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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some pictures of the building and activities

Here are some recent pics of the building

How do you climb a mountain?

The week of November 17, 2008

Monday started out with a really tiny but awesome occurrence. We went to Sound Cafe for donuts and juice and I was pretty apprehensive about it because last time we were there one of the students was very strongly against eating there. Basically, the opposition arose out of the fact that the students hadn't been there before and didn't like the place. That feeling spread and so we left. My response, at the time, was to take them somewhere they felt more comfortable. So went we went back this time I said I would inside and get some stuff and bring it back to them. Well, when I walked through the front door I felt another hand brush mine as I went in and sure enough it was the students. They poked around and looked and got juice and danish and everything was fine. That was the start of a good day.

Later on we went to the public library downtown and had some personal reading time, looked at some art images from the African Diaspora, and then everyone picked a historical figure for a poster.

We moved urban farming day to Tuesday this week because Jaimie Cloud ( was in town giving a workshop on sustainability at Saint Paul's Lakeview school. We played the whaling game with some teachers and administrators, followed by a really wonderful discussion about mental models that keep us from living sustainably ("It's not my fault", ""It's really not as bad as they say", etc.) and worked out some sustainable mental models (not everyone may be able to take a fish every round, we must talk about how to live in harmony with the natural ability of the earth to replenish itself, etc.). Then we went and dropped off our soil samples at Tulane's center for bioenvironmental studies. They walked us through the whole testing process and we're looking at coming back to take part in the testing process. Thanks Eric and Dr. Mielke!

On Wednesday we started out at the African History Park in Algiers where Robert Deslondes led the largest (?) slave revolt in American History in 1811. We also learned that okra and gumbo and a bunch of other traditional foods from Louisiana came from Africa. We also went to the Backstreets Cultural Museum and talked with Sylvester Francis about the cultural and history significance of social aid and pleasure in New Orleans. We also looked at some Indian costumes from past Mardi Gras celebrations and followed that up with a meeting with Dr. Ron Bechet from the Art History Program at Xavier University. We looked at African ritual costume, a Romare Bearden, some other contemporary African-American art and a piece of Dr. Bechet's. It evolved into a really rich conversation about rhythms in visual art and how we can translate those into musical rhythms. It was great!

I should add that we picked up the director of curriculum development at Colton for that meeting and while we waited we sat in these really awesome electric massage chairs for about 15 minutes. They vibrated, wiggled and kneaded us into relaxation! That was a lot of fun!

On Thursday we hung out with kids from Besant Hill in California who are here for the week doing experiential learning. Students worked in pairs to take digital images of ideas like love/hate, life/death, struggle/giving up, etc. Then we asked them to invent their own dichotomies and take pictures symbolizing their concepts. It was really great and we'll post the pictures as soon as we can.

We went back to where they are are staying for lunch and then surprised Terrance with a cake for his 17th birthday. Happy Birthday Terrance!

Over Thanksgiving Break, we're getting as much done on the building as possible. We've powerwashed the walls and floor so we can start painting this week. John built us a woodburning stove yesterday. We could really use your support on the following projects:

-Windows for the building ($250)

-Any electrical materials (see the previous post)

-We need two bathrooms (1 full, 1 half)

-10 computers (PC or Mac)

-Power tools of all sizes and varieties

-Cash donations for incidentals and operating expenses (now that we have electric, we have an electric bill)

More to come later today hopefully!

A World of Opportunities

Wow! Last week was so busy it ran into this week, so here is an update on the last two weeks.

Those of you who know me won't be surprised to here that the week began with a viewing of The Matrix. Students were asked to take notes on various themes: the role of technology; human transformation (Mr. Anderson, Neo, and The One); and, fate/destiny and choices/opportunities; We had an alright discussion afterwards but I think the most teachable aspect of the experience was it offered up some vocabulary for us to open up a conversation about how our perceptions of reality shape our ability to interact with others in various situations. We'll keep you posted on our individual metamorphoses.

Just as we all experience changes and growth, the program is growing as well. We added one more student since I last wrote. Her experience with us was helping to build a compost bin for our urban farm. We build it out of found wood believe it or not. We pulled out all the old nails, used a circular saw to cut the 2x4s for framing and then the 2x6s for the walls and then nailed it all together. While we were working on that with some help from Bob, the rest of the students were pulling out all of the old electrical wiring with some help from a couple of Beacon alums working with Thanks Brandon, Gabby, Joe and someone else whose name escapes me right now.

The next morning we met with Alex and Spencer who came into town for the Rebuilding the Gulf Coast, Rebuilding America Conference at Dillard University. (

Macon Fry, the garden guy, from Parkway partners also came over and looked at our soil. He gave a very specific list of things to do to get ready to plant in the spring. It might be worth noting that there was also a little basketball action. While Alex claims he "schooled them", Renaldo is sure that somebody else might have been getting schooled but "not me." Despite all that, it was another student who won. When I asked them what happened, Renaldo and Alex both shrugged their shoulders and "I don't know how he scored all those points." Go figure!

We've also entered into some discussions with educators and artists over at Colton. The old Colton school building was rolled into part of Prospect 1, an international art biennial in New Orleans, and will be used as artist workspace and as an arts education facility for the youth of New Orleans. We're looking at be involved in a radio show, maybe some drama, and have a meeting next week to talk about doing a digital film project. We'll let you know how things develop.

Over the weekend, Alex and Spencer went to a bunch of events for the Conference and Renaldo spent most of the weekend with them. Maybe I can get them to write about the weekend.

We also met with a couple of electricians who are in town from Indiana. They talked with Joe Robinson about what it is going to take to get the building up. Here's the list of what they need:

Here is the list that my electrician gave me;

150ft. Of ¾ inch EMT

150ft of ½ inch EMT

Approximately 50 set screw couplings for each

Approximately connects for each

1,000 ft. of 12x2

A Hot water heater-low boy electric 40 gallons

A Heating and Air Conditioning Unit suitable for 2,000 sq. ft. commercial and 1,500 sq. ft. residential

20 electric fixtures (4ft. 4 lamp surface mount)

#12 THHN 2,000 ft. of black

2,000ft. Of blue

2,000ft. Of white

1,000 ft. of green

1 whole EMT straps for ½ inch and ¾ inch

40 to 50 four square inch boxes with 1/4 inch ½ knockouts

4 inch square switch covers, 20 outlets, 6 switches

2 200 amp. Indoor panel boxes

200 amp. 2 gang overhead meter socket

2 200 amp. Service disconnections (single phase)

2 2 inch hubs

2 2 inch offset nipples

100 ft. feeder cable #2, aluminum for indoor box

Most of this stuff is going to be pretty expensive but is available to Home Depot or Lowe's. If you want to help out with that please email me at to help us obtain the materials we need to move forward on renovation of the building.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NOVEMBER 10, 2008 - Notes On The Struggle

So I was walking my dog today and thinking some about how things are going. I laughed to myself because I recalled someone once telling me, when I was in a another sticky situation, "I know things are pretty rough right now but it's all going to work out alright." Thanks Wanda! Diamond is healing up really well and we're working on catching a frisbee. Chopper, the Common Ground mascot, continues to be very patient with her but she seems to be taking after him by laying in the mud and chasing those flocks, nay gangs of wild chickens.

Things with the students are moving along. Last week two more students joined us, so we're up to four now. We spent Monday at the library working on a history timeline and looking at a few different periods in African-American History. This week we're going to start in on the Harlem Renaissance: reading some poetry and literature, looking at some art, and maybe making some art of our own. They really thought Romare Bearden's collages were nice so we're going to do some explorations in that direction. Tuesday we looked at the city's masterplan for redevelopment and did some interviews with neighborhood folks about their vision for redeveloping the lower ninth ward, including Mrs. Pittman who is this vibrant 72 year old lady who walked us through her garden and also shared some history of the neighborhood with us. Did you know there was a black owned movie in the lower ninth ward years ago? We also met with Anne Baker, the urban farming guru, who showed us her lot in Gentilly: it was pretty awesome. She has really healthy soil with great sprinklers, citrus trees and bees. She gave us some ideas that we might be able to integrate into our garden as it grows. Wednesday we worked on the plot of land attached to the back of the new building. The plot 30 feet by 150 feet. With the help of volunteers from we cut the grass, tilled a good deal of the land, and took soil samples we will test next week at Tulane University with Dr. Howard Mielke. On Thursday we had donuts and read the paper. Did you all catch the New York Times article about how the students at Eagle Academy responded to Obama's election victory? Then we worked on some posters to showcase our urban farming efforts at the Sankofa Marketplace on Saturday, and handed out flyers in the neighborhood before wrapping up for the week.

This upcoming week we're starting out dealing with being ready, willing and able to deal with unknowns. On a personal note, I have been really struggling with the students' lack of willingness to read about things they are unfamiliar with, eat food they have never tried before, and put themselves out there to speak in public (debate or represent themselves at the farmers market). And, the list goes on. Some of the things have been pretty simple but some of them have been daunting, so we're going to spend some time processing dealing with stuff. I'll keep you posted.

This weekend I met with William Allen who runs an amazing urban farming program n Milwaukee and we talked about the importance of dirt. ( So, this week we're going to make composting bins on Wednesday (that's urban farming day). And, if I can fit it in, we might be able to go to the New Orleans Food and Farm Network's workshop on worms, dirt and composting this weekend!

Then Thursday we're getting two visitors in that some of you might know. Alex and Spencer are coming to town for the Rebuild the Gulf Coast...Rebuild America Student Conference. ( We're going to get to know each other a little on Thursday and then, hopefully, have some conversations about how we can support one another's work. Hopefully, we'll all go to the Conference all weekend. After that we have a meeting with the folks at the Colton school, a building that houses a school but also many artists in a direct attempt to infuse arts into education. I'll keep you posted on what happens.

Last Friday I got a call from Entergy to let me know that all the building permits have cleared and our electricity will be turned on this Wednesday. Thanks a million to Mr. Francois in the permit office and to Joe Robinson. None of this would be possible without his advise and support! Maybe we can take some pictures of the building for next week's posting so those of you who don't know about the building can get a look at it. It's too exciting and too huge a project to get into right now but more details will surely follow. Perhaps friend in California who will remain nameless put it best when he said "looks like crap, it's perfect!"

That's about all for now. There are so many things going on that I can't possibly include them all but I'll keep you posted. As always, I appreciate your emails and phone calls. If you think there is any way you can support the work we're doing down here please send your support through youth leaders

OCTOBER 11, 2008 - Tremethia Won Class President

This week at the center Tremethia won president of her class at Mary McCleod Bethune and is in the runoff for school president. Rodeo was named student of the week at Martin Luther King. We fixed flat tires together and adjusted chains so they were tight. We also played some basketball on our new hoop. There is talk of a two on two tournament, the old dudes versus the young bucks. We also secured another piece of property in the neighborhood to grow food on. Ms. Betty came by to show the kids how to crochette, and Ms. Walker and Mrs. Thomas worked with the kids on being disciplined about taking care with their homework.

This week at the homeschool we got a new student who was recruited by the first student in the program. We also supported one of our own by going to court with him. The charges were dismissed.

Students looked at lyrics from some songs that they say represent the way things are. These songs raised a lot of questions.

These lyrics are from Dirty World by Lil Boosie
u c dis world wicked...
Dey killin at da skools from college to elementary,..
Sum ppl don't do shit for dey child-dirty world...

Can't even trust ya own family at times...
Nigga will make your whole family cry...
It's either rappers shooting or ballers hustlin
Dats da only way u make it n dis motherfucking hood
...fuck it

These lyrics are from Touchdown to cause Hell by Lil Boosie
I cutt the quickness when u play me cause I lay down jaw, if u ain't heard about boosie then I making my mark, I cutt ya thoart, take ya house, dats that souja slim talk, if u got money they can't never hold u down in the dark...

These are lyrics from Momma Wonder Why Ya child so bad by Lil Boosie
I grew up around gangstas, neva knew who my daddy was/
Tried to be good but it was thugs that tend to show me love//
So thats all I knew/
Looked up to my brother cause I respected what he been through~
Never took shit from any nigga's crew//
He said~
(AG and Speedy)
Neva let a nigga get da upper hand/
It might be hard do what you can to protect yo land//
Real niggas tend survive and dats da main plan/
Hold ya own and make the world respect you as a man//...

...Don't be dat other nigga//
Mama I regret lots a shit dat I said/
Bein in my position, its lots a shit in my head//
I can't explain why I'm in the place dat I'm at/
I'm not talkin bout physically I'm talkin mentally, where am I at? HUHN/

On da real sometimes I feel dat I'm livin for nothin/
Can't make decisions in my own life cause da world tryna run it//
Sometimes I feel like runnin grabbin da gun n bustin/
Don't give a fuck what I'm hittin long as I'm dumpin at something//
But I~
Keep my composure though the pressure is building/
Stuck in a system destined ta fail cause shit be twisted//

These lyrics brought up a lot of deep conversation. Some of the major points were that:
Everything is messed up around us.
I don't know what to do other than hustle to get out of this situation.
What does it mean to be a "real nigga"? a "real man"?
What's the difference between kindness and weakness?
Is hustling the only option? the best option?
When we interviewed one longtime activist this week she thought that these songs represented only part of who we are as a people and that they served a purpose to brainwash our youth. She asked who makes money off of these songs? Does this way of thinking go for everybody in the black community? How can the homeschool program open other doors for our youth?

What do you think? Send us your thoughts at

Do you know the meaning of each of this week's vocabulary words?
Could you use each of them in a sentence?

OCTOBER 3, 2008 - It's Been An AMAZING Last Few Weeks!!

Wow! It's been an amazing last few weeks at the Community Center!

We had just gotten the last of the summer volunteers out the door and were getting ready to open the center when Gustav arrived. Once we got back we got the internet installed and things took off! We have a couple of young adults working sporadically on their GEDs. Monday thru Thursday we also have tutoring and homework help as well as activities and snacks for elementary and middle school age kids. This week we had about 10 kids everyday. Tremethia wrote her speech for class president and the runoff is next week - we'll keep you posted. Rendall got some help with compound predicates and then read a Batman comic book until it was time to go. Oh yeah, and Albert is learning how to share and ride a bike.

During the daytime the center is mostly used for homestudy with two young men who couldn't get with the way the public school system was working.

On Monday we went and interviewed Mr. Duplessis, a retired school teacher, who spoke with them about how times have changed in the Lower Ninth Ward. Did you know alligators used to sunbathe in the swamp where Jackson Barracks is now?

On Wednesday we went to a meeting of the Lower Ninth Ward Urban Farming Coalition and made preparations to turn an overgrownand abandoned plot near the center into a place for kids to learn about nature and grow some fruits and vegetables. On Thursday we met with Dr. Mielke at The Center for Bioenvironmental Research. We're going to bring him some soil samples next week and then we're going to test them in the lab!

This morning we compared and contrasted lyrics and videos by Lil Boosie (Touchdown) and 2pac (On My Block) among others to understand how the place we grow up in shapes who we are and the decisions we make.

We've got a Survivor Council Meeting tomorrow and then we're going to build our own bikes. Next Saturday we want to go to the Skate Rink with the kids and Tony said he might go with us as a chaperone!

We'll keep you posted!