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In the mid-1990’s, the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD), systematically repaired and reopened pools across the City. NORD trained a new crop of lifeguards and hired thousands of high school students to work at the pools and other NORD facilities. I was trained as a lifeguard during this time. We were taught how to save drowning swimmers using life preservers and other tools, but advised not to dive in to save people who were drowning. It was deemed too dangerous.
As luck would have it, in the first hour of my first day as a lifeguard at St. Roch pool, a neighborhood kid slipped under the water’s surface and began to drown. I looked around for a life preserve or some other life-saving tool that I had been trained to use. The head lifeguard, Eric looked me in the eye and shouted, “you’ve got to dive in and save him.” So I did. Eric jumped in too and we saved our first drowning swimmer of the summer.
Eric and I became great friends that summer. At 20, he was my elder by three years. Even after the summer Eric and I would speak regularly. Suddenly, Eric stopped returning my phone calls. After a few weeks, his pager and phone were disconnected. Despite my attempts I couldn’t get in touch with Eric anymore. Later that year I ran into a mutual friend who told me that Eric had been murdered blocks from his home in the St. Rock neighborhood. I still don’t know the details surrounding Eric’s death, but I’m certainly still pained by his death. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first or last friend of mine murdered in the harsh New Orleans Streets. Joe, Desi, Cornell and a number of others, all promising young black men, died at the hands of New Orleans street violence.
For me, violent crime is real and tangible. I am fed up. Our City Hall must recommit itself to the citizens of New Orleans by deciding that every life is valuable. We must invest in every child.