When we read the newspapers, we get an age and name of a citizen shot on the intersection of two streets. More than often, we hear more about where the murder happened than to whom it happened. All too often the largest part of the New Orleanian’s personality is undiscovered. Out of 413 citizens murdered since the Flood, never did we have the opportunity to understand the Kingdom of God dwelling inside each one of them.
There are those among us who read about these murders and before they can hear the pleas of compassion for their fellow man, they plug their ears, and set sails for the blessed isles of forgetfulness where they can lull their conscience with the sweet songs of diversions. These cynics find it fit to know only the name and age of the victim so they can continue to see each murder as meaningless. In the deep reaches of their heart, the cynic knows that if they were to hear his humane song, they might be called to act against these heinous crimes.
The cynic’s value and worth operates in its own little separate system, an infinite distance from the valuelessness of the victims. These cynics do not have profound feelings about profound things so they have separation from places, times and persons. Since they do not understand the sacredness of our city, they are blind to the dignity and worth of our citizens. Their hearts are stone for they do not know what it means to lose a New Orleanian.
Looking out unto the conditions of our community, the cynical citizen sees only terror, destruction, and death. They abandon their dreams of New Orleans, and cry out, “Such hope is foolishness.’ They resign to their doubts about her resurrection and settle for another place where, in a quietly despairing world, they will lose themselves as automaton living in an alienated universe. The cynic wanders through life spurred on by a fickle faith. They never possess the courage to fathom their faith. They never possess the strength, determination, and love to be a New Orleanian. They instead wish to sit on the sidelines during the majestic struggle for the soul of democracy happening here in New Orleans.
Every one of the 413 New Orleanians was a believer. Each of them saw the destruction, death and meaninglessness permeating New Orleans, but they did not flee to a comfortable community, they heard her soulful cry, they drove their sails to the unknown, forged through the stormy seas and answered her call for creation. Each of the 413 was a knight of faith who leapt into the darkness, ready to battle the labyrinth of love, ready to risk body, mind and spirit for her soul. Each of the 413 had a living faith in the genius of New Orleans; they took up the burden of chaos and committed themselves to the staggering task of creating the Dream City.
Each one of the 413 New Orleanians made that choice because they saw New Orleans as the symbol of what we could be. They believed that New Orleans is the meaning of democracy. They longed for New Orleans because New Orleans is the dance of democracy; it is the dream of democracy.
Each of the 413 held onto a hope, they saw beyond the rubble, and saw a promising land. They possessed a passion for this place and its people. They knew that the plant ‘man’ has grown most vigorously to a height on the soil of New Orleans. For a New Orleanian is a human being who constantly experiences, sees, hears, suspects, hopes and dreams extraordinary things. They are masters of inventions in ideas, words, stories and songs. A New Orleanian is a courageous, cunning animal that has no equal on the Earth. Even when darkness descends upon them, the New Orleanian labors their way out of any labyrinth.
Surrounded by the poetic people of this soulful city, the 413 dared to dream that they could be Fathers in founding a community of creators—a community where artists seek Virtue and Truth, saints preach dreams to the youth, poets discourse with the wise and priests sing ancient lullabies. Yes, the dream of New Orleans was still alive in the hearts of these citizens.
Only in this city, baptized by the waters of fire, do we possess the potential for a higher dream, a higher community, a higher humanity.
While living in other cities, with other citizens, at other times, the Reverend of Reveries, Dr. Martin Luther King might have dreamed about little black boys and little black girls holding hands with little white boys and white girls. But I will tell you that if the King of Dreams were still alive today, and if he were in New Orleans right now during our majestic struggle, under the oak trees, he would take his mental flight and, as that sweet breeze gave him that New Orleans ease, the prince of peace would dream higher dreams. He would have a dream that in New Orleans little black boys, little black girls, little white boys, little white girls would descend like doves upon our city and together fathom the courage to create the beloved community.
He would have a dream in New Orleans that one day, blacks and whites, Easterners and Westerners, Caribbean and Europeans would beat their swords into plow shares and their spears into pruning hooks, that brothers would no longer rise up against brothers and all would learn to love their enemies and pray for those who harm them.
He would dream in New Orleans that one day, Baptists and Buddhists, Catholic and Hindus, Muslims and Jews, would give themselves to Peace from the essence of their being and sing to their gods new songs of love and healing.
He would dream in New Orleans that one day, the boulevard of Martin Luther King, a place ravaged by rage, a place flooded in fear, would be transformed into a neighborhood of nonviolence.
He would dream in New Orleans that every day after every murder, the whole city would rise up, gather together and stand in silence—stating in their symbolic gesture: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that every man is created equal and every human is endowed with the spirit of the Creator.
In his hearts of hearts, King knew that it was dream power that moves the cosmos. It is dreams that move humanity through the dark ages. It is only with our dreams that we can come back to this city day after day. Each of the 413 clung to their dreams of New Orleans. They were the free spirits of America, who saw the degeneration of a city once proud in her dance, once noble in her art, and once dangerous in her greatness. They saw her destruction yet they still longed for her life. They could not abandon her green and gracious universe and they agreed to pay the price for her Kingdom.
In these years after the Flood, we lost 413 citizens to man’s inhumanity to man. No matter whom they were, no matter what mistakes they made, no matter where they were in life, these 413 were faithful New Orleanians. Some, like Dineral Shavers, were children of music, some, like Curtis Helms, were children of poetry, some, like Chivas Doyle, were loyal friends, some, like Joseph Magee, were loyal fathers, some were great dancers like Edward Balsar, some great artists like Keith Moore, some great listeners like Willie Simmons, some, like Ronnie Keelen, could not escape drugs, some, like Jerrell Jackson, could not escape the crowd. No matter what their role in our city, they all made a fateful decision. They all decided that, for New Orleans, they would forge through the chaos to create community. Let us remember those 413 sacred citizens murdered since the Flood. Let us respect their dignity and worth by meditating on their personalities. Let us take this time to cultivate compassion for our fellow New Orleanians and feel the breeze of this great city and hear the songs of our lost citizens.
Let us join hands and pause now one moment for each of the 413, I will let you know when the 6 minutes 53 seconds is completed.
[A Moment of Silence]
These children of God—beautiful, creative and alive with the love of New Orleans—were the victims of man’s most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.
May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you during these dark days and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating in your mental skies. I hope you can find some consolation from the artist’s affirmation that death is not the end. The society of murderers and victims in which we survive will find its end and transfiguration only on the level of creation. Art is the creator of dignity, value and meaning in man. It is the peak expression of man’s creativity; his genius to break out of death’s paralyzing bonds. Your loved one’s will not be forgotten in the newspapers of yesterday. Their legacy will inspire art, their spirits will compose projects, and their stories will create artists. During these trying days, we must cling to the faith that unmerited suffering is redemptive. It is in their name that monuments of love will be built, peace will be forged, and nonviolence will take concrete form. Though their physical body was taken by an act of destruction, their free spirits will inspire acts of creation. Your love ones will helm the Renaissance in New Orleans and nothing could be more redemptive.
And so today, you do not walk alone. You gave to this world wonderful children. They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful ones. Their lives were distressingly small in quantity, but glowingly large in quality. And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died. They did not die under the sickly sober skies of Washington D.C. nor did they die hidden in the comfort of some other community. They died in the City of Solidarity, as a dreamer of democracy, creating anew the dream of New Orleans. This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing for all generations.