Vignette I

Definition of VIGNETTE

1:  a running ornament (as of vine leaves, tendrils, and grapes) put on or just before a title page or at the beginning or end of a chapter; also :  a small decorative design or picture so placed

What ornamentation might we imagine in our lives? If our lives are indeed the stuff of novels and stories then what are the ornaments of those stories? For this series of short stories our Vignette might be something dark – perhaps a gargoyle atop weathered stone backlit by a bolt of lightning. It creates a sense of foreboding. So here starts our prolog:

Anna’s Place sits in a wonderful cross road of neighborhoods yet within some of these neighborhoods the darkness of violence and poverty seem to have arisen and taken over. Poverty here is not simplicity of life nor is it some sentimental vision like in “Oliver” – “Food glorious food! Hot sausage and mustard!” sing the cherubic children under the thumb of the evil Fagan. No, this poverty is dark and finds its manifestation in murders, anger just under the surface, and a sense of entitlement that both frustrates and enslaves. Here is the truth about where we live or close by; this is the truth of the 7th Ward and surrounding neighborhoods with names like St. Roch or Iberville or even Tremé:

  • Population about 30,000
  • Those in poverty about 40%
  • Less than High School education 25%
  • Make less than $1250/mo. 35%

The last figure is for a head of household of four! It is also a fact that those living in zip code 70116 live about 20 YEARS LESS than any other part of the city. The darkness is poor health, poor living conditions, and toxic land and housing. This is a place where obesity and malnutrition look alike and is the same villain. Victimization of those outside as well as those inside of this dark place is common place and often for sport or “retribution” as much as for gain. Our vignette – the gargoyle backlit by lightening on a dark and stormy night.

This sort of place creates humans capable of bitter and dark deeds. We know the stories and we bear witness to the outcomes that this present darkness brings. A child is born and even before birth the child receives no pre-natal care. There is little or no nutrition for this growing life at least not the best or even the minimum that might be required. Momma still drinks, still smokes, and takes no vitamins. Momma still eats fat laden foods and almost no juices just sugared up excuses for refreshments. The placenta is a wonderful organ but it can only do so much to filter out commercial cheap food product and other growth inhibiting chemicals. Is she negligent; how can she be if she was never taught what pre-natal care means? Mothers are by nature caring but some of the “care” must be learned.

When the child is very young say maybe two or so they play where? They play in houses that are poor excuses for dwellings as so many should rightfully be called slums. Did you know that in our darkness rents have increased by 30% or more while wages for the lower tier of wage earners has only increased by 10%. What is a mother to do? So, this child plays on the porch or home or yard. Oh did you know that the land near I-10 along N. Claiborne is a toxic wasteland of heavy metals? Children with lead poisoning manifest symptoms like A.D.D./H.D. bouncing off of walls and unable to focus for long. This is most often untreated or miss diagnosed.

So you grown up without good nutrition (cheap food is laden with fats and sugars) and in an environment that is basically toxic. We haven’t even talked about single parent homes, pressures of income disparity, welfare demands, and street culture. You learn very early on to have that hard face even while you are still vulnerable and looking for affirmation in a world that seems to withhold that love or support. Now you are nine years old and someone asks you simply this, “Tell me one thing about your neighborhood?” Here are the real answers to that simple question from Anna’s Place kids age nine:

“Someone was shooting outside and I was on the ground.”

“When my cousin Jimmy went to meet a girl but she set him up and he was fighting and then he got shot in the head 4 times.”

“When they were shooting I saw the people with a gun. And it was somebody I knew. And they shot a grown up. My Daddy’s friend.”

These sentences are not made up they are written by the children that many of you now support. A community within communities perhaps our vignette is shifting a bit. Perhaps our illustration is showing rays of light only slighting illuminating a spire and that gargoyle is moving into the shadows. A community that reaches out is that light.

When we, who work with these kids, meet them for the first time they tend to be hardened at an early age. Even the cutest little ones are high demand kids that push and prod and demand. Some, a bit older, are bold beyond their years because “authority” is suspect and not to be trusted they are taught. Hard very hard and to take responsibility for a mistake or for poor behavior is, they are taught, a sign of weakness. Or at least that is the way it seems or must be in order to make sense out of these hyper active children. (Remember the lead and heavy metals?) So these adornments that I want to share are now in a context.

We who work with these kids sometimes blow by the small victories. But they are big victories indeed and these stories will create a new vignette that is not only a spire of hope rising to heaven this vignette is illuminated with blues and gold and reminds us of greatness. We are now finished with a prolog and can begin the chapters of our human story. In part II of Vignettes we will visit some of the children and those who work with them. A community within communities will adorn this text. After all it is one greater than we travelers who said, “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden…”