The Kingdom of God Is A Hand. February 9, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Carnival, Central City, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Dr.Martin Luther King Charter Schol, Hope, Ruby Bridges
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The evening begins with Ruby Bridges and ends with this picture of two young men in the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School Marching Band. I wonder how many in the crowd remember who Bridges is, the small girl sent by parents as obedient as Abraham through the spit and vitriol walk to Golgotha past the Ku Klux mothers, into the segregated 1960 William Frantz Elementary School in the Ninth Ward. This evening she rides a float of honor in a Carnival parade staged by women the eldest of whom were likely raised like myself in Catholic and suburban schools as white as 1960 William Frantz and everyone in the crowd and on the floats likes to think we are far past all that.
The two unnamed young men attend a Ninth Ward school named for the famous civil rights leader, a school as uniformly black as William Frantz was white in 1959, a new school in the charter anarchy unleashed after the Federal Flood in the name of free-market reform. I wonder if their parents, likely raised in the Bantustan New Orleans Public School System and turned loose after their allotted sentence with half an education, carefully reviewed the dozens of new schools before selecting this one, or if they chose it because of Dr. King’s name, because it opened in the mostly de-peopled Ninth Ward, its name and location a symbol of a struggle that began in 1960 but which has never really ended.
The pair stopped right in front of me on St. Charles Avenue and 2nd Street during a stop in the parade, the older keeping up the parade rest beat while verbally schooling the younger one who struggled to keep up. I study the picture for some resemblance, perhaps they are brothers, but I don’t find any and think a wise band director chose to place the novice next to the older one, someone willing to take the younger under his wing and teach him the ropes. The seriousness of his face before I raise my phone camera as he speaks to the younger, all the while keeping up the rigorous tattoo, the way the younger one tries hard to match the drum strokes, shows the older to be someone with the innate authority to lead by example. He will make a fine teacher or preacher or military officer someday, in one of the few openings in America where the color of character really matters.
When I raise my camera the young men are both suddenly eyes-front and Marine Band erect, representing at their best. In a city where too many young men his age mistake fear for respect, he has mine immediately, both as teacher of the tradition and as the clearly proud person picture who wears his uniform patches as if they were a Nike swoosh drawn by the hand of God. It’s not fair to judge their school or the entire charter school movement by one young man but I have to think that the Dr. King school is doing something right. His pride and discipline shine like the best military band or ROTC unit you will see this carnival. His willingness to take responsibility for the younger drummer while never missing a beat, the way he snaps to attention and the young one follows his lead, is a badge of character as clear as the letters on his jacket, stands out from the crowd like the white plum on his hat.
I can’t help but think of how the most successful charter schools cherry pick students, of all the kids left behind in the Orleans Parish and Recovery School Districts, the ones unlucky enough to land in a corporate McDonald’s charter to be processed like so much meat, those who wind up bleeding out on someone’s porch over slights real or imagined. The teacher Jesus did not set out to save the whole world. Translations later he is said to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand but I have to wonder if he meant his own hand; take this, he said, and be lifted up. Someone has lifted this young man up and he extends his to the younger and even as I type up this years list of the murdered I find in the middle of a Carnival parade not a moment of escape but a moment of hope.