Fighting Poverty with Passion
Thanks for reading my post everyone!
This month I had the pleasure to participate in two experiences revolved around housing here in New Orleans. The first, a conference by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, served to highlight the current state and progress of public housing here in New Orleans. The ‘Fit for King’ conference, held in January to coincide with Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, also celebrated the twentieth anniversary of GNOFHAC and the incredible work that their organization has tackled in the last two decades. The second was the ExhibitBe street-art exhibition on the West Bank, which allowed richly talented graffiti artists, welders, sculptors, and painters to turn the unoccupied and run-down De Gaulle Manor apartment complex into an emotional and surrealist visual experience.
For this blog post, I’ll focus on ExhibitBE:
Accompanied by my fellow Fellow Brianna, we, without intending to, happened to visit ExhibitBE on MLK Day this year, and found ourselves joined by a few of our closest thousand friends, who converged on the site to view the beautiful (albeit often haunting) art, listen to Erykah Badu, Trombone Shorty, David Banner, Dead Prez and others, as well as explore the decaying, fetid site of this once massive apartment complex. It was incredible to see thousands of people at a place where I had expected only a handful to be, no less one which had been condemned and slated for demolition not that long ago. Besides feeling a bit jealous of some of the artists’ immense talent which was on full display, I couldn’t help but imagine the sights and sounds of those whom used to dwell there.
All of their emotions and feelings arose within me like a silent ghost. At once, the happiness of kids returning home from school, the love of people that the community lost over the years, all of the weddings, graduations, the triumphs and failures, the chaos after Katrina, not to mention the no-doubt panic and financial struggle among the occupants who were told to vacate years ago. Their embodied experiences permeated through the mold covered walls, the streams of broken glass, and down the damp halls of the rotting concrete fortress. However, where there was painting, there was some seriously insane painting. Dozens of colorful symbols and icons of movements were spray painted in immaculate fashion on carpeting, windows, doors and walls, laden with accents of bright neon and quotes of cultural icons from generations past.
The noise of the celebration outside the building, where portraits of Mohammad Ali, Biggie Smalls, MLK, Al Sharpton, Bob Marley and others loomed over visitors, stood as a sharp dichotomy to the haunting images of turmoil, pain, and bloodshed within the walls. The food trucks which had rolled into the site provided delicious southern eats, with scents wafting throughout the complex, and even Eiffel Society showed up to bar-tend. I’m pretty sure it was what sociologists refer to as a ‘phenomenological’ experience, one where all your senses, (visual, tactile, auditory, scent, taste) are activated and thrown around, causing you to be immersed in the moments of the space.
I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to go to both events, and was able to fight through the crowds to snatch some pictures of the artwork which will unfortunately, not exist for much longer.