Students had an early wake up this morning -- 7:45. After breakfast, Ma'ayan E. put smiles on everyone's faces with her morning intention, urging everyone to pay heed to the words of the 80s Swedish band Roxette: "listen to your heart, when he's calling for you. / Listen to your heart there's nothing else you can do.” These words captured perfectly the feeling of positive unity the seniors have been feeling and expressing on their journey.
We boarded the bus and headed to the once vibrant and now reemerging African-American neighborhood of Central City, New Orleans. The area, once a bustling shopping district, is now in the process of revitalization, led in large part by the founders of the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, the hosts of our visit.
The Ashé Cultural Arts Center, housed in a huge loft that was once a department store, is a center "that creates and supports programs, activities, and creative works emphasizing the contributions of people of African descent." Its founders and directors have a passionate vision for bringing life and vibrancy to the area through the power of culture in all of its forms -- music, dance, theater, and the plastic arts.
The directors of the Ashé Cultural Arts Center welcomed us in a warm embrace that brought students and faculty to their feet with African drumming, dance and call and response singing--in Yoruba.
After a lively welcoming ceremony, students turned to the main purpose of their visit: to meet with and interview "culture bearers”--members of the New Orleans community whose stories reveal the incredible diversity and richness of the city's citizens. Seniors practiced their oral history interviewing skills and had conversations with these culture bearers who represented a fascinating cross section of the New Orleans African American community.
We then boarded the bus again and headed out of the city and onto the bayou, to explore the native wetlands of the Mississippi River Delta. Students walked for hours through the Barataria Wetlands Preserve, where they spotted alligators, snakes, raccoons, lizards, herons, swamp deer, squirrels, and caterpillars. Students strolled along the wooden boardwalks that wound under the dense, heavy green vegetation that characterizes the Mississippi River Delta.
Students returned to the hotel to rest up for an evening’s fun in the French Quarter, feasting on Kosher Gumbo, red beans and rice and cornbread. Over dinner, reflecting on the events of the day, one senior said she really was beginning to understand what it means to “find meaning by giving back .”
Thanks to Asher Grinner for the photos.