Jan 072014
 
(photo by jewel bush for UptownMessenger.com)

(photo by jewel bush for UptownMessenger.com)

jewel bush

It’s 34 degrees at daybreak; and the temperature is rapidly dropping. The day is as dreary as it is gray, but not even the hawk — or the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) — can keep Brandan “BMike” Odums away from the Florida Projects.

He’s not breaking and entering in the name of creation this time around. The visual artist, who is equally dexterous with spray paint as he is with acrylic and pen and ink, is there to reflect on #ProjectBe, an organic participatory art odyssey that began last summer. #ProjectBe sparked debates among the arties — and authorities – about what makes “legitimate” art and whether a weather-beaten public housing development can ever be more than an underground thrill. Continue reading »

Dec 242013
 
Seventh Ward Santa with Akhil Isiah Ricco-Thompson on Dec. 23, 2013. (submitted photo)

Seventh Ward Santa with Akhil Isiah Ricco-Thompson on Dec. 23, 2013. (submitted photo)

jewel bush

It’s the weekend before Christmas at Dennis Photography, a quaint picture studio. It’s the calm before the storm, a studio attendant explains, before the gallery is packed with crying babies, active toddlers and parents filling out picture packets on one of the busiest Santa Claus picture-taking days of the season.

Seventh Ward Santa, as he has grown to be known in his 43 years, is nowhere in sight. According to his business agent, Fred Parker, Santa is in between photo shoots as is typical during this time of year working to make as many appearances and greet as many little ones as possible. He’s been on call since Nov. 1 visiting multiple New Orleans daycare centers, elementary schools and high schools daily in addition to his regular sittings at the studio.

“I’m dog-tired. I can’t sleep. I’m up at 5 and then up until 12 and 1 at night,” Seventh Ward Santa said. “I’m looking forward to Christmas Day so I can get to sleep.” Continue reading »

Dec 102013
 

jewel bush

LaTanya Killingworth was fresh out of Alfred Lawless High School when she found out she was HIV positive. She casually took a test while visiting a health center with a friend. Weeks later, after she had forgotten all about it, she was called in to get the results.

“The day I found out I was positive I cried because I thought I would never have kids. It was a death sentence at that time,” Killingworth says. “I thought my whole life was gone at 19.”
Continue reading »

Nov 192013
 

jewel bush

Should applications for jobs with the City of New Orleans ask if a person has any previous felony convictions? Mayor Landrieu, to his credit, says no.

Referred to as “banning the box,” cutting this query from employment applications won’t do away with background checks. It would, however, prevent a “yes” answer from eliminating an otherwise qualified candidate from the interview process based on biases against those with criminal records. Background checks, as they should, would come down the line once that person is considered for hiring; and even then, a felony conviction won’t be an employment barrier. Continue reading »

Oct 292013
 

Emory Douglas Postcard

jewel bush

Graphic artist legend Emory Douglas — whose work is on display now at the McKenna Museum in New Orleans — is responsible for crafting the Black Panther Party’s iconic visual identity, capturing the era’s intensity through fiery artwork that rose above the rhetoric and subterfuge of the day to reach an embattled community in ways words were unable to articulate. Continue reading »

Oct 152013
 

jewel bush

Over the last year, I’ve met dozens of incredible people both personally and professionally, and I’ve followed up most of these encounters with some sort of thank you — digital, but more often tangible.

I’ve sent greeting cards and handwritten notes, which are no easy task being that my penmanship has never been even mediocre and the physical act of writing sometimes pains me. Not only have I sent notes to the new folks who have entered my life, but I’ve also mailed a variety of correspondence to my old friends and colleagues as well to remind them how amazing I believe they are. Continue reading »

Sep 242013
 

jewel bush

The city’s only indie, black-owned bookstore, Community Book Center is turning the big 3-0.

Over the last three decades, the operation that Vera Warren-Williams launched in her parents’ Lower Ninth Ward home has blossomed into a black literary hub hosting publishing world heavyweights such as Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, Dr. John Henrik Clark and Nikki Giovanni while serving as a home base to local authors like Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Brenda Marie Osbey, Tom Dent as well as father-and-daughter writer pair: Kalamu ya Salaam and Kiini Salaam among others. Continue reading »

Sep 172013
 
Robert "Kool Black" Horton and Ameca Reali. (photo by jewel bush for UptownMessenger.com)

Robert “Kool Black” Horton and Ameca Reali. (photo by jewel bush for UptownMessenger.com)

jewel bush

Ameca Reali joins a small group at the corner of Orleans Avenue and North Galvez Street near the Lafitte Housing Development. Donning oversized shades, Reali recognizes that this particular day in September is a scorcher and immediately thanks the volunteers for braving the high temperatures, especially on a Friday afternoon.

After Reali leads a quick huddle, everyone takes off in separate directions to begin the task of distributing fliers for a unique community event she is organizing: an expungement fair.
Continue reading »

Sep 132013
 
jewel bush

jewel bush

Uptown Messenger columnist jewel bush, founder of the MelaNated Writers Collective, will be speaking at 10 a.m. Saturday as part of a panel discussion on “Creating Community for Writers of Color” at the Rising Tide new media conference on the future of New Orleans at Xavier University. Below, find a short series of questions and answers with Bush:

How did the MelaNated Writers Collective get started?

I was in newspapers for 6 years, and when I left to begin doing communications and marketing for nonprofits and various organizations, I missed the camaraderie of the newsroom. I freelanced for awhile, but it’s not the same as being in a space with other writers. Around this time, I started to take my creative writing seriously and began attending literary workshops around the country like VONA (Voices of our Nation) the only multi-genre workshop for writers of color, co-founded by the Pultizer-prize winning author Junot Diaz and Callaloo when it was at Texas A&M. Spending time with other writers, talking shop with them was amazing. It was what I needed and as close as I could get to the newsroom energy without being in the newsroom. In fact, it was a little bit better, because this bunch of creatives weren’t as jaded or cynical as newsies can often be. They were motivated and psyched about writing.

After I did Callaloo and did VONA for the first time, I knew a week here or two weeks there of this was great, but it wasn’t enough. I knew I wanted and needed this year round at home. I knew I needed to recreate this here; and that’s what I did. I began talking to other writers, poets, bloggers, MFA students/graduates, journalists, teachers about this idea; and from there, the writers I knew introduced me to writers they knew and before you knew it there were nearly 20 people in my living room talking about their work and what it meant to be a writer of color living in New Orleans. Continue reading »

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Sep 102013
 
Cherice Harrison-Nelson and Blenda Robertson participate in the Poems and Pink Ribbons workshop. (photo courtesy of Kelly Harris)

Cherice Harrison-Nelson and Blenda Robertson participate in the Poems and Pink Ribbons workshop. (photo courtesy of Poems and Pink Ribbons)

jewel bush

Sharon Carter Sheridan lost both of her parents to cancer – lung and colon. Barely in her teens, Sheridan’s sister died of uterine cancer at the age of 13 in 1951. Two of her brothers died of cancer – lung and pancreatic. And, she herself has been breast cancer free for 17 years.

But it wasn’t until her sister, her dearest friend and confidant died from the disease that Sheridan became incensed.

“Cancer didn’t make me angry until my older sister was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. That’s when I got mad,” said the New Orleans woman. “A lot of people around me have died from cancer – friends, cousins, family – but it was just something about my sister getting it that I just didn’t think was fair, and I’ve been angry ever since.” Continue reading »

Aug 272013
 
A spray-painted welcome to President Bush on St. Claude Avenue on Aug. 29, 2006. (photo by jewel bush)

A spray-painted welcome to President Bush on St. Claude Avenue on Aug. 29, 2006. (photo by jewel bush)

jewel bush

When President George W. Bush’s motorcade drove down St. Claude Avenue on August 29, 2006 — the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — there were many signs, like sentries, stationed along his route to Fats Domino’s house in the Ninth Ward, one stop on his itinerary of ceremonial rounds.

The messages, posted on signs lined along the neutral ground and on the actual storm-clobbered buildings, weren’t flattering greetings from the city’s welcome committee. The collective reverberation to the commander in chief’s obligatory pilgrimage to the place he neglected a year earlier was that of a shimmering rage, pithy and piercing in delivery.

One of the strongest indicators of this sentiment was a lop-sided, green Port-a-Potty positioned on the very edge of the neutral ground somewhere along St. Claude, a strategic locale sure to catch the eye of, if not, the president himself, someone in his party. Among protest notes scribbled in gold spray paint on all four sides of this freestanding structure, the standout read: “Reserved for Bush.”

Mr. President, welcome to New Orleans. Continue reading »

Aug 202013
 
(photo by jewel bush for UptownMessenger.com)

(photo by jewel bush for UptownMessenger.com)

jewel bush

The Florida housing development has undergone a metamorphosis at the hands of Brandan “BMike” Odums, a 27-year-old art educator and literacy advocate.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, 127 shiny new apartments had recently been built in the Florida housing development, an 18.5-acre tract of land in the Upper Ninth Ward. The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) had plans to build more. That didn’t happen, though. The units were damaged so badly during and after the storm that HANO closed down the Florida. The property has sat abandoned and rotting for eight years, yet another Katrina eyesore in the city.

Odums has taken the 17 or so crumbling townhouses that remain and turned them into mini art galleries called #ProjectBe — artistic alchemy, if you will, his way of transforming the ugliness of blight into an electrifying participatory art project. Continue reading »

Aug 062013
 

jewel bush

The war for the most New Orleansest grocery store in Mid City has been waged.

Winn-Dixie’s grand opening pomp and circumstance have included giveaways of all sorts, folks in patriotic-esque costumes meandering around the grocery – to add to the celebratory atmosphere, I suppose – and a saxophonist serenading produce shoppers to add Big Easy flair among other jazzy gimmicks.

Not to be upstaged by the new kid on North Carrollton Avenue, Rouses Market had a brass brand – tuba, trombones, trumpet, snare drum — playing near the store’s entrance, a block party hosted by WWOZ and a Sunday Gospel Brunch. Continue reading »