Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hope in NOLA's L9

This article deals with a wide range of issues in New Orleans' Lower Ninth ward, and it's a great in-depth read for anyone concerned about said issues. In rebuilding communities, Common Ground's organization actually includes former drug offenders:

In addition to helping people struggle with governments that should be helping them return home instead of treating them as criminals, Common Ground also works with former criminals by engaging them in the rebuilding of L9. Common Ground’s ex-offender program teaches 10 local youth to rebuild houses, which in turn will provide them with marketable skills and careers even once L9 is rebuilt. Malik Rahim points out that most of these youth were drug offenders, meaning that they already had an entrepreneurial spirit. L9 takes that entrepreneurial spirit and channels it in positive directions. Each of the members of the program contributes part of their pay every week to a common fund. This fund will be used to hire the next 10 members of the program. Through this program Common ground proves in practice that no one is disposable – the first and crucial step in building real sustainable communities, based on people’s values and needs, instead of those of government and big business.
Wow. No one is disposable. We should tell that to the policymakers behind things like the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty and drug education and student drug testing. We could even use that argument in our approach to the Campus Change Campaign! Oh wait, we already do all of the above. Like at Maryland, for example, except they didn't listen, thus leading us to believe that students are, in fact, disposable to them. Most victims of the drug war are easily disposed of under the pretense of creating safer communities.

Yet in the most devastated and overlooked sector of New Orleans, youth ex-offenders are valued for their "entrepreneurial spirit" and paid to gain the skills to rebuild. That is an awesome alternative to the prevalent approach of excluding youth drug offenders from various levels of community, from high school sports teams to the university. Every one of our successes indicates that someone in the policymaking department, like those at Common Ground, recognizes both the value of community members harmed by the Drug War and the insanity of punishing non-criminals.

No comments: