Book Review: All Night It Is Morning

allnightI’ve read many books of poetry this year but none like “All Night It Is Morning” by Andy Young and published by Lavender Ink Press/Dialogos Books. The subjects of Ms Young’s poetry spans continents and cultures in a very personal voice including Egypt, Chile, Morocco, West Virginia, and New Orleans, among others. The book has a strong thread of disaster running through it; the struggle of life in the war torn Middle East, in the coal mines of West Virginia,  and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her voice clearly and bravely documents these events, the horror and the pain revealed with humility and grace. I particularly enjoyed her poems about West Virginia and the hard lives lived there in the coal mining community. The strength and purity of the people, her relatives, shone like a light of hope. I think my favorite poem in the book is Sower, written about her Grandmother. This passage in the poem just grabbed my heart:

She worked the earth through
drought and strike, through her
husband’s slow asphyxiation,

through childbirth and stillbirth
and bad blood even sassafras
can’t clean. When the trees were

chopped as easy as thieves necks
and the nearby mill flooded her field,
when she buried another daughter,

In fact, she writes a good deal about the struggles of women in war, in life, in love, in mothering. Her mentions of her own children are sweet and poignant and often shiver-inducing, such as this:

I study the flutter
of your breath, your arms

folded by your sides,
your ear that could fit in a thimble.

Your infant face is still
like glass as the children

of Qana are wiped of their dust.

New Orleanians and others who’ve lived in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will nod their heads, saying Yes! while reading her memories of that challenging time. Reading those poems brought back memories to me that I hadn’t thought of in a long time such as the sunflowers that sprouted all over the city in the inhospitable muck left behind. Remember how amazed we all were at the sight of those flowers? Her Katrina poems do not disappoint. Be prepared to find tears in your eyes.

While the mood of the book tends toward the dark side, Ms Young also gives us sunbeams as in the sweet (and another favorite) Meet Me in Morocco:

There are a thousand ways
to name the morning, morning
of jasmine, morning of lemon

blossom. Swallow my words
with your mouth. the earth springs
new beneath our feet.

Ms Young weaves the narrative of all these places and events throughout the book with a deft hand, sometimes intermingling them within a single piece which I found quite effective. This book was very satisfying to read and I find myself going back to reread many of the poems, finding even more layers each time.

Ms Young will be reading from this book Saturday, December 20 at Faubourg Wines, 2805 St. Claude Ave.

Hot Reads 8/24/14

It’s a hot, humid Sunday so sit back and take a look at what we read this week while you sip your beverage of choice. All this and more can be found on our Hot Reads From NOLAFemmes.com Pinterest board.
Have a great reading week, y’all!

Onaja Waki (left) is about to start college in California, but she and her mother, Oneida Cordova, have been talking openly for years about the dangers of sexual assault.  Photo credit: Teresa Chin

Onaja Waki (left) is about to start college in California, but she and her mother, Oneida Cordova, have been talking openly for years about the dangers of sexual assault.
Photo credit: Teresa Chin

From NPR: “As Kids Head To Campus, Parents Broach The Subject Of Sexual Assault”
Favorite Quote: “And he may hear all kinds of justifications while at school, she tells him. “I think what concerns me the most is not falling into that group mentality,” she says, “Like, ‘Oh, she’s a slut,’ or, ‘She came wearing a short skirt,’ or, ‘[She] already had sex with one of the guys, therefore it’s OK if everybody does.'”
Least favorite quote: “”That’s one thing I might be relying more on the college orientation helping them through, and giving them some guidelines and things to look out for,” says Gail.”
Note: It’s called sticking your head in the sand syndrome.

From Bloomberg: Hook-Up Culture at Harvard, Stanford Wanes Amid Assault Alarm
Favorite quote: ““This is the only crime where people blame the victim,” said Annie E. Clark, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, based in Los Angeles. “Regardless of what you do, you don’t ask for a crime to be committed.” “

From the U.K.’s Mirror: Crack unit of female soldiers hunting Islamic State kidnappers.
Tagline: Heavily armed women from the Turkish PKK have gone into Iraq to tackle the jihadists.
Favorite quote: ““Our support is just as important for the peshmerga as these US strikes – bombings alone cannot get rid of guerrilla groups,” said Sedar Botan, a female PKK veteran commander.”

And, on a lighter note, from Slate: Musical nostalgia: Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?
Favorite quote: “The period between 12 and 22, in other words, is the time when you become you. It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.”

Book list of the week: Awkward Paper Cut 2014 summer book list – “Summer is synonymous with reading. Wherever you may find yourself, the books below will take you to new places, teach you new things, nudge you to see the world in a different way. Brief, but well-culled, a mix of new work and work that we believe should find a larger audience.”

And our poem for the week is by Luci Tapahonso, This is How They Were Placed for Us.
Note: The audio of this is beautifully read by the poet.

Photo Credit: One.org

Photo Credit: One.org

Carnival as Goat Rodeo

From the Urban Dictionary: A Goat Rodeo… is about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it.”

Chris Thile

Thanks to this past Super Bowl, most of the country has gotten a bit of an idea of what it is to live in a goat rodeo as we do in New Orleans. Personally, I think if the scoreboard hadn’t gone out as well, play could’ve resumed right off in a half-lit Superdome, but that 34-minute delay sure made for a lot of fun on Twitter, most of it coming from the locals.

The thing most people cannot understand unless they live here is how much the week of Carnivalus interruptus has thrown us revelers for a loop. Honestly, if I hadn’t had the Abita Springs’ Krewe of Pushmow parade in which to march the Saturday just before the big game, I’d be running through the streets begging the greasy-food stand on my parade-watching corner that disappeared for the week before February 3rd to return and rounding up a bunch of people to throw the carnival goodies collected in my attic at nearby sidewalks and neutral grounds just to justify the booth’s presence. We don’t need all the famous people here to have fun, and if they happen to be here, we don’t particularly care.

Having said that, in goat rodeo terms, this has been one of the easiest-going Carnivals I’ve experienced in part because of that break, in part because I have a bit of a particular party pooper for a son (if he goes to the parades, they must be day parades unless he’s with peers who are attending a night parade, and the weather must be pretty good, and he must be plied with snacks – some of them coming from that greasy-food stand – and a few boxes of gunpowder poppers from the carts that troll the crowds just before a parade, looking to sell wares one can most likely catch off a float later on), and in part because I’ve got so much stuff in that attic I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter much to me what we get this year. As a result, I’ve been able to kick back a little and enjoy some of the quirkier aspects of New Orleans Carnival.

I got to enjoy my fifth year of marching in Krewe du Vieux with the Seeds of Decline. We had a marvelous float tweaking Chick-Fil-A, in case you couldn’t tell from my costume:

©SeanAmbrose-47

(Photo copyright 2013 by Sean Ambrose)

I dragged my son to see the Krewe of ‘tit Rex, which he wasn’t thrilled about at first, until he got some of the mini throws the krewe members pass to paradegoers as they pull their elegant (and topical) shoebox floats through the Marigny.

Maximum Jindal: Bare Minimum State

We managed to fit in a look at the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus a few hours later on the same night – of which my personal favorite part was seeing these guys yip-yip-yip their way along the parade route. Uh-huh uh-huh.

Sesame Street Martians

But we all got together with friends for a beautiful morning of marching through Abita Springs as a band of pirates. I even emerged with sunburned shoulders this year – it’s tough being a faire pirate wenche.

Anyway, I’m sure the goat rodeo will be in full swing in this parade-packed march to Mardi Gras day. ‘Til then, roll with it, be safe

Pirate Me

and Happy Marrrrr-di Gras to all.

Dr. Andre M. Perry on The Consequence of Missed Opportunities

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Perry
The One Son Who Got Away

By Dr. Andre M. Perry

About a year ago, Ms. Chanda Burks met me in my office to discuss establishing a mentoring program for black males through her sorority Delta Sigma Theta.  Ms. Burks brought along her adolescent son Jared Michael Francis to take in the conversation.  One year later, just a few days ago, I bumped into Ms. Burks at a NOLA for Life event.  There, Ms. Burks informed me that her son Jared died from multiple gunshots in front of their home in the hushed neighborhood of Tall Timbers. He died September 15, 2012.  He was an 18 year-old senior in high school.

After hearing this horrible news, I immediately recalled the robust conversation we had about mentoring and staying in school.  I remembered how encouraged Ms. Burks and her son left the meeting.  Ms. Burks in fact told me during our recent encounter that our past chat made a positive impression on Jared.  But, deep down I knew a conversation wasn’t enough.  I missed an opportunity to save a son.

A balance of regret and responsibility motivated me to call Ms. Burks a few days later. I also wanted to get a sense of what happened in between the time we last met.  Ms. Burks told me that he lived the typical life of a middle-class teenager. She saw few negative signs. Ms. Burks acknowledged the presence of one peer that showed a penchant for trouble. No one as of yet has been charged with his murder.  I told myself that a few more conversations could have reached Jared and his troubled friend.  But ephemeral conversations are not enough.

I like many others have abdicated our community responsibilities to teachers, community based organizations and City Hall.  To a fault, we’ve placed undue responsibilities on police and prisons to restore order. Given the magnitude of our community problems, everyday citizens must unlearn how we made disengagement an acceptable behavior.

According to the report, Building an Inclusive, High-Skill Workforce for New Orleans Next Economy from the Greater New Orleans Data Center, 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 in the New Orleans metro are neither enrolled in school nor employed. Disconnected youth is the latest tag used to describe this horrible state of anomie. It means that fourteen thousand youth in the New Orleans metro are adrift and disengaged from the social anchors that could instill the type of character that incite youth to fight injustice instead of producing it.

Jared did not qualify as someone who we deem as disconnected, but those we take for granted are receiving the collateral damage of socially dysfunctional communities.  We cannot escape ourselves.

The overwhelming statistics demand intimate and intrusive engagement that rises above fleeting conversations. But they’re reasons why we don’t get close enough to embrace a young man or woman.  We’re scared. The annual murder counts are more than alarming. Murder creates an environment of fear that facilitates a hands-free ethic of care. Consequently, even the best of us essentially drop in from our collective ivory towers only to helicopter out with deliberate speed.  We never become a part of the social milieu. We’ve become what I often refer to as arms-length advocates.

Arms-length advocacy can’t replace the strong hugs our children actually need. We can’t let fear or disengagement deny ourselves opportunities to prevent the unnecessary loss of yet another Jared. The community involvement we need is so simplistic it’s almost insulting to repeat. If more of us who care are fully present, murder rarely happens. If family members, neighbors and friends displayed the courage and love to take the gun away, report the crime and redirect the anger, we would not be our current situation.  If those who are not expected to save a son took every opportunity to act, the ongoing professional work could gain traction.

Ms. Burks and I simply can’t let another opportunity pass.  If the community character is not present, we must develop it.  Moral discernment must be taught, displayed and executed.  Therefore, we ask everyone who reads this to take opportunities to build our capacities.

Each year for my birthday (October 12) I try to give back.  I’m privileged. Service is the obligation of privilege.  My birthday always seemed like the perfect date to give back.  This year I asked Ms. Chandra Burks if we could become mentors and direct our friends to deeper mentoring opportunities.  She agreed.  Over the next week we are directing people to the New Orleans Kids Partnership Mentor and Tutor sign-up program < http://www.nokp.org/mentortutor/>.

New Orleans Kids Partnership has coordinated a variety of proven mentoring and tutoring programs across the Greater New Orleans region. NOKP made it very convenient for anyone to choose an organization that fits our busy schedules.  They also provide training and guidance on how to mentor or tutor. We can’t assume that everyone can serve as a role model.  Many “mentors” need mentoring. Nevertheless, NOKP and its partners make youth engagement a safe and organized process.

When you sign up, please indicate in the appropriate section that you heard about NOKP’s mentoring program through Ms. Chandra Burks.

As Ms. Burks and I meandered through our discussion, she could not keep straight the number of children she currently had.  She would say, “My three…I mean my two children.”  She may have lost a son, but she certainly gained a brother.  Hopefully, we will soon begin losing track of how many sons we have gained rather than from how many we have lost.

Andre Perry, Ph.D. (twitter: @andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.

Poverty in America – Guest Post

The  author of this essay, a woman in the GNO, has agreed to allow the below to be published on the condition of anonymity.  

I’m what poverty in America looks like.

While I am fortunate enough to have a home, the home is barely furnished. There isn’t enough money to eke out on a nice couch, beautiful dinnerware, or cookware that doesn’t rust after one or two washings while keeping the electric on or groceries in the fridge. At this point, I would be happy with a comfortable bed in place of my  air mattress with a slow leak. Most things that people throw out without second thought are things that are on my wish list.

I am not jobless because I’m lazy. I’m jobless because I have applied for jobs and am told that  I either have too much or not enough experience. Add to the limited experience large stretches of time away from the workforce to raise my special needs child, back when I was married and life was happy, I’m not an ideal job candidate.

I’m smart. I’m articulate. I’m intelligent. I’m a hard worker. I’m reliable.

These things don’t translate well on job applications, though. These are things that one needs to see, but we are a results-orientated society that wants the sure thing, and on paper, I’m not the sure thing, but the long shot.

I am back in college. I do odd jobs for friends. It’s not much, but it’s enough to disqualify me from receiving government assistance, even though I have a young child. I can assure you that the stories that you hear about how easy it is to scam the system and live a charmed life on welfare are absolutely false. They are urban legends created out of hatred and fear, uninformed opinion, and maybe a little bit of self-loathing.

I’m what poverty in America looks like.

I have a car, but can’t drive it. I can’t drive because my car needs to be fixed. I can’t fix my car because I don’t have money. I don’t have money because I can’t find a full-time job. I can’t find a full-time job because I have little experience. I have little experience because I raised my family. It’s a lot like the childhood song, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, right? That’s what my life feels like. It feels like each and everything I do, no matter how good, no matter how well-intentioned, gets overwhelmed by the next issue and the next problem. And I live my life on pause, frozen and stuck.

I don’t have Mom and Dad to call for help. I can’t return with my tail between my legs to my childhood home and get back on my feet. My parents are dead. In this world, it’s my child and me. And that’s it. I don’t even really have friends. People don’t generally like to be friends with the girl who can never go out and do anything.

The bags under my eyes come from sleep deprivation due to worry.

I worry about my child and how I am going to provide all of the needs, much less a few of the wants. I worry about whether to pay the electric this week or risk disconnection so I can get the good groceries – unprocessed fruits and vegetables, meat, milk, and nothing that comes in a can – or if I am stuck with the same high-calorie, cheap food that won’t offer much in nutrition, but will keep the hunger pangs away while it packs on the pounds. Yes, America, we have an obesity problem and part of the problem is the inability to purchase healthy food because food costs are high, leaving families to fill up on 99 cent cans of spaghetti and the Dollar Menu at McDonalds.

I worry whether or not my child would be better with someone as a parent that wasn’t me; my child deserves someone who could offer more financial security and all of those things that kids want: nice clothes, toys, books, games, electronics, vacations, and memories. Right now, I feel like the only thing that I can offer my child is supervision. I can’t give  everything that I want to give. And it makes me feel like the biggest failure in the world. The contempt that you throw my way when you look at me and make snap judgments against me for being poor doesn’t even compare to the contempt that I feel for myself.

I worry about my health. For the last few months, I’ve had some pretty terrible stomach pains. I don’t have insurance. I cannot afford the $150 office visit. I scour the internet, searching for home remedies, hoping that one of them will give me some sort of relief. Normally I can handle it, but the painful gall stones almost did me in. I haven’t had a pap smear in  three years. What happens if one day I just discover I have cancer? And I could have prevented it had I been able to get a physical each year?

Lately, my biggest worry is this: What if this is all there is for me in this life?

I’m what poverty in America looks like.

I don’t want a lot of things. It would be nice to have furniture. It doesn’t even have to be fancy. It would be nice to get the good ground beef instead of the ground beef that is about to go bad and needs to be sold right away. It would be nice to treat my child to a movie or museum or a toy that has been requested multiple times with the answer always being not now. It would be nice to not dread Christmas, for Thanksgiving to be more than a Turkey Loaf in the oven, to have clothes that fit me, to get my hair cut in a salon, to have a nice dinner out, to be able to join a gym,  to wax my eyebrows, afford make up, to have a car and to be able to get in and just drive.

What I want is for you to understand. I don’t want your judgments and your hate and your flippant comments about how I am a lazy sack of shit and your self-righteous declaration that you work hard for your money and you shouldn’t have to support me. I don’t want you to. I just want a chance.  But believe me when I tell you that  just getting up in the morning in the political climate we live in is hard work. Doing it all on my own is hard work. And trying to not fall apart is hard work.

What I want most is for you to see me as a person, someone that has a lot of worries and a lot of fears, someone that loves and cares and tries to do what good I can, but mostly someone that isn’t  the cartoon character that you have created in your mind about people like me – the poor.

Fighting Child Hunger with a new Toyota

We all feel hunger pains at some point during the day. Most of us are lucky enough to not have to worry where our next meal will come from, however not everyone is so lucky. Summer is a busy time for most families and before starting my new job at Second Harvest Food Bank a couple months ago, I never really thought much about how families and children that receive free and reduced lunches are affected during the summer.

What I’ve learned is both eye-opening and frightening: 1 in 5 CHILDREN in Louisiana struggles with hunger, this means someone my son goes to school with could be hungry. The need for food assistance during the summer months at Second Harvest is tremendous and it is usually a time of year when donations are not as plentiful.

Last June, Second Harvest Food Bank opened the Community Kitchen inside the spacious 700 Edwards Avenue warehouse. This community kitchen prepares hot, nutritious meals for children through its Kids Cafe and Summer Feeding program sites across the New Orleans metropolitan area. Last year the community kitchen at Second Harvest fed 2,500 children breakfast and lunch totaling 101,525 meals at 36 sites.

This summer, Second Harvest has increased its Summer Feeding program to over 50 sites and feeding almost 4,000 children daily. That’s nearly a quarter million meals for children who might otherwise go hungry this summer. These meals are prepared, plated and delivered daily by a team of volunteers who often use their own vehicles. This summer these meals will feed children in the Greater New Orleans area as well as three sites in Lafayette, St. Martin and Calcasieu parishes. A new Toyota vehicle will help Second Harvest Food Bank deliver nutritious meals to more children in need!

This Saturday, June 9 Second Harvest is competing against 4 other organizations to win a new Toyota from the Toyota 100 Cars for Good program. I hope the NOLAFemmes community will support Second Harvest and their mission to end hunger and especially child hunger across south Louisiana.

To vote visit: www.100CarsForGood.com  voting takes place between 9am – 11pm CDT Saturday, June 9.

I hope to be able to share more news from Second Harvest Food Bank to all of you again soon.

Nine Shot 3 Dead. Woman shouts “Enough is enough!” at NOLA Crime

The following piece was originally posted on Nordette Adams’ blog, The Urban Mother’s Book of Prayers on May 30. She has graciously given permission to repost it here.

This is the photo I saw when I visited NOLA.com today. The caption says that a distraught woman is being carried after learning that a seven-year-old girl was shot during a birthday celebration (for a 10-year-old boy) “just before 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29, 2012. ”  A girl, age 5, and a woman, 33, both died, and the birthday boy himself was grazed by bullets in the face and leg, according to the the Times Picayune, New Orleans’s primary newspaper. Early reports said that in total, five people had been shot, and you may read the full story at the Times Picayune/NOLA.com website. Since then, the death toll has risen.

The photo above unnerved me, but I still recognized that it illustrates one of the concerns of this blog, which is that mothers, wives, aunts, grandmothers–women who want their children and loved ones to survive–are repeatedly caught in the crossfire of rampant violence either as shooting victims themselves or through the loss. The photo, however, did not surprise me because I had already received a notice in email from WWL-TV reporting a “quintuple shooting.” According to WWL, the woman who died was Shawanna “Nonnie” Pierce, mother of three. She was not part of the birthday party; she was on her way to return a rental car.

In the this video , a woman shouts, “Enough is enough!” Who would disagree with her? Coincidentally, the family celebrating the birthday party were interviewed on television just a few years ago during an anti-crime rally calling for an end to the violence. Members said they hoped the rallies worked because something had to be done to stop the violence.

According to WWL, three people died and in total, nine were shot. From the station’s written account, here are some quotes:

“It’s time to end it. Enough is enough,” said Doris Stewart, the victims’ great aunt. “One baby dead, one laying in the hospital trying to survive.”

The mayor and police chief reacted with fury.

“Clearly the cowardice of these shooters must be and will be overcome by the will of the people of New Orleans. We do know that unfortunately when young children are hurt, people do come forward quick, and they come forward with good information,” Chief Ronal Serpas said.

“Both the chief and the commissioner and I and everybody else are calling on everybody who was out here. We’ve got to find these guys, and we’ve got to end this violence in the city of New Orleans,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

The birthday party incident was the last of four shootings on a terribly violent day:

The picture to the left shows Brianna Allen, the 5-year-old who died. She had recently graduated from kindergarten. Brianna’s grandmother also mourns a son who was recently buried.

In other sad news, the City of Chicago experienced a plague of violence over the Memorial Day weekend. There, 40 people were shot and 11 are dead. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said that there area a “set of economic issues” … and “a set of cultural issues” that feed into the violence that “we are not talking about.” I would say that this is also true in New Orleans, although I know some people get offended when anyone brings up the cultural issues that hurt rather than help. Perhaps we will soon be fed up enough with the cultural issues that factor into our destruction to talk about and address them with power and determination.

Compromise – is it worth it?

I’m up in rural Mississippi visiting family. I’m sitting in a room lit up by the sunshine streaming through the window and listening to the lilt of wind chimes right outside. It’s calm and quiet and I’m loving it. It makes me wonder why I live in a city full of noise, long lines everywhere you go and the daily count of dead bodies  by murder when I could be living where the pace of life is relaxed, coming and going is pleasantly easy and the only people who die violently are car accident victims. And that’s fairly rare. But, it’s only Tuesday – I’ve only been here three days – and usually by about the fifth or sixth day I’m missing the vibrancy, the color, the music, the culture, the life of the city. Nothing is perfect in this world and oftentimes we have to accept compromise in deciding our life’s path. Lately, however, I find myself so incredibly angry and saddend by the unrelenting pace of murder in our city, especially when it involves children, and I think about how it wears on one’s psyche and whether it’s worth being exposed to that every day for the other more beautiful aspects of life in the city. I can’t even imagine being a parent and raising a child here and the worry they must live with everyday.

It’ll be interesting to see how I feel on the fifth day this time.

Lit Up Like a Parade

Thursday marked the end of a countdown my daughter started on January 6: Muses.

Each night, after she listed her daily gratitudes and wrote in her diary, she would find the countdown calender drawn on pink paper and dressed in white, silver, purple, and red glitter. With her very special pen, she would carefully cross off one more day, informing me of  the new countdown as she called out wishes of sweet dreams. As the countdown slimmed from a month, to a week, and then to days, her excitement grew.

“I don’t know if I should wear a costume this year or not, Mama,” she contemplated in the middle of a lesson on polygons for her sixth grade math class.

“Mama. do you think I will get a shoe?”

“What do you think the floats will look like?”

“Which book should I bring with me to read while we wait?”

“Should I take pictures with my cell phone?”

“I am so excited for beads, Mama!”

She was preoccupied with the parade, the Krewe of Muses, and our Mardi Gras holiday.

Since our first parades as New Orleanians a few years ago, our Mardi Gras holiday has consisted of Muses on Thursday and d’Etat on Friday. Having a spouse working in the restaurant business, Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras were never spent together – he is busy insuring everyone else has their spirits high on these two special days. And because my daughter is a high-functioning autistic child, we stayed away from the crowds of the super krewes. Just in case.

We have always watched the parades along the extended route, sometimes called the family zone, and it has been an enjoyable experience. We have reconnected with old friends, exchanging Mardi Gras wishes while catching up with the latest changes in our lives, and have met many new friends. My daughter has played along strangers, created art while patiently waiting for the show to start, and read her first Nancy Drew book along the parade route. Through the challenges that we sometimes face throughout the year, issues dealing with social and sensory issues, Mardi Gras and Muses was the moment of the year where it all faded away, where we were a normal family embracing the culture in our new city, creating memories of our new life.

As we sat on the sidewalk along the parade route and patiently waited for start time, we talked about what we thought we would see, which bands we loved listening to best, and whether Elvis would make an appearance on his moped. We watched Pussyfooters pass by on foot, 610 Stompers in full uniform, and a few Bearded Oysters with high hair weaving through the crowd.  As parade time approached, as cliche as it sounds, there was a sparkle in my daughter’s eye and a smile so big, it made me wish that she could spend her life this happy – always.

And then they came. Despite sitting on the ground, our feet on the street, they came in front of us, a gaggle of college kids holding to-go cups full of booze, cigarettes in hand, f-bombs flying out of their mouths with no care who was around them.  Once the parade started, we stood, them still in the street. Then the first marching band hit the road, forcing us all to back up, my daughter getting lost in a sea of twenty-somethings drinking a little too much. Some were local, others were not. She looked at me, her eyes tense.

“Mama, I can’t see. And that guy keeps touching me with his beer.”

Despite her 5′ 6′ frame, she was surrounded by young adults too involved in gossiping about who was going to be screwing who, which picture they had on their phones that were “too epic’ to not post on Facebook, and preoccupied by the booze pouring out of their red SOLO cups.

One boy, over 6 foot, came dangerously close to starting my daughter’s hair on fire. Only one float had passed by.

“Excuse me, Sir,” I said, ” do you think you could move over a bit. My daughter cannot see, you’ve spilled some beer on her, and you almost got her with your cigarette.”

He looked at me blankly, then looked at her. He looked at my daughter from head to toe, staring at the patch on her coat that would indicate she was autistic to medical personal should an emergency arise. He sneered at me before laughing in my face.

I put my arms around my daughter, warming her up, protecting her, whispering in her ear.

The tall man with the bear hat on his head paid no mind to us. He didn’t move, either.

“Hey, man! I need to move. This woman is bitching at me because her retard daughter can’t see the parade!” he shouted to a kid a few feet away.

He turned back to us, looked my daughter in the eye, and shouted to no one in particular. “This retard is making watching the parade a challenge.”

My daughter looked at me, knowing he was talking about her, and tears formed in her eyes. I wrapped my arms around her a bit tighter and whispered in her ear that the man was drunk, didn’t know what he was saying, and sometimes the best thing to do is to know the truth about yourself and ignore what other people say.

My words didn’t matter, though. By then, she had heard what he had said, knew what he was implying about her, and she wanted to go home. Had she not been with, I may have had a few choice words of my own, but I knew it wasn’t the time and certainly not the place.

A night she had been looking forward to, planning and anticipating for a few months, had just been marred by that bad behavior of a grown person.

“Mama. please, can we go home? He told everyone I’m a retard. I’m not a retard, am I, Mama?” she asked. The grin was gone, replaced by a quivering lip. The sparkle in her eyes had dispersed, and they were now filled with a flow of tears falling down her full, pink cheeks.

“Are you sure, honey? We could walk somewhere else and watch the parade. We could move.”

“No, Mama. I don’t think that would be a good idea. People there will probably think I’m a retard, too. People don’t want people like me at parades. They won’t let us in to watch the parade. I just know it.”

I tried to comfort her with my words, encourage her, but the more I pushed, the more this man’s words hurt.

We packed up the bag holding the the goods that had entertained us for the  two hours  we sat on the sidewalk, waiting for our special night. The bag that held my daughter’s snacks, sketch pad, books, and blanket. I took her hand, and led her to the car to go home.

She cried in the car on the way home, having seen exactly two floats from Muses and having exactly zero throws to show for the verbal attack that she endured just trying to watch her favorite parade.

“Honey, I am really sorry about what happened. Maybe we can try tomorrow night. Maybe we can go to a different spot, ” I said, trying to encourage her and save the rest of our Mardi Gras.

“No, Mama. I don’t think I want to do Mardi Gras anymore. Not ever again.”

A year ago, I asked my daughter what she most loved about Mardi Gras, expecting her to say the throws, the beads, and the pretty costumes. Her answer surprised me: “I don’t feel like I am different than everyone else during Mardi Gras, Mama. During Mardi Gras, everyone is a little weird like me.”

That night, she didn’t want to share her daily gratitudes, shrugging her shoulders and telling me she didn’t really feel grateful for much. She didn’t write in her journal, only wanting to forget the night had even happened. Her countdown calendar peppered the floor in tear-soaked pieces. A night that he had probably already forgotten by the next morning; a night that her broken heart will never let her forget.

__________________________________________________

Administrator’s Note: The response to Amy’s story has been heart-warming and overwhelming. We are so proud and happy to read the wonderful comments you’re leaving. I’m attempting to monitor all comments so negative and mean ones will be deleted. Please help by not responding to those mean comments. We thank you!

How the Oilspill Can Affect Your Health

Information you need to know if you’re participating in the oilspill clean-up or live in the gulf coast area (just how does inhaling oil fumes affect us here?). Of special note are the toxicity effects on children and pregnant women. Thanks to Mom’s Rising for alerting us to this valuable information. The following can be found online here.

Gulf Oil Spill Health Hazards

 

Dr. Michael Harbut, Karmanos Cancer Institute

Dr. Kathleen Burns, Sciencecorps

Many people will be exposed to airborne and waterborne chemicals as a result of the BP Gulf of Mexico spill.  It is important to understand the potential toxic effects and take appropriate steps to prevent or reduce exposure and harm.

Crude Oil Fact Sheet

Crude oil contains hundreds of chemicals, comprised primarily of hydrogen and carbon (e.g., simple straight chain paraffins, aromatic ring structures, naphthenes), with some sulfur, nitrogen, metal, and oxygen compounds (see Table D-1 in CDC, 1999 linked below).  Crude oil composition varies slightly by its source, but its toxic properties are fairly consistent. Chemicals such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are very toxic components of crude oil and of high concern.  These and other chemicals are volatile, moving from the oil into air.  Once airborne, they blow over the ocean for miles, reaching communities far from the oil spill.  They can be noticed as petroleum odors. Those working on the spill and people far from it can be exposed to crude oil chemicals in air.

We have prepared 1 page summaries for the public and for workers.  You can download and print them.

www.sciencecorps.org/crudeoilhazards-public.pdf

www.sciencecorps.org/crudeoilhazards-workers.pdf

Chemicals being applied to the water, such as dispersants, are also of concern.  We don’t have chemical composition details at this time, so can’t provide information on health hazards, beyond noting that most are reported to contain petroleum distillates, which pose health hazards when aspirated.  See EPA’s summary of oil spill response products (March 2010): http://www.epa.gov/emergencies/docs/oil/ncp/notebook.pdf

Exposure

Exposure can occur through skin contact, inhalation of contaminated air or soil, and ingestion of contaminated water or food. These can occur simultaneously.  Exposure pathways may result in localized toxicity (e.g., irritation of the skin following contact), but most health effects are systemic because ingredients can move throughout the body.  Exposure varies based on the duration and concentrations in contaminated media. Differences may result from location, work and personal activities, age, diet, use of protective equipment, and other factors.  Concurrent exposure to other toxic chemicals must be considered when evaluating toxic effects. Some chemicals in crude oil are volatile, moving into air easily, and these can often be detectable by smell.

Basic Physiological Effects

Crude oil is a complex mixture of chemicals that have varying abilities to be absorbed into the body through the skin, lungs, and during digestion of food and water. Most components of crude oil enter the bloodstream rapidly when they are inhaled or swallowed. Crude oil contains chemicals that readily penetrate cell walls, damage cell structures, including DNA, and alter the function of the cells and the organs where they are located. Crude oil is toxic, and ingredients can damage every system in the body:

respiratory                                                  nervous system, including the brain

liver                                                             reproductive/urogenital system

kidneys                                                       endocrine system

circulatory system                                      gastrointestinal system

immune system                                         sensory systems

musculoskeletal system

Damaging or altering these systems causes a wide range of diseases and conditions. In addition, interference with normal growth and development through endocrine disruption and direct damage to fetal tissue is caused by many crude oil ingredients (CDC, 1999). DNA damage can cause cancer and multi-generational birth defects.

Acute Exposure Hazards – brief exposure at relatively high levels[1]

Crude oil contains many chemicals that can irritate the skin and mucous membranes on contact.  Irritant effects can range from slight reddening to burning, swelling (edema), pain,and permanent skin damage.   Commonly reported effects of acute exposure to crude oil through inhalation or ingestion include difficulty breathing, headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and other central nervous system effects. These are more likely to be noticed than potentially more serious effects that don’t have obvious signs and symptoms: lung, liver and kidney damage, infertility, immune system suppression, disruption of hormone levels, blood disorders, mutations, and cancer.

Chronic Exposure Hazards – long-term exposure at relatively low levels

This type of exposure should be avoided, if at all possible, because the potential for serious health damage is substantial.  Chronic health effects are typically evaluated for specific crude oil components (see CDC, 1999), and vary from cancer to permanent neurological damage.  They cover a range of diseases affecting all the organ systems listed above.

Susceptible Subgroups

Children are vulnerable to toxic chemicals in crude oil that disrupt normal growth and development.  Their brains are highly susceptible to many neurotoxic ingredients. Endocrine disruptors in crude oil can cause abnormal growth, infertility, and other health conditions. Children’s exposures may be higher than adults and can include contaminated soil or sand. Newborns are especially vulnerable due to incompletely formed immune and detoxification systems.

Many people with medical conditions are more susceptible to crude oil toxicity because chemical ingredients can damage organ systems that are already impaired. Specific susceptibilities depend on the medical condition (e.g., inhalation poses risks for those with asthma and other respiratory conditions).

People taking medications that reduce their detoxification ability, and those taking acetaminophen, aspirin, haloperidol, who have nutritional deficiencies or who concurrently drink alcohol may be more susceptible. Some inherited enzyme deficiencies also increase susceptibility (listed in CDC, 1999).

People exposed to other toxic chemicals at work or home may be at higher risk.

Pregnancy places increased stress on many organ systems, including the liver, kidneys, and cardiovascular system. Chemicals in crude oil that are toxic to these same systems can pose serious health risks. Pregnancy also requires a careful balance of hormones to maintain a health pregnancy and healthy baby. Endocrine disruptors in crude oil can jeopardize the hormone balance.

The developing fetus is susceptible to the toxic effects of many chemicals in crude oil. Many cause mutations, endocrine disruption, skeletal deformities, and other types of birth defects.


Personal and Public Protection

It is critical that people who work with or around crude oil wear appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, respirators, and water repellant clothing, to minimize exposure.  The necessary equipment will depend on the kind of exposure that can occur (dermal, inhalation, ingestion). See OSHA guidance at OSHA 2010 link below. Susceptible members of the public require notice when exposure may occur (e.g., when contaminated air masses move inland) so they can take protective actions.

Sources

CDC, 1999:  http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/tp123.pdf

OSHA, 2010: http://www.osha.gov/Publications/3172/3172.html

NLM: http://sis.nlm.nih.gov/dimrc/oilspills.html – very limited information on human health

The National Toxicology Program (NIEHS-NIH) provides information on carcinogenic crude oil ingredients (e.g., benzene) & limited information on reproductive hazards http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/

California’s EPA provides a list of chemicals know to cause cancer and/or reproductive harm: http://www.oehha.org/prop65/prop65_list/files/P65single040210.pdf

Children’s Health – International pediatric consensus statement regarding children’s susceptibility to toxic chemicals: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/119425377/HTMLSTART This contains a link to 120 scientific papers presented at the Conference on Children’s Susceptibility to Environmental Hazards.

Federal focus on children’s environmental health including policies designed to protect children: http://yosemite.epa.gov/ochp/ochpweb.nsf/content/homepage.htm

It is useful to directly consult the medical literature to obtain current information. The National Library of Medicine access to peer reviewed medical studies on chemicals and mixtures including crude oil is at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed&TabCmd=Limits

For up to date information and ways to help with the Gulf oil disaster see: www.waterkeeper.org

Authors

Michael R. Harbut, MD, MPH, FCCP
Professor, Internal Medicine, Wayne State University
Chief, Center for Occupational & Environmental Medicine

Director of the Environmental Cancer Initiative
Karmanos Cancer Institute
Providence Hospital
118 N. Washington, Royal Oak, Michigan 48067-1751
e-mail: harbutm@karmanos.org

Kathleen Burns, Ph.D.

Director

Sciencecorps

Lexington, Massachusetts

e-mail: kmb@sciencecorps.org

www.sciencecorps.org


[1] The exposure of susceptible individuals, such as newborns and people with specific health problems, may result in acute exposure health effects at levels that would not result in observable harm in healthy adults.