The Survivor’s Village headquarters is located in an old community center on Alfred St. in St. Bernard. On Jan 17, Delta Corps members removed the shutters and began stripping the aluminum siding of paint to prep it for new paint. We scraped window trim and soffit. We deconstructed the back shed area, salvaged and removed nails from the lumber to be reused. We cleaned the back area as much as we could – we filled an entire dumpster until it was spilling over the top. We removed stumps along the south wall, to make way for raised beds of herbs and vegetables. Some things did not go as planned, yet we still got a lot of work done.
Neighbors and supporters told us about the history of this building and this block, as a place where babies were cared for while parents were at work, kids were offered tutoring and mentorship, teenagers would come and dance and socialize, and neighbors could congregate to make groceries and conversation together. SV cooked us lunch – grilled chicken (donated by Magnola Meat Market), salad (donated from Our School at Blair Grocery and Hollygrove Market and Farm), and Stephanie’s white beans and rice (made vegetarian specially for us). Endesha reminded us that Survivor’s Village started 5 years ago on Martin Luther King Day at this center to promote the right to housing, the right to dignity, and the right to self-determination of poor communities in New Orleans. We were led on foot through the new Columbia Parc development, and around the blighted and largely vacant neighborhood adjacent. “St. Bernard and other displaced residents have fought and fought against losing their homes, against losing their community,” Endesha told me. “I want this building to be the center of positive development in the neighborhood, something people can fight for and believe in.”
I am proud that our network took some leadership from Survivor’s Village and leveraged some of our resources to further their mission. I am proud of our ongoing effort to learn from SV and from the residents of New Orleans, to listen and respect the experiences of ordinary people. I am also proud of our effort to engage in an honest dialogue with SV about housing and about their struggle, despite some reservations, confusion, or discomfort we may have experienced.
Reading the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., I recognize that he always chose love. In the face of white hatred, bigotry, and withdrawal, and African American fury, frustration, and disenchantment, King implored us to love, as a choice and an action, which means to challenge one another, to be humble, caring, responsible, nonviolent, honest, respectful, and committed. This is my favorite quote:
“All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
There are many people, neighborhoods and organizations in New Orleans and across the world working to change their circumstances for the better, to free themselves from domination and injustice, to create loving community. Our fate is bound up with theirs, “pressed down, shaken together, and running over,” in a larger struggle to realize Dr. King’s dream, to make a world where we can all realize our potential. We all bring valuable knowledge and resources to this mission. Let us be aware, let us learn and teach, let us love, and let us have faith in our potential.
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