Interfaith Youth At Work in New Orleans

Today’s guest blogger is Hamilton Simons-Jones, a partner with Interfaith Works in New Orleans who has been involved in youth … Continued

Today’s guest blogger is Hamilton Simons-Jones, a partner with Interfaith Works in New Orleans who has been involved in youth and social justice work in the city since moving there for college 11 years ago. Interfaith Works partners with a wide range of faith communities and other organizations to do hands-on service and social action projects. They are the New Orleans site for “Inspired to Serve,” the first federally-funded interfaith youth project via Learn and Serve America.

It’s that time of year in New Orleans again. Laura Bush was here last week. As the summer swelter of August builds up to the 29th, the parade of dignitaries and national news media coalesces to revisit the story of where New Orleans is on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. We still have lots of parades in New Orleans. We are still putting one foot in front of the other, re-envisioning and rebuilding our city. And we still have lots of work ahead.

But one story that is missing in the coverage of New Orleans is what the young people are doing. I mean the school-age kids. Since Hurricane Katrina was just a glimmer in God’s eye, diverse faith communities have come together in the absence of government to open their arms, hearts, heads, homes, wallets, prayers and places of worship for New Orleanians. And the youth have led the way.

As my good friend, mentor and partner at Interfaith Works, Erik Schwarz, has witnessed and facilitated, interfaith youth work in New Orleans is not just about talk dialogue. Since Katrina, youth from different faiths are not just sitting and discussing how to overcome differences, but acting together to build a more just community. They are working to ensure that young people are engaged, considered, and consulted in making decisions about rebuilding the city they lead.

I have had the good fortune to witness some of that this summer. A few weeks ago, I attended a press conference hosted by Kids Rethinking New Orleans Schools. They spent the summer rethinking school lunches. The students – Vietnamese, African American, White, Buddhist, Catholic, Baptist – partnered with the Food for Life feeding ministry at the ISKCON Hindu temple in the process of understanding different food options and where their food comes from. They presented a list of recommendations directly to the Recovery School District Superintendent on how to improve the food and cafeterias at their schools, beginning with “No More Sporks”, and including serving fresh local foods and vegetarian options to meet the dietary needs of all students. The superintendent turned out to be a pretty smart guy. He took notes.

And then there’s the youth of the Gulfsouth Youth Action Fund Youth Advisory Board. These middle and high school students of different faiths have developed their own mini-foundation. In their first year, they granted more than $10,000 to youth-led and youth-driven efforts in the rebuilding, ranging from the first youth dance studio in New Orleans East organized by the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans, to home rebuilding projects led by students from 20 public, private and parochial high schools across the city through Youth Rebuilding New Orleans.

The youth of the Gulfsouth Youth Action Fund recently partnered with the B’nai Maimonides young philanthropists at the Jewish Endowment Foundation to look at making grants that focus specifically on bringing together youth of different faiths in service learning projects.

And the adults are recognizing this new wave of interfaith youth activism. I recently came across a research study by the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Trauma Team, in which they interviewed more than 2,000 fourth through twelfth grade students in the area. They found that the youths’ first concern, regardless of faith background, was, “How can I rebuild my community?”

It is said often that today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. In New Orleans, youth are saying loudly and clearly: “Today’s youth are the leaders of today!” And they are living it.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel, the Interfaith Youth Core, or Learn and Serve America.

Written by

  • Observer

    Jones said:I do not know what sporks is, but if that means pork, then there is a problem here. Why no pork? I realize this meat is forbidden for followers of some religions. Let those who follow those dietary laws abstain from ordering pork. Pork is served in the fanciest restaurants in Tel Aviv and Istanbul. Why should we limit the choices of the vast majority of students? If we follow this prohibition to its logical conclusion then there should be no beef served either. The Hindu religion prohibits the eating of beef.

  • AMH

    Responding to Observer’s comment above there should be yet another prohibition on my favorite seafood; catfish. The Muslim religion prohibits the eating of any seafood that do not have scales.

  • Erin

    Regarding the last two comments, “sporks” are individual pieces of silverware that serve as both a spoon and a fork.

  • Observer

    If spork means a combination spoon and fork then please ignore my diatribe. Another question that pops into my mind is what is wrong with using that hybrid tool?

  • GeorgiaSon

    My heartfelt admiration, Hamilton Simons-Jones, goes out to you and all the youth who are participating in the work you describe. All of you represent the best of what the phrase “only in America” means. At the heart of that sentiment, of course, is the celebration of diversity. On the other side are the voices of exclusivity and narrow-minded preoccupation with one’s own political, social, or religious group.Extremists from the latter group have just launched another witch-hunt and aimed a dagger at the heart of basic American values. I refer to Random House’s decision to abandon publication of Sherry Jones’ book, “The Jewel of Medina,” in the face of threats from Muslims to retaliate if the book were published. Surely, there is no debate about this decision. It is wrong, period. Random House has just driven a stake into the heart of what America is all about. Self-censorship in the face of threats of retaliation if a book is published takes us back to the Dark Ages. Please tell us, Hamilton Simons-Jones, what you intend to do to oppose this outrageous assault on a basic American value.Meanwhile, Eboo Patel and all other so-called moderate or progressive Muslim voices should be banned from the pages of On Faith until they take a strong and public stand against Random House’s decision. Patel, Pamela Taylor, and the rest must denounce the Muslims making those threats in unequivocal terms.

  • autonomous

    Fussy religious animals with dietary prohibitions are missing some of life’s greatest gustatory delights. Remember this – there ain’t no fried chicken in Heaven. And manna is going to get really, really boring without a pint of stout or a flagand of ale to wash it down. In the meantime, please pass me a spork – I’m looking for the pork.

  • Paganplace

    OK, Georgiason:”Please tell us, Hamilton Simons-Jones, what you intend to do to oppose this outrageous assault on a basic American value.””Meanwhile, Eboo Patel and all other so-called moderate or progressive Muslim voices should be banned from the pages of On Faith until they take a strong and public stand against Random House’s decision. Patel, Pamela Taylor, and the rest must denounce the Muslims making those threats in unequivocal terms.”OK, Georgiason. As soon as every Christian on the board shuts up until all Fundies trying to ban Harry Potter and sex ed on the basis of being in their minds ‘some Infidel Conspiracy Against God’Likewise make a strong and public stand against such travesties. After all, here in America, all religions are equal, and it’s just a matter of principle. Right?