New Orleans a Tale of Two Cities
The City of New Orleans is a place rich in culture; it is something that keeps people coming back year after year. But in spite of all the things that are amazing, splendid and enchanting about the City, it is one that finds itself as many urban cities rife with crime and violence.
It is one where too many lives (mostly African American Males) are cut short by gunfire and lack of access to the ladders of success leading to lack of aspirations. Nevertheless, in spite of these obstacles there are many citizens who have tried to become a bridge; inspiring the youth of New Orleans that there is in fact, hope and opportunities to live lives free of guns and violence.
On the Frontlines
One of those persons who is on the frontlines of this battle is Nakita Shavers, her name may be familiar to some, for she is the younger sister of Dinerral Shavers, who was a renowned drummer and one of the founding members of the Hot 8 Brass Band in addition to being a band instructor; who was gunned down in 2006. His death along with the shooting death of Helen Hill, led to thousands of people to march on City Hall demanding that the City do a better job combating the problems of crime and gun violence.
Shavers is a woman with a big personality and is all New Orleans in her manner of speech and demeanor. She is warm, inviting, caring, compassionate and transparent when speaking of her journey from tragedy to discovering her life’s purpose where she is dedicating her life to help in stopping the senseless violence that plagues the City of New Orleans.
A Drum Major for Change: Remembering Dinerral Shavers
It’s been over a decade since Nakita lost her brother in a barrage of bullets ending his life right before the New Year. When speaking of her brother there is a slight quaver in her voice when speaking of Dinerral.
Heaping praise on him she notes, “He was always the most popular person, everybody loved him. He was outgoing his whole life. He started playing music in his early teens 14 or 15 and that grew into him becoming a professional musician and also that led to him becoming an educator.”
Continuing she speaks of the work he did with young people which is something that continues to inspire her in the work she does. “At the time of his death he’d just began to create the first marching band at L.E. Rabouin High School which was a school known for vocational education. But he thought to have a marching band would be a great experience for the kids where many of them look forward to marching in Mardi Gras parades.”
In a deep moment of emotion, she recounts, “He brought together 100 kids to be part of this marching unit and on the weekend, he was murdered that Thursday Dec. 28, 2006; the following Monday the instruments and uniforms for the kids came in.”
She says the principal of the school cried opening up the packages and vowing that the kids would get their chance to march in the Mardi Gras Parades. And in true New Orleans spirit musicians from around the City came together and the band marched that Mardi Gras season and it was a beautiful thing.
Speaking of the qualities that made him special she says, “He was a loving and kind individual who wanted to help people and change the world. He always had a big heart especially post-Katrina in that short year he lived. He was mission driven to make an impact on the kids and to his City and I believe he was successful at doing that. Years later many of the people’s lives he touched tell me how important he was to them as a mentor, teacher and friend.”
Making a Better Community
Since her brother’s death, she’s spearheaded several efforts to help those in need and inspire a community to be better. She is a true example of giving back, by not giving a handout, but a hand up.
“The Dinerral Shavers Educational Fund (DSEF) is an Educational Initiative giving an outlet to young people and alternatives to violence. We have a Back to School Extravaganza that’s grown over the past 10 years. We partner with Tulane University and Ashe’ Cultural Center. We distribute school supplies, there’s also entertainment, and we have health screenings and other things. It’s a hub where these services are available to youth and their families. It will take place at Ashe’ Cultural Center September 28th.”
This is not the only way Shavers chooses to serve, she explains, “There is a music and education curriculum I developed with the culture bearers from across the city. Basically, we partner with schools and community centers. Students are taught New Orleans history, taught by people who actually produce the culture, (Mardi Gras Indian, Musicians, Dancers, Drummers, etc.) The goal is to help them appreciate the rich culture in which they live and that they continue to celebrate and practice these traditions.”
Having a slew of programs aimed at various populations; Shavers believes that to make the City better it will take a multi-pronged approach. We have Girls Nola which is another program and is a Reproductive Health and Sex Ed Curriculum that cover mental, physical emotional and sexual health. We partner with schools and community organizations to implement this curriculum.”
“Also, there is Operation Give Back where we partner with Unity of Greater New Orleans to help the City’s homeless population. Every year we do a citywide household drive where we encourage people to donate furniture, and household items to Unity and we feed the homeless and we adopt a few families during the holidays.”
Essay Contest: The Need for Role Models
Without a map to excellence, many young people fall through the cracks and become susceptible to the twin vices of crime and violence. As a consequence, the community as a whole suffers, as so many young people never reach their full potential and accept mediocrity as the norm. Shavers who’s been chosen as a YLC Role Model speaks of the importance of role models and why she chose it as this year’s essay topic.
“I recently had a few people in my life that’s stood out to me as role models. I thought it would be interesting to hear from young people about who inspires them to be a better person.”
No Easy Answers: Solving the Problem Crime and Violence in New Orleans
Nakita Shavers is a young woman dedicated to making her City better, but as she’s grown, she realizes that she cannot do it alone and that all hands must be on deck.
“When I was about 18, I was very optimistic about the work we were doing thinking it would be an immediate solution for the violence in our community. I soon realized I was being naïve looking for simple answers to something so complex. That there was other contributing factor, socioeconomic and historical structural inequality to opportunities that led to some turning to crime.”
“For a time when I did not see results, I became discouraged. But as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I know it’s not just the work that I do but what everyone does as a cohesive unit and what we can all do to contribute to a better society, but it won’t happen overnight.”
Shavers in speaking of how all people can help young people aspire to having a better quality of life and not falling prey to low expectations and not reaching their full potential says, “They’re many opportunities across the city to mentor youth, every young person needs a role model and just having someone tell you what your options can be can change the possibilities of what their lives can become.”
Nakita is working to keep the dreams of her brother Dinerral Shavers alive by helping people all across the city. A journey that began in tragedy, but she’s triumphed and living a life with greater purpose and meaning showing that we all can make a difference in making New Orleans a better city and safer City for all.