The place was a-buzz black men and women dressed for the occasion; their brown, white, and Asian counter parts settling in. Children were running here and there in nervous anticipation waiting for THE moment. Amongst the hubbub one could see a blind man or woman walking with their long white red-tipped “seeing sticks.” In all, at about 3 P.M. on Sunday July 22nd, 180-200 people occupied St. Anna’s Church. As one might anticipate microphones squealed sending shudders down the spines of all the adults. The ambient conversation was a roar of greetings and ‘places saved’ for family members. It seemed like a great throng undulating in chaos.
Tap, tap, tap, the sound system banged as a well dressed black man said, “Good afternoon every one and welcome to Anna’s Arts Summer Camp Show” and the applause rang out. For the next two and half hours, yes two and half hours, children individuals and groups parade to the sanctuary. Some sang, some danced, and some read prose and poetry. As time worn on some left as they were leaving a young man began to play the electric piano. He is blind and his original composition, a bluesy lyrical piece, rang out softly above the din of chattering children. Silence greeted the room. He is the next Ray Charles, perhaps. I say perhaps because he will need support, training, and encouragement. The church had an old piano which by the end of the day was his to take home. Arrangements are being made so to do. The 14 year old pianist’s parents stood tall and proud with abundant love beaming from their faces for their son. The father simply asked what time are your worship services. He clearly wanted to be a part of what this is all about.
If you think competing drag queens on stage can get feisty you simply have to watch a pair of twins that we have. As they “gently” pushed each other away from the microphone; the one girl who was not a twin simply took a step and looked with that “hey girl whatch you doin” thing going on. The guitar recital was, as we all expect, some very tentative version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star…very tentative indeed. Yet one very shy 13 year old played a lyrical piece self written with a sound like mystery of Enya. Again, that hush while he played..then the buzz and chatter of adults praising children, kids running around, and a general bee hive of activity movement to and from the stage. . . enough to make a stage director go berserk. Drums, yes drums beat several African rhythms as played out with a dozen children in perfect beat sequence.
It seemed that the young ladies of the camp were the most forceful claiming their individuality and standing tall saying “I am leaving. I am leaving poverty, in New Orleans. I am leaving murders in my hometown. I am leaving hatred in my neighborhood. I am going away so that I can BE!” With strong voices they proclaimed a freedom hoped for, and life sought after, a time apart to become a part of the whole.
This was Anna’s Arts for Kids summer crescendo it was the time when parents who don’t show up showed up. It was a collaborative effort that took place over four weeks and tended to the needs, hopes, aspirations, fears, and obstacles that poor kids and challenged kids encounter. Anna’s Arts collaborated with Light House for the Blind and hosted over a dozen sight impaired children. They were overjoyed to be a part of something that did not set them aside or call them “special.” We collaborated with the Freret St. Neighborhood Housing group who brought at risk kids from that area to encounter kids from the Tremé. In New Orleans THAT’S UNIQUE. As you know we don’t cross boundaries artificial, social, or contextual in this city.
At the end of the day Erin McQuaid of Light House for the Blind made an astounding announcement. She had nominated Darryl Durham program director and heart of Anna’s Arts to receive the BlueCross/BlueShield Angel of the Year Award. He won it and rightfully so. With it comes a donation to his program for $20,000! As we rejoiced in it and celebrated the gift and the honor the applause rang out in standing ovation. And the kids buzzed and ran about as always.
It has now been a few days. The costumes and props are put away. The art work on display still regales the Parish Hall and will for a while. And its good artwork too! As Darryl and I sat down today we were convinced even more that lives are being saved. Children are being imprinted with possibility not impossibility; with worthiness not worthlessness. Even parents who sometimes are the nexus of the problems that their children deal with were somehow changed if only for that day. They were proud parents supporting their kids. What they are doing this Wednesday one cannot know.
The sad irony of all of this is that out of the four major missions of St. Anna’s Church: Medical Mission, Oportunidades, Food Pantry, and Anna’s Arts, this has been historically the most difficult to fund. Why might that be? How can that be? Children are often said to be the future. Yet, they are here and now. It is true that what they learn and experience now will in many ways guide who they will be in the future. That is true of adults as well as children. The difference is this: early on in life we are mold-able, malleable, adaptive, and resilient. Later in life we become impaired by experience and intractably convinced that we cannot change or are unwilling change. Yet, Anna’s Arts struggles to make even the most meager ends meet.
We are a community within communities. Children are as much a part of this community as the hungry, sick, immigrant, LGBT community and so on. I ask simply this: are you, are we, willing to step up and engage these children, support this work (financially or with time), and make a serious effort so to do? Ninety children ages 3-15 became artists, poets, linguists, actors, musicians, composers, well spoken and trained this summer. The Fall comes soon and they will gather again. We have a choice artist and poets, drug dealers and killers or worse invisible people just sitting.
To make a donation or to volunteer your times please call (504) 947-2121 X 18 or just call the general number, or go to www.stannanola.org and hit the donation button; Kids aren’t the future they are the very present reality that is today.