What About Us? The Forgotten Generation, by Wilmarine Hurst

As a special project for the inaugural class of the Family Leadership Training Institute (FLTI) — an organization geared towards training parents to become advocates for their children and the community — two young people from the Odyssey House Academy (OH) were interviewed. The purpose was to give these young people a chance to express how they feel about life and their situation. Their names (and pictures) are not mentioned because of privacy issues.

When we look at the headlines in today's local, state and national news, and we see such headlines as "13-year-old Terrytown boy booked with murder of his 5-year-old sister;" "NOPD books 4 teens suspected in armed-robbery spree;" "New Mexico teen kills three children, two adults, inside home;" and of course, the infamous shooting and wounding of 19 people during a Mother’s Day parade, we need to ask the question, Why is there so much violence among the youth of today? Maybe it's time for the youth to speak up and answer these questions for themselves.

On a warm Tuesday morning in early June, two young people agreed to sit and talk about being in an adolescent treatment facility. Tee, a female, age 14 and Dee, a male, age 16 were both “remanded” to Odyssey House Academy by order of the juvenile court. “Odyssey House Academy is a residential substance abuse facility that serves males and females age 13 through 17,” according to Tonya Coulliette, program manager. They also address other issues such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD and/or depression.

Dee was actually sent there by his probation officer after being in jail for his second simple robbery offense. “I’m in here for simple robbery and smoking weeds,” Dee reveals. And Tee confesses, “I’m in here for smoking marijuana and aggravated assault.” When did they get to this point? When did they decide to become drug users and petty criminals?

In an online report by Mike Broemmel entitled, “Reasons for Juvenile Delinquency,” he cites several reasons why juveniles commit crimes, such as drug abuse, mental health issues, family environment, and peer pressure. Regardless of the reasons, if they are not reached at an early age, we will have a lost generation.

Dee’s Story – Misunderstood

I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.

According to Dee, who was a student at Joseph Clark Senior High School, there wasn’t any particular reason for his actions. Dee, who was wearing a tee shirt with the word “misunderstood” in large letters, seemed guarded in his response. Some people may think that, as a young Black male, that family environment may have been a factor in his actions; however, Dee dispels that myth. He had a good family life with loving parents.  “I don’t know why I did the things that I did,” he says. “I really didn’t have any reason. I had everything I wanted,” he concludes.

Dee explained that he was leaving Odyssey House the following week; and after which, he says that he plans to eventually leave New Orleans. “I want to go back to school, first,” he tells. “Then I’m going to move to Florida.” When asked what he would like to do with his life, Dee says, “I would like to be a football player (safety position), or maybe a computer programmer.” It appears that he does have some hope for the future. He believes that he can make it as a pro football player. And when he was asked what he would change about the city and his life, Dee says, “I don’t really care about this city. But if I could change anything, I would stop all the violence in the city and I wouldn’t do all the robberies and stupid stuff that I did.”

Tee’s Story – I Don’t Know

Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride.

One of the first things that one notices when meeting Tee is how young she looks. Of course, at age 14, she is young—too young to be in this type of facility. Yet, she readily admits that she was here because of her fighting. “I was charged with assault,” she explains. “Sometimes I can’t control my temper.”  She is in an anger management class at OH. But according to Tee, there were times that she got into fights for no apparent reason. She admits that she and some of her friends would get into gang fights without provocation. “I wouldn’t be upset and stuff. I would just start fights. And I would carry a knife, but no guns.”

Tee, who is from Lafayette, was not in school at the time of her sentence. She says that she was just hanging out in the streets. So, when asked where she sees herself five years from now, she didn’t have any concrete plans. She did say that she would like to return to school. At age 14, it seems like she didn’t give much thought to future plans, either. She was also given an opportunity to respond to the question about the changes that she would like to see in the city. “I don’t know about any changes,” she says. But she then added, “I would probably stop the violence, if I could.”

Our Story – What Will the ‘Village’ Do?

Let the children’s laughter remind us how it used to be.

These two teenagers were guarded and reserved in their responses.  They did not seem to have much hope or concern for the future. Is this our future generation? What will we do to help these and other young teens that seem to be lost?

One of the answers may come from the PLTI. This organization, formed in Connecticut, to help empower parents to be change agents and advocates for children in the schools and community, will graduate its first inaugural class here in New Orleans on July 1st.  Elaine Zimmerman, founder and executive director of PLTI will give the address on civic responsibility. The inaugural class completed a 20-week session which helped to prepare them to deal with community and youth concerns.

Class member Ms. Amauunet Ashe of Young Audiences of Louisiana sends this message to Tee and Dee, as well as, the children of the community: “To the lost and neglected children of New Orleans—especially the displaced youth residing at Odyssey House—you shall no longer be forgotten. For it is the charge of PLTI’s inaugural class of 2013 to render itself to advocacy and service to all children and families in need.”

Another organization which may be ready to come to the aid of our lost generation is the Family Center of Hope located at Watson Memorial church. On June 27-28, the Center held its annual summit on the African-American male. “Since 1992, The Family Center of Hope, committed to finding solutions to the violent crime in our city, has convened parents, youth, elected officials, leaders of faith organizations, law enforcement and youth-serving agencies,” states its 2013 program. The Thursday night summit (“Escalating Dialogue to Resolve”) brought out people from all walks of life including the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Judy Reese Morse, who explained Mayor Landrieu’s NOLA for Life initiative which he hopes will alleviate some of the violence in the city.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman, State Rep. Wesley Bishop, newly-appointed Atty. Gen. Kenneth Polite, Director of Constituent Services for Councilmember LaToya Cantrell Julius Feltus, retired dean of SUNO’s School of Social Work Dean Millie Charles, as well as a host of other civic and community leaders and just citizens, in general were on hand to discuss ways in which they could help address the violence in the city.

“The War goes on in New Orleans: Who’s Responding? Who’s Responsible,” was the topic of debate with moderator Norman Robinson, WDSU-TV six news anchor. The panel participants included Rev. Dr. Dwight Webster, pastor of Christian Unity Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. Torin T. Sanders, pastor of  Sixth Baptist Church; and host panelist, Rev. Tom Watson, Watson Memorial. While there was much discussion about the crime in the city, the Friday morning Think Tank (“A Home for Our Sons: Restoring Milne Boys' Home”) brought about a different approach to dealing with our youth. Foundation for Louisiana founding member Linetta J. Gilbert summed up what many have come to realize—and that is “We must bring the youth to the table. They need to have a say in decisions that affect them,” she says.

And this time, we must LISTEN to what they are saying! Trying to reach the youth of this city before they become lost is a job for all the citizens of this city. It's not just a Black thing. It’s a community thing.