We woke with our Mother’s Day plans to drive to Donaldsonville to visit the River Road African American Museum. We left New Orleans, driving into Ascension Parish, over bayous and swamps and cypress forests following egrets and herons coasting alongside us, with a feeling of fleeing the city and indulging in nature and gaining more insight into the history of our place.
Kathe Hambrick, the museum founder and director, returned to Louisiana from California in 1991. Upon returning to Louisiana, she soon discovered that although some things had changed, other things remained the same.
Like me, Kathe was a byproduct of corporate downsizing and graced with finding her spiritual purpose on earth because of it. Although hers happened 19 years ago and mine is more recent.
Hambrick toured plantations that lined the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. These tours romanticized the lives of plantation owners and their families. Hambrick found that the history of the enslaved Africans was not included in the narratives that were presented on the plantation tours. Upon learning of this grave omission, she vowed to herself – “We must do something to tell our story…”
And again, like Kathe, I too heard the call to tell a story after returning from California to find young Black men dying in New Orleans’ streets daily and everyone seemingly romanticizing New Orleans and its lifestyle – especially when I became the mother of one of those soon to be young Black men.
The visit to the museum got us all juiced up, my friend said it was what she was looking for, a way to get back involved with African American history and helping to tell the story. I was brainstorming about fundraising opportunities to interpret slavery, to interpret A to Z about the journey and how we got here. At the same time, my friend’s daughter said she had just come back from a plantation tour where slavery was not even discussed (as Kathe said, nothing has changed, even 19 years after her return) – the reality of so much to do. I was so excited about the possibilities to help Kathe and to tell this story, but something happened on the way home from the museum (a museum post now must wait) – we returned to our beloved city that has been scarred by yet more violence.
Earlier in the day, as we strolled around the grounds of the museum and spoke about how the plantations don’t include the narrative of slavery in their docent tours, how the “good school” across the bridge has few Black kids, a 75% majority Black community in 2013 is being led by whites, how young Black kids are adrift in the street of Donaldsonville with no parks, no swimming pools, no anything to engage them, – a rural community beset with urban problems – hours later, I came home to my Facebook newsfeed alive with people writing about these same children – young Black men who showed up with guns to settle a score at a second line, but it is dissociated from cause and effect, it has no context, as if those boys/young men are not our boys/young men – as if we weren’t the ones who have failed these kids in every possible way.
I watched a video of Deborah Cotton and I want to do more than rant on Facebook, I want to do more than blog about institutionalized racism, I want to shake people and say, see that evil in the street, that is a reflection of the evil in your sub, semi, mostly conscious mind, you must change, you must see – I want to spit, I want to spit fire, I want to burn this institution down, I want my son to learn about history – NOT RELIVE IT.
In Cotton’s video she says:
The overarching problem is the lack of education and resources and employment opportunities for young people, especially young Black men, and the history of oppression and political corruption that has taken resources and opportunities meant for some of the most vulnerable and the most at risk people in our community and diverted those resources and opportunities to self serving folks in leadership that were supposed to be doling out those resources. So we are seeing the result of that here.
I am a writer and I want to start a REVOLUTION – I need to learn new skills.
A visit to an African American museum one hour from New Orleans where a woman is telling the story that only a handful of people are telling, listening to, learning from juxtaposed against a city of dreams destroying itself at the hands of kids, who don’t have a chance to tell their stories, who don’t know history, who are living history. The legacy is killing us here. We are drowning in Big Red blood.
Was I dreaming there, was I dreaming here, when will I wake up from this nightmare?