Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Down on the Bayou

I spent my Saturday down on St. John's Bayou in MidCity New Orleans tabling a booth with the Parent Organizing Network at the Bayou Boogaloo Festival. Sireen and I worked alongside two amazing, dedicated women, program director Aesha Rasheed and Shana Turner, providing information about New Orleans public schools to parents and other festival attendees. We fielded questions and distributed the Parents' Guide, a resource for parents that Sireen and I have spent a good chunk of our workdays revising and updating. The guide provides essential information about the ever changing, nuanced landscape of the city’s public education system. Along with the closure and relocation of many schools following the storm, the state takeover of the district and the start-up of numerous charter schools have created a situation that parents and district officials alike have difficulty fully keeping tabs on. Along with organizing and empowering parents to have more of a voice, the Parent Organizing Network works to provide much needed transparency about the application process and the choices parents have about where to send their child for school.

It was an especially hot afternoon on the Bayou, but festival attendees beat the heat by enjoying snowballs, cold lemonade, and New Orleans iced tea. The food was mouth watering (I enjoyed a tasty 12 hour roast beef Po'boy with worcestershire sauce and grilled red onions) and the crafts were fun to browse, but the music was definitely the highlight. On the lineup card were New Orleans legends Rebirth, The Soul Rebels, and Walter the Wolfman Washington with Joey Crown. Needless to say, listening to soul stirring live music and eating distinctive New Orleans cuisine have truly defined my experience in this amazing city.

On Sunday we were back at the Bayou enjoying a truly unique (and rare!) New Orleans experience. It was Super Sunday and the Mardi Gras Indians were out to celebrate a century-old tradition. Mardi Gras Indians are mostly African-American Carnival revelers who dress up for Mardi Gras and Super Sunday in colorful, ornate suits inspired by Native American ceremonial apparel. The tradition was said to have originated from an affinity between Africans and Indians as fellow outcasts of society, as well as blacks circumventing some of the worst racial segregation laws by representing themselves as Indians. Collectively, the Mardi Gras Indians' organizations are called "tribes," ranging from a half dozen to several dozen members. On "Super Sunday," usually held the Sunday closest to Saint Joseph's Day, the Mardi Gras Indians (including children and men and women of all ages) parade through various neighborhoods dancing and playing drums and brass instruments. It was quite a sight and we all felt privileged to be a part of the experience!

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