ourselves, we wouldn’t find it funny or charming…not even if the kids wrote beautiful descriptions of the teacher as a giggle.

I asked my son’s teacher about this assignment. Was she concerned about the content the kids would be writing in their criminal descriptions? Was the content discussed at all or were the mechanics of the essays the only focus? No, this wasn’t about my son’s grade – he didn’t do the assignment and suffered the consequences: a big fat zero (if the essay had involved describing airplanes or snakes, I’m sure the little guy would’ve been ON IT.).

Her answers?

No, she wasn’t concerned.

Yes, they did discuss the content some. The teacher felt that as long as a specific crime wasn’t described, the possibility of controversial content wasn’t an issue.

Apparently, I was the first parent out of all the students in all the 4th and 5th grade classes (this assignment was given to more students than just the ones in my son’s class – it’s prep for the state exam) to raise these questions. Which made me wonder if I was just being a busybody.

An opinion from another teacher? This assignment is inappropriate.

My opinion? The fact that I’ve been the only parent to bring this stuff up definitely says something. I just wish I knew what that something was…

…and why it makes me feel sad.

Dr. Andre M. Perry on The Consequence of Missed Opportunities

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Perry
The One Son Who Got Away

By Dr. Andre M. Perry

About a year ago, Ms. Chanda Burks met me in my office to discuss establishing a mentoring program for black males through her sorority Delta Sigma Theta.  Ms. Burks brought along her adolescent son Jared Michael Francis to take in the conversation.  One year later, just a few days ago, I bumped into Ms. Burks at a NOLA for Life event.  There, Ms. Burks informed me that her son Jared died from multiple gunshots in front of their home in the hushed neighborhood of Tall Timbers. He died September 15, 2012.  He was an 18 year-old senior in high school.

After hearing this horrible news, I immediately recalled the robust conversation we had about mentoring and staying in school.  I remembered how encouraged Ms. Burks and her son left the meeting.  Ms. Burks in fact told me during our recent encounter that our past chat made a positive impression on Jared.  But, deep down I knew a conversation wasn’t enough.  I missed an opportunity to save a son.

A balance of regret and responsibility motivated me to call Ms. Burks a few days later. I also wanted to get a sense of what happened in between the time we last met.  Ms. Burks told me that he lived the typical life of a middle-class teenager. She saw few negative signs. Ms. Burks acknowledged the presence of one peer that showed a penchant for trouble. No one as of yet has been charged with his murder.  I told myself that a few more conversations could have reached Jared and his troubled friend.  But ephemeral conversations are not enough.

I like many others have abdicated our community responsibilities to teachers, community based organizations and City Hall.  To a fault, we’ve placed undue responsibilities on police and prisons to restore order. Given the magnitude of our community problems, everyday citizens must unlearn how we made disengagement an acceptable behavior.

According to the report, Building an Inclusive, High-Skill Workforce for New Orleans Next Economy from the Greater New Orleans Data Center, 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 in the New Orleans metro are neither enrolled in school nor employed. Disconnected youth is the latest tag used to describe this horrible state of anomie. It means that fourteen thousand youth in the New Orleans metro are adrift and disengaged from the social anchors that could instill the type of character that incite youth to fight injustice instead of producing it.

Jared did not qualify as someone who we deem as disconnected, but those we take for granted are receiving the collateral damage of socially dysfunctional communities.  We cannot escape ourselves.

The overwhelming statistics demand intimate and intrusive engagement that rises above fleeting conversations. But they’re reasons why we don’t get close enough to embrace a young man or woman.  We’re scared. The annual murder counts are more than alarming. Murder creates an environment of fear that facilitates a hands-free ethic of care. Consequently, even the best of us essentially drop in from our collective ivory towers only to helicopter out with deliberate speed.  We never become a part of the social milieu. We’ve become what I often refer to as arms-length advocates.

Arms-length advocacy can’t replace the strong hugs our children actually need. We can’t let fear or disengagement deny ourselves opportunities to prevent the unnecessary loss of yet another Jared. The community involvement we need is so simplistic it’s almost insulting to repeat. If more of us who care are fully present, murder rarely happens. If family members, neighbors and friends displayed the courage and love to take the gun away, report the crime and redirect the anger, we would not be our current situation.  If those who are not expected to save a son took every opportunity to act, the ongoing professional work could gain traction.

Ms. Burks and I simply can’t let another opportunity pass.  If the community character is not present, we must develop it.  Moral discernment must be taught, displayed and executed.  Therefore, we ask everyone who reads this to take opportunities to build our capacities.

Each year for my birthday (October 12) I try to give back.  I’m privileged. Service is the obligation of privilege.  My birthday always seemed like the perfect date to give back.  This year I asked Ms. Chandra Burks if we could become mentors and direct our friends to deeper mentoring opportunities.  She agreed.  Over the next week we are directing people to the New Orleans Kids Partnership Mentor and Tutor sign-up program < http://www.nokp.org/mentortutor/>.

New Orleans Kids Partnership has coordinated a variety of proven mentoring and tutoring programs across the Greater New Orleans region. NOKP made it very convenient for anyone to choose an organization that fits our busy schedules.  They also provide training and guidance on how to mentor or tutor. We can’t assume that everyone can serve as a role model.  Many “mentors” need mentoring. Nevertheless, NOKP and its partners make youth engagement a safe and organized process.

When you sign up, please indicate in the appropriate section that you heard about NOKP’s mentoring program through Ms. Chandra Burks.

As Ms. Burks and I meandered through our discussion, she could not keep straight the number of children she currently had.  She would say, “My three…I mean my two children.”  She may have lost a son, but she certainly gained a brother.  Hopefully, we will soon begin losing track of how many sons we have gained rather than from how many we have lost.

Andre Perry, Ph.D. (twitter: @andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.

A Look Back

Over four years ago, I starting taking pictures of a number of the abandoned, rotting public school buildings of New Orleans.

I didn’t intend to, it just happened. There was an initial effort to connect some dots, when I was urged by a fellow local blogger to see what community input into the School Facilities Master Plan meant. I learned that it didn’t mean a hell of a lot - it was window dressing for plans already in motion for areas of the city caught in a Catch-22 situation of New Orleans recovery after the events of August 29, 2005: utilities and city services would return if certain numbers of people came back to stay in these ruined areas, but more people would be more likely to stay if they were assured of those services right off the bat. New Orleans East, the Ninth Ward, Gentilly, Pontchartrain Park, and Treme were frontiers in that respect. Return and live here at your own risk, the city seemed to say. And nothing screamed that attitude louder than the ruined schools.

Two years into our second period of living in New Orleans and here I was, climbing through the wide-open shells of buildings that had been under water or had been boarded up despite their lack of damage from breached levees because there weren’t any plans as of yet for the hastily reorganized and heavily charterized Recovery School District to use them or demolish them. Beyond that initial foray into what happened with Lake Forest Montessori, I got curious for two reasons: the realization that there were many more school buildings that were going to face bulldozers without much say from the surrounding communities, and the blanket acceptance by so many I knew that the charters were going to be the cure for what had long ailed New Orleans’ public schools. The latter assurance by friends of mine that bluer skies were around the corner for public education here made no room for my questions and doubts – in fact, I was roundly scorned. Things had been SO BAD under the old OPSB that any idea that charters might not be the cure was instantly interpreted as a longing to return to the bad old days rather than an honest critique. I was also seen as a hypocrite because my son was currently attending a charter – if I dared question charters, why didn’t I just pull him out and send him to a traditional public school?

At the time, I guess I was looking for clues that some of these buildings could be saved. That the surrounding communities’ input would be taken more seriously if the schools that were beyond repair had to be demolished. That people’s lingering grief from events that happened nearly three years previous wouldn’t be used against them. That, despite the crimes the old OPSB had inflicted on the children and the facilities of the public schools pre-August 2005, the people actually entrusted with educating the kids had tried.

I discussed this some with Megan Braden-Perry a few weeks ago when I joined her on one of her trips on the RTA bus lines, but I could only articulate how heady a year 2008 was if one was a blogger in New Orleans. There was a feeling of urgency, of needing recovery in the city to move one way or the other…hopefully, it would move in a direction that would benefit those who called this city home no matter what part of the city they were in. I caught that fever and dared to think that the pictures I was taking might change some things. I look at those photos now and wonder who that person was.

No, I didn’t manage to take pictures of all the schools, but I did go through 33 of them. I had to stop when I discovered evidence of someone staying in the upper floor of one of the schools, at which time I felt like I’d seen far too much abandonment for my taste…for anyone’s taste. But I had to see it for myself.

I couldn’t understand at the time how so many could put their hands in front of their eyes and see nothing. Something in me still doesn’t understand…but I do know that whenever I feel the urge to give in to that same impulse in myself, I think of these places and I remember. I question. I critique. And I do my best to do it constructively, knowing that all that will be left if I and others don’t dare to do so will be something equivalent to the acres of crumbling schools I saw, moldering shells that accused us all of having stood by idly when their lives were on the line.

Assignment

“He really acted up today,” was what I’d been told the day before.

I intimated that it might be more than just post-hurricane, out-of-school-for-far-too-long restlessness to the school administrator, contrary to what my husband wanted me to say to any of the school higher-ups this year. The office assistant told me it would stay between the two of us. I hoped so.

This afternoon threatened to make that conversation the least of my and my son’s problems, though. The little guy had recovered from his rusted-out frying pan of bad behavior only to be cast into the flames of the bad behavior of his entire class. Although his day overall had been “better,” his mind latched onto the injustice of removed recess privileges (no one was quiet, no one was listening, so those were the consequences for everyone) and worried over it like a dog with a bone during the car ride from school. Initially, I wasn’t too worried, myself. This had happened a few times before the previous year and was a common complaint that he let go of once he got home.

We unlocked the door, climbed up the stairs, and, once the after-school snacks had been devoured, took a look at what was in the homework folder – “Oh, I see the behavior flow chart you had to fill out,” I said, signing it. There was a note from the school asking for payment for a small instrument for use in the kiddo’s music instruction; okay, will send a check with him to school tomorrow, I noted. “Is there anything else?” I asked.

The little guy’s face fell.

“I have to write an essay about my day,” he said sorrowfully.

I sighed. From the tone of his voice, I knew what was coming. What would normally be forgotten, dropped at the door and allowed to waft away in the early September warmth, was now etched in his brain. Attempts to get him to recall anything other than that missed recess would prove fruitless; in fact, further questions and calm admonitions to get him into a better frame of mind only made things worse. He wandered off to his room in a teary huff, looking for his own brand of calm as far away from a blank page as he could get and still be indoors, while I called my husband.

“Please kill me,” was what I wanted to say.

Instead, I poured out my frustrations to my husband and got a different kind of slow stiletto to my heart.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “I guess you can tell him to just use the pain. Write out what he’s feeling, whether it’s in his notebook or on a scrap piece of paper to get it out and clear his head so that he can write something good about his day.” That advice felt to me what I’m sure my admonitions to my son felt like to him – like boiling water on a fire out of control. Now there were two people in the house that needed calm.

After a bunch of internet games and some reading to take my mind off it all and thrive on the quiet, I gave the subject some thought. I whipped up dinner, called the kiddo to the table, and we ate together, chatting of other things. We cleared the table, and then it was make or break time.

I broached the subject again. The little guy started crying. Again.

I fought the impulse to yell in frustration, instead giving him a hug we both needed. “I know this is hard. I know this is hurting you to remember…but you know what? Sometimes, that’s where writing can help.” He sniffed, looking at me questioningly.

“You want to leave these feelings behind? You’re really sad that this assignment wasn’t more specific than ‘write about your day?’ Guess what? You can use that,” I said, warming up a little more, kicking my own recent writing frustrations into it. “Go ahead and write what you’re feeling, right here and now. Leave it on the page. Just write it all out, kiddo.” There were some more sniffles.

But he turned back to that page. He confronted its blankness, stared its taunt in the face. The pencil began to scratch the surface. The redness disappeared from his cheeks. Even though the teacher’s work was meant to get the kids to do longer pieces of writing, the little guy stood up after two sentences. “I’m done, Mom.”

Some time after the kiddo went to bed, my husband came home from his rehearsal. “How’d he do?” I was asked. I gestured to the still-open notebook on the table. Dan looked it over. “Two sentences?”

“Sometimes, that’s more than enough,” I said.

For today, it was.

PSA: Free City-Wide Baby Shower Friday!

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Citywide Baby Shower

Date: 08/03/2012 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.Location:
Daughters of Charity Health Center-Carrollton Third Floor, Community Room
3201 S. Carrollton Ave.
New Orleans LA 70118

Contact Information:
Stephenie Marshall
stephenie.marshall@dcsno.org
(504) 874-0053

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, Daughters of Charity Health Centers (DCHC), in collaboration with Amerigroup, Kiwanis Club of the Westbank Konnection, Dillard University’s School of Public Health, and Healthy Start, will host a Citywide Baby Shower for new and expecting moms at 10 a.m. Friday, August 3 at Daughters of Charity Health Center in Carrollton, 3201 S. Carrollton Ave. This event is free and open to the public. New and expecting moms will receive free breastfeeding information, baby items, consultations with doctors, midwives and nutritionists, and much more.

Help support CODOFIL

As a result of the recent budget cuts during the 2012 Louisiana state legislative session, coupled with a line item veto, CODOFIL, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana has felt the impact of a $100,000 cut in their funding. This amounts to a 40% reduction in its operating budget. So the organization is holding an online fundraiser, seeking a $1.00 donation from 100,000 Cajuns, Creoles and friends of the French language in Louisiana to maintain its budget and continue its outreach supporting the use of French Language in Louisiana.

If you are interested in the organization and helping CODOFIL reach its goal, please consider following this link to support their mission: to offer Louisiana’s citizens, whether they be of French ancestry or not, the opportunity either to learn French or to enhance and utilize the French they already know; and to explore, understand and support Cajun, Creole and Francophone heritage in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of all its citizens. And here is a link to the CODOFIL Facebook page – thanks!

Additionally, please allow me to raise awareness for a second, worthy association that promotes the French language and culture in Louisiana namely Action Cadienne. Please consider this organization too as part of the efforts to preserve the Acadian heritage of Louisiana.