I'm Crazy: Post Katrina New Orleans
By Kalamu ya Salaam
I looked at him, this journalist who just wanted to talk
to an activist from the Lower Ninth Ward. I had already
explained that I do not live in the Lower Nine now. I
live in Algiers. My house received relatively (i.e. when
compared to most people) light damage. Two trees blown
atop the roof but no structural damage-I refuse to think
about books and other items I lost when a storage
facility flooded. Plus, I still had a job. My work is
primarily with young people in a high school program.
He knew all of that. He had read some of my work. I
guess my reputation for taking a hard line on some
issues, for being provocative at times, for, well, for
being what I often am, particularly when I feel
besieged, as I generally do, I guess all of that
preceded our meeting.
Interviewing me at an after school program we work with,
the journalist and I were sitting in the school
cafeteria at a table whose dimensions suggested it had
been designed for seventh and eight graders, or so it
seemed to me. Of course I am 59, very stocky. I sit
sideways on the low seat. I can barely get my knees
under the table.
I look directly at the freelancer with credits in major
publications like Dissent magazine and answer his
question about why do I stay, “I guess, I'm crazy.”
As I answer him my life with my wife Nia runs through my
mind. Right now she is in Oppalouses, Louisiana working
a temporary job as a liscensed X-Ray technician who has
very recently retired from the Veterans Hospital. I have
never been sentimental, but Katrina has weakened my
emotional sternness. Since Katrina, Nia and I are
working like crazy, but most often working in different
We have returned to New Orleans. We want to stay but
every day some news comes and I feel the wind briefly
ruffling my going away sails. I have not talked to Nia
recently about this breeze I'm sensing. I'm just
starting to acknowledge these tremors and talk to myself
Saturday (June 17, 2006), the same day Jim and Greta got
married at a little church in the Lower Ninth Ward, five
teenagers were shot to death in what obviously was a
hit. The mass murder happened in Central City, the once
predominately Black area, indeed the only predominately
Black area, that was not hard hit by Katrina.
Gentrification is accelerating there because Central
City is high ground, not too far from the river.
There also was a sixth murder further uptown, I believe
in Pigeontown, a neighborhood near the Jefferson Parish
line. Two friends apparently were arguing over a beer:
one stabbed the other to death.
It is Monday, the 19th, the mayor has requested and the
Governor is honoring a plea for armed troops to patrol
the streets of New Orleans. Am I in Iraq, do I live in
Baghdad, soldiers patrolling the streets, sectarian
violence ripping apart the social fabric?
Saturday after the wedding I was feeling relatively
upbeat. Just two days later and, well, let's just say,
Jim Randels and I are co-directors of Students at the
Center, an independent writing program that works within
the public schools. Jim is white. His new family is
Greta Gladney, who is a third generation Lower Nine
resident, has three children, her two daughters are
grown and her young son, Stephen, is twelve or thirteen.
Stephen is an alto saxophone phenomenon. You should have
heard him play Abdullah Ibrahim's composition “The
Wedding” and Sidney Bechet's “Le Petit Fleur.” He was
truly playing beyond his years, but then, that is to be
expected; when they were evacuated the only thing he
took with him was his horn.
”Yes, that's it. I'm crazy.”
I look around. I don't remember the brother's name. I
could look it up. Almost every other day or so it seems,
someone calls or visits or emails, wants an interview, a
poem, an article, an essay, something, anything.
Although Katrina's waters are gone, I still feel like
we're in a fish bowl and everyone wants to know how wet
it is down here where we are trying to survive.
I look around and see some of the young students I
teach. Some of them are writing amazing stories. Two of
them were the subjects of a feature on the Weather
Channel. Their work is requested, published and referred
to all over the place. But it is not their writing that
is most important, what is most important is that we
give them sustenance and hope.
Their tears and their laughter, the way some of them
have come to trust us with their secrets, their fears,
their conundrums; trust us enough not only to share
their inner selves with us, but also to bond with us and
accept guidance from us. If I leave, it will be more
than just me who is eventually gone.
”It's these young people. They are here, so I must be
here. Working with them energizes me and gives me hope.”
That was last week.
My friend Doug had had a good week. But today, he has
had to take radiation treatment again. He will probably
be ok this evening when I see him shortly but later in
the week, who knows.
I had not planned to write this report. I had planned to
file once a week. But sometimes, sometimes it gets crazy
and you just got to say something to someone.
Last week it was hard. This week it is crazy. Who knows
what tomorrow will bring.
Que sera, sara. Whatever happens, I'm from CTC (Cross
the Canal-a New Orleans reference to the Industrial
Canal, below which is where Lower Nine is located) and
paraphrasing the words of a New Orleans Mardi Gras
Indian song: I'll be right here when the morning come.
Be right here, I ain't going to run.
I'm crazy that way.
posted 20 June 2006
* * *
He’s The Prettiest
A Tribute To Big Chief Allison "Tootie" Montana's
50 Years Of Mardi Gras Indian Suiting
By Kalamu ya
The Mardi Gras Indians are called folk
artists essentially because they are self-taught,
non-institution sponsored, seemingly craft-centered
artisans. They have been studied but never definitively
defined, documented but never successfully duplicated. Do we
understand them by focusing on their hand-sewn suits or on
their rituals, the skill of a particular chief at sewing,
singing, or dancing--can any part be comprehended without
some feel for the whole? Indeed, who and what are the Mardi
Gras Indians? . . .
Louisiana Folk Life
Big Chief Allison
* * *
My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)
* * *
* * * *
music website >
writing website >
daily blog >
* * *
Guarding the Flame of Life
* * *
New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin
They danced atop his casket Jaran 'Julio' Green
* * *
1. Congo Square (9:01)
2. My Story, My Song (20:50)
3. Danny Banjo (4:32)
4. Miles Davis (10:26)
5. Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03)
6. Unfinished Blues (4:13)
7. Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53)
8. Intro (3:59)
9. The Whole History (3:14)
10. Negroidal Noise (5:39)
11. Waving At Ra (1:40)
12. Landing (1:21)
13. Good Luck (:04)
* * *
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
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updated 23 July 2010