Getting Comfortable in His Skin, While Everyone Else is Uneasy with it

By Zerline Hughes

Enjoy part two of this NOLA travelogue series …

IMG_1647So, the boy had an experience of a lifetime in NOLA this weekend. A traditional New Orleans meal complete with alligator appetizers, seafood dinner and decadent bread pudding dessert. Swamp tour sightings of about a dozen alligators. Paranormal tour of the French Quarter including Jackson Square and Frenchmen Street. World Ward II Museum exhibit. Swimming on a rooftop deck at the W. And the coolest part, I think: playing his alto sax in Jackson Square for the masses.

Ok … maybe not the masses, but whomever was walking through the famous landmark ode to President Andrew Jackson heard him. Many even clapped. He actually wanted to prop open his saxophone box so people would throw in dollars, but I got nervous when we saw the “no soliciting” sign, so we opted away from that idea.

It was the coolest, though. My eyes watered. His grandmother, Nonna, was even there to see him, support bandhim, guide him through some squeaky notes and embarrassing moments. But once he got started, you couldn’t stop him. When we were done, we went souvenir shopping. Whenever us girls took too long, we’d realize he wasn’t in the store and hear the sounds of his saxophone playing outside whichever establishment we were lollygagging in.

I think he got the performance bug here in NOLA. And I hope it sticks. First, of course, my mother was a dancer, I was a short-lived actor in training (I love telling folks I went to acting school with Malcolm Jamal-Warner), and a professional modern dancer from age 10 to 20. Even my dad took a few dance classes with high school classmates Alvin Ailey and Carmen De Lavallade.

But the boy has many talents, as does his sister, and I want him to pick any one of them – or all of them – further ensuring that he gets further and further away from any likelihood of at-risk behavior. Studies show that kids who play instruments

While just my mother and I were in the jazz district of NOLA around Frenchmen Street/Marigny, we saw a group of kids playing in a band on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres. Most were Black teen-aged boys. But there were also several kids that were probably ???????????????????????????????9 to 12 (and there was even a White kid) getting down on their brass instruments, carrying around a cardboard box to collect donations from the large crowd of residents and tourists that stood on each of the four corners of the block to listen and dance.

Watching the junior musicians, I wondered if I’d let the boy do something like that; hone his craft with a group of like-minded individuals in his social circle on the streets at night during the summer. First thing my mother and I thought about was him being a Black youth, and the potential of run its with the police, stand-your-grounders, and even run-ins with un-likeminded youth interested in disturbing the peace.

Louisiana juvenile detention rates and promise for reform is really, really bad and saddening. But there’s hope: Last year, an Annie E. Casey Foundation report found that Louisiana had the 18th highest rate of juvenile detention in the U.S — a major decline for the state. The state has reformed its efforts recently to better screen young offenders.

Nevertheless, getting caught up while doing the right thing (or doing nothing) happens far too often – especially in our community. Trayvon Martin. Need I say more? I think I do: Travion Blount. Emmett Till.

Protecting them, keeping them in the “right” company, the “right” crowd, the “right” activities can only do so much. Their judgment makes a big difference. And faith has to come in somewhere (and maybe even a bit of good juju!)

Alas, all I can say, all I can pray is Not These Two. We’re gonna’ continue to let the good times roll …  laissez bon temps rouler!

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