‘Help New Orleans Children Thrive’ joint statement by the Opportunity Youth Executive Directors group

The statement below is currently featured in the Times-Picayune online and was crafted by members of the Opportunity Youth Executive Directors group including Grow Dat’s Johanna Gilligan.

“Let Londyn’s death inspire you to help New Orleans children thrive”

This past week, we were once again devastated by violence as we mourned the loss of 1-year old Londyn Samuels and the shooting of her 18-year-old babysitter, who remains in the hospital. The young adults most directly impacted by this tragedy, Londyn’s mother, father and babysitter, had committed to making their own lives better, tackling the obstacles they faced and taking advantage of positive educational, economic and social opportunities.

Londyn’s mother was a graduate and current employee of Cafe Reconcile. Her father is a Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) program graduate and has stayed closely connected with YEP and his mentor since he completed the program. The babysitter is currently a student in YEP’s GED program, NOPLAY.
These three young people were doing everything that we could ask of them – they were on the right track – and yet, their lives were still shattered by violence.

Still reeling from Londyn’s death, we watched horrified as violence continued to grip New Orleans over the weekend. A triple shooting left an 11-year-old girl murdered and her 11-year-old cousin in the hospital.

These unconscionable tragedies must serve as a reminder to all New Orleanians that this kind of senseless violence is not acceptable and cannot continue. We cannot view this type of violence as a norm in our community. Everyone in our city is affected when a fellow citizen’s life is lost. We all have a role to play and a responsibility to work together to make our city a place where every life is valued, and all children have the chance to grow up without the fear of being killed.

Several years ago, the executive directors of 12 of the city’s youth-serving organizations decided to come together to form the Opportunity Youth Executive Directors group. We realized that we needed to work more closely together to ensure that we were supporting one another; sharing resources effectively; providing unduplicated, quality services; raising awareness about at-risk youth and facilitating relationships with caring adults who provide the breadth of opportunities and skills young people need, and deserve, in order to become happy, healthy and contributing adult citizens. Together, our organizations provide thousands of the most vulnerable young people in New Orleans with a broad range of services that include emergency housing, advocacy and legal assistance, intensive mentoring and case management services, tutoring, mental health counseling, vocational and hospitality training, GED and adult education, parenting classes and job readiness skills and placement.

Through our work, we see young people every day who are grappling with more than most of us can imagine, and yet they still work tirelessly for a brighter future for themselves and their families. We are with these young people as they celebrate milestones that range from receiving their GEDs, to enrolling in college, to completing self-improvement programs, to finding full-time jobs, to securing their own apartments. Sadly, we are also with them when they endure some of the most painful and heartbreaking losses one can imagine. We are beside them when they find the strength, grit and resilience to keep pursuing their goals and dreams, in spite of these setbacks.

It is unfortunate and unfair, however, that the nightly images of young people in our community are not of hope and opportunity and success. Instead, we see the images of young people in mug shots and at crime scenes that are emblazoned in our minds and make us angry, frustrated and scared.

These negative images are not representative of the vast majority of youth we work with and know. Given the choice, most young people want to better themselves and will take full advantage of these opportunities. They deserve our help, respect and most of all, they deserve to have us stand beside them and share the real images of who they are and who they want to become.

The future of New Orleans rests in the fate of our young people. Despite our sadness and anger over these most recent acts of senseless violence that have taken children from our community, we remain steadfast in our commitment to working together to provide youth with professional supports, quality services and unconditional love. It is going to take all of us, in solidarity, to provide our good and brave young people with the opportunities they need to grow and thrive.

We ask that all people do their part to interrupt this unthinkable cycle of violence plaguing our city by getting involved. Volunteer to tutor; hire an at-risk youth; reach out to a niece or neighbor in need; make eye contact and say hello to youth when you pass them on the street … find a way to help bring peace back to our community and our families.

Glen Armantrout III is chief executive officer at Cafe Reconcile. Melissa Sawyer is co-founder and executive director of the Youth Empowerment Project.

Other members of the Opportunity Youth Executive Director Group are: Lauren J. Bierbaum, executive director, Partnership for Youth Development; Jim Kelly, executive director, Covenant House New Orleans; Ronald McClain, president/CEO, Family Service of Greater New Orleans; Johanna Gilligan, executive director, Grow Dat Youth Farm; Dana Kaplan, executive director, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana; Keith Liederman, CEO, Kingsley House; Janet Davas, Executive Director, Liberty’s Kitchen Inc.; Thelma H. French, president/CEO, Total Community Action Inc., Minh Nguyen, executive director, Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association-New Orleans; Flozell Daniels Jr., president/CEO, Foundation For Louisiana.