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POWER OF PINK: Second-line parade draws attention to effort to end violence against women


Originally published in:
The Times-Picayune
03/09/2008

By Ramon Antonio Vargas

Heidi Klee was driving along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard on Saturday afternoon when she noticed a crowd of people with light-pink umbrellas and brass musical instruments.

It didn't take her long to realize that someone had organized a second-line parade, and because she's never one to miss that kind of impromptu party, Klee said, she immediately parked her car and "followed the music."

The parade, she discovered, was known as "Jumpin' in the Pink" and was being staged to celebrate the effort of the Katrina Warriors Network, working with V to the Tenth, to unite women of the New Orleans and Gulf South in improving their condition and opposing violence against women.

Wearing white Elton John-like sunglasses and a black hat, Klee, an Ohio native and Irish Channel resident, enthusiastically fell into step with the snare-drumming of Renard "Teeter-man" Henry and the trombone blasts of Larry Brown, both with the Free Agents Brass Band.

The band belted out tunes such as "The Streets of Cairo" as the second-liners marched from the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in Central City to Armstrong Park in Treme.

A marriage between jazz music and a message opposing violence against women simply made too much sense to pass up, so the Katrina Warriors -- a regional network of individuals and organizations dedicated to enhancing the well-being of women and girls -- decided to consecrate it with a tactic meant to draw passers-by like Klee.

All for awareness

The Warriors kicked off a monthlong "awareness festival" by enlisting the Free Agents and New Birth brass bands to lead the second-line parade.

For the next month, the network will stage events such as a wine-and-cheese silent auction at the Craig Cultural Center and a six-week "Rites of Passage" curriculum focused on girls' self-esteem and empowerment.

The festival will culminate April 11-12 at the Superdome, where "V-Day" will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the play "The Vagina Monologues" by Eve Ensler.

The Superdome will be transformed for the occasion into "Superlove," a giant vagina enclosure offering speakers, singers, theater performers, storytelling, art and healing. Tickets to "Superlove" are free with the purchase of a ticket to the all-star production of "The Vagina Monologues" April 12 at the New Orleans Arena.

Among those scheduled to perform in Ensler's play -- which has grown into the worldwide V-Day movement to stop violence against women -- are Sally Field, Jennifer Hudson, Glenn Close, Salma Hayek, Jessica Alba, Marisa Tomei and Jane Fonda. Oprah Winfrey will perform a new monologue by Ensler. Musicians Faith Hill, Common, Eve and Charmaine Neville will also be featured.

"New Orleans has one of the rich cultures of second-lining," said Barbara Lacen-Keller, the cultural outreach coordinator for the Ashé center and organizer of Saturday's parade. "We're collaborating with culture to celebrate the awareness of violence against women and girls."

"We hope people bring the message of V-Day, to end violence, into their own community spaces," said Jennifer Sachs, the festival's coordinator.

The festival will focus on trying to spread the message against violence "through a celebration of creativity, activism and culture," Sachs said.

While some members of the Free Agents Brass Band -- who said they had never before paraded alongside 40 people toting pink umbrellas with candy-apple red frills -- snickered at the event's offbeat name, they found their instruments were natural media for spreading the message the Katrina Warriors hope to convey.

Hearing the message

The revelry that bandleader Ellis Joseph and his mates ignited drew the attention of many motorists driving along Oretha Castle Haley and Martin Luther King boulevards, two of the streets where the second-liners paraded.

Drivers slowed down and waved over marchers wearing light-pink T-shirts, asking them what was going on. The second-liners handed out fliers listing the next month's activities to the drivers and curious bystanders.

Klee said that a parade like Saturday's is effective at getting "the buzz" going for someone trying to spread a message.
"It was very impromptu New Orleans," she said. "I just followed the music and here I am. A second-line is a party for the people, for any people -- man, woman, black, white, purple or green. Anybody can join the party that wants to."

Not long after she fell into step with "Jumpin' in the Pink," Klee moved away from the formation and toward a group of men standing in front of a corner store. Seemingly unfazed, they started to pump their arms and bend their knees with the beat, chuckling as they danced with her. Soon a woman toting fliers handed them the list of Katrina Warriors events.

"People listen to us, man," bandleader Joseph said. A second-line parade "is something you can't get anywhere else in the world . . . (so) a lot of people know our worth. People listen to us and respond to us because they kind of consider us leaders in the community."

Trumpet player Julian Gosin added that he hoped some of the notes he played fell on the ears of men responsible for abuse of women and had an effect on them.

"Every time we play, we try to make something positive come out," he said. "That's what we try to do. That's all the music is. It's uplifting."

. . . . . . .

For a calendar of events during this month's Katrina Warriors community festival, go to www.vday.org or www.katrinawarriors.net.