When we were talking about the general desensitization of the public and media toward violence, I immediately thought of St. Anna’s Church in the Treme area. Since 2007, St. Anna’s has kept and added to what had become known as the “Murder Board.” The board, which is situated directly next to the sanctuary doors, lists the names of every person killed in the Treme community, along with the date of death and the cause of death.
On that board, victims of child abuse are listed next to suicides and victims and perpetrators of gang violence. They are exhibited without judgement. Viewers will never know who was criminal and who was innocent. Instead, they simply mourn the tragic loss of human life and rage at the society that has allowed such atrocities to continually happen. When asked where they would put the names when they ran out of space, Father Bill Terry, the church’s rector, responded, “We will wrap it around the block two times if we have to.”
The purpose of the Board is twofold. First, it makes us remember the death as individuals, not a simple annual tally. Second, it ignites a fire of anger in those who read it, who see children burned, young men gunned down, and who see the sheer number of dead. Below I have posted a link to a video that talks about the Murder Board. I would encourage you to visit St. Anna’s and talk to Father Bill. I first met Father Bill on a retreat this past weekend. Out of the whole congregation he was preaching to at that retreat, I was the only one who has lived here my whole life. Father Bill talked about what it was like to see the kids who he taught in St. Anna’s after school program and saw every Sunday end up on that board. He shared his dream of opening up a free Episcopal school for about 20-30 students a year in the Treme community. At the last Diocesan convention, he challenged churches around the country to support his dream. A good, Christian education for these children would only cost approximately $3000 per child per year. By contrast, the public school system, as awful as it is, spends about $8000 per child per year. I guarantee you that St. Martin’s spends much more than that every year.
Father Bill challenged us to go home and look at our Episcopal school with our nice equipment and fancy buildings and quality books and think of those kids in the Treme. Think of the kids who have nothing when we have so much. Father Bill told us how he had seen just the one-hour after school program make a huge difference in the community. The children in the program would take their desire to learn, grow, and seek out a better life home to their parents and caretakers, many of whom are uneducated and /or addicted to drugs. The adults have been inspired by the youth to reject the idea that this is “the best of all possible worlds” and demand something better.
I sincerely hope that this post has made you think about who we are as a school and who we are as a larger community in New Orleans. I know it did for me.