I experienced that pride a bit when I wrote something offhand on Twitter about how locals were ending conversations by telling me to “be safe,” and that I got the impression that no one walked around after dark.
It was a badly worded tweet, though not entirely off base. New Orleans has a notorious violent crime rate, one that predominantly affects black men, but that sometimes spills over to tourists and residents.
I’m not a kismet kind of person, but recently I found those sneakers again, on the eve of a trip back to New Orleans that is the start of a complete 180-degree turn in my life.
I had just gotten my dream job as the lucky writer who gets to spend the next year traveling to every destination on The New York Times’s annual 52 Places to Go list — and New Orleans happened to be both No. It’s a thrilling opportunity, and I’ve been a wreck.
Jazz Johnson, who teaches a class called Twerk Party, moved back after years of dancing professionally in New York City, because she wanted be a corrective for a school system that stopped nurturing the arts after Katrina.
“The kids, a lot of the ones I work with, they’re failing and all they keep doing is drilling them and giving them tests,” she said.
The same people who sent me angry messages had turned warm within minutes.
“A lot of these kids, their parents weren’t in a band because of the migration to other states,” said Tenell Moore, the band director. Mary’s Academy, an all-female high school, and in 2013 won the Street Kings brass band competition.
“So we’re building new ‘bandheads,’ what we refer to them in New Orleans. Out in the Seventh Ward at a booming local spot called Bullet’s Sports Bar, with no other businesses in sight, the Pinettes played to a packed Friday night house that included the New Orleans funk legend Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. “My friend said, ‘Come out and hang out with some sisters,’ and I couldn’t believe how many white people are here. (Event organizers had to take a marker and cross out “Kings” and write in “Queens.”) Natasha Harris, the saxophonist, told me that none of them are full-time musicians: “We all have families, we all have jobs, we’re college-educated women, but we do this because it’s our passion.” They often have to perform without their full roster because there aren’t enough women instrumentalists around to act as substitutes for members who can’t make certain gigs. Harris said, “is that middle school girls will come up and continue their passion, or that women will see us and realize it’s never too late.
I’ve spent maybe two months, cumulatively, exploring New Orleans.
When I landed at the airport for this most recent visit, I already had a hotel that felt like home (The Columns), a least-favorite popular food (sorry, po’ boy fans), a local institution I recommend to all new visitors (Backstreet Cultural Museum in Tremé) and a favorite leather bar in the French Quarter for getting a cheap 11 a.m.