It’s been 18 months since I got shot nine times.
People ask what it felt like to be shot. I don’t have a good answer because for me the pain wasn’t being shot; it was knowing that the shooter had help, that he wasn’t alone in his hatred for me.
He was the product of an established media design to implement self-hatred in Black communities. Showing negative images in mainstream media implies that all Black people live in a culture of violence. Excluding the vital positive actions and responses that are currently being taken against multicolored violence has the effect of systematically demonizing Black people.
This is painful, but I still stand for peace. I practice my tai chi and kickboxing routines, the same as before the failed attempt on my life. This helps dispel the pain in my body from physical wounds that are still healing. It also helps my mind and soul overcome anything that feels like a limit, healing me spiritually. It helps keep me focused on the injustices dealt to my fellow man, rather than my own suffering.
A higher power governs right and wrong, good and evil. It’s so common for people of color to play the race card and place blame on Whites. In many cases, we are justified in doing that. And yet countless times the violence against Blacks is by Blacks — which is what happened to me.
Black youth are twisted by substance abuse, domestic violence, and over-sexualized images of themselves in the media. TV endlessly details how to do crimes, cheat on spouses, and engage in unhealthy practices.
Seeing all that, I have become somewhat obsessed with wanting to know if peace also brings out violence. Does lack of aggressiveness open you up to betrayal?
A passive-aggressive or directly aggressive attitude is what’s expected of a Black man like myself. This is the reason Black people are often shot without any reason or warning, as I was. This is the reason I strengthen mind, body and soul.
Why do we target fellow Blacks, the social order’s most victimized citizens? In my opinion it’s our cynical way of profiting from the school-to-prison pipeline. It reflects the rising price of housing in low-income communities, the unequal wages and job opportunities.
Some of that comes from lack of educational support and from racial bigotry that hasn’t gone away. (In fact it’s getting worse.) But some of it is cultural: a Black hairstyle can cost you a job. And as I have found personally, holding on to faith in non-violence can also be isolating at a time when getting in someone’s face is seen as the only way to keep them from getting in yours.
The result of this cultural gap is well known: drug use, dealing, fighting, shooting, ignorance about other people and also about yourself. These individualized problems make up a larger collection of issues that halt progressive change throughout the city.
In order to fight this undertow that’s dragging the city down, we need to identify the mind, the body and the soul of New Orleans. Only then will we be able to heal the broken bonds that make this city home for so many people of different backgrounds.
Violent crime, especially gun violence, has been laying waste to individual lives and whole communities in New Orleans at least since the crack epidemic of the early 1980s. Victims of violence — dead or alive — place terrible stress on families and businesses. People who have been though violent situations often have a hard time readjusting socially, emotionally and financially.
Violent crime can seem random. It ranges from police shootings to gang shootings. It includes assaults on the elderly and on the young, on women and on men. It includes the rape of children, both boys and girls. Burglaries and street robberies hit rich and poor alike.
What’s behind this evil? How can victims get the peace and justice they deserve? Where can grieving families find the support they need? If we don’t address violence and find a positive solution, our communities — not just individuals living in them — will continue to die.
Here’s what needs to happen: We need to come together to make efforts to give peace a higher profile than the violence that dominates the news. Only then will we start to drive down the crime rate in New Orleans.
Public schools in New Orleans — all of them: elementary, middle and high school — need to overhaul their curriculums. They need to provide courses that will make for self-sufficiency and job-readiness. The lack of this orientation puts New Orleans youth at a real disadvantage. Schools need to teach youths to become reliable employees and business owners and professional people.
There was a time when youth left school with skills in carpentry, home economics, welding, health, auto repair, whatever. Those electives have been stripped out of the curriculum. Without some understanding of how the business world works, youth are doomed to be second-rate citizens — incarcerated, unemployed, and/or killed.
Low graduation rates in New Orleans mean fewer native sons and daughters in local colleges. Instead, their places are taken by students from the suburbs and out of state. Fewer New Orleans-born college graduates means fewer community leaders.
The future of our communities depends on overhauling our schools to teach self-awareness and self-reliance. A curriculum like that will empower Black youth who now see their only source of strength as being the gun in their pocket — a symbol of weakness, not of strength.
Music is one of the most powerful forces in our universe. It’s how we remember ageless information, connect and communicate with others, and create new moods of emotions from the low and high vibrations of sound in each melody or track. It’s why King David wrote the Psalms, how the Quran was recited by the Prophet Muhammad, and why Homer put the history of ancient Greece in verse. It’s why we can’t forget the alphabet. It’s why music feels good and often familiar to our soul.
Making music that looks toward positive change, raw details, unbiased truth, love and divine faith is contagious. It infects listeners with hope and a vision so that they could see the real issue. I call it Gorealla music — a play on Go Real, LA. It’s a mantra I created that applies to living life and making music — or any art form that dares to embrace visions of truth and progress in our state and in ourselves. Whatever uplifts Louisiana!
Right now, Louisiana has some of the highest rates of incarceration, crime and Black unemployment in the country. Can you imagine a different Louisiana?
Too much of the music produced here reflects a disregard for personal development, self-awareness, and human rights. There’s not much in the music messages trending on the radio besides sex, drug abuse and violence.
Any voice that emerges for progressive change through the music is suddenly silenced, while the trending regressive music is topping charts due to steady promotion. The music may reflect the mindset of locals and people who like New Orleans music, but it also reinforces it.
By changing the musical messages we can change that mindset. By changing the mindset we can provoke thought and innovative solutions. We can change lives and build a better future for New Orleans.
Body, mind and soul. These are the essentials of life in New Orleans. At least that’s how it feels to me as I continue recovering from nine bullet wounds and a brush with death.
How do you feel about New Orleans? What makes it what it is?
New Orleans resident Derrick “Sonny D” Strong is a rap artist and community organizer affiliated with Icons for Peace, a group that advocates for alternatives to violence.
Views expressed in the Opinion section are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens founder Karen Gadbois.