NEW ORLEANS — They say that big things come in small packages. That’s an accurate description of New Orleans Youth Coalition founder Brideisha Harness-Parker. Her small stature is matched with a big heart, determination and commitment to the youth of New Orleans.
She works daily in high-crime areas to save as many kids as she can from becoming a statistic. Even during this phone interview, she was robbed at a local ATM. But nothing derails her mission. She has partnered with the Save Our Youth Nola organization to create job opportunities and a place of refuge for New Orleans kids.
Harness-Taylor is also doing a door-to-door dollar drive, working on a “Save Our Youth” rally, as well as lining up basketball tournaments statewide.
Zenger News caught up with this neighborhood “she-ro” to discuss the challenges she faces the importance of securing a building for her organization and much more.
Percy Crawford interviewed Brideisha Harness-Parker for Zenger News.
Zenger: You are doing amazing work. How is everything going?
Harness-Parker: It’s going pretty good. I’m working on the Save Our Youth Nola initiative, which is a combined effort of my organization, the New Orleans Youth Coalition, along with the “Level Up” campaign. We just basically merged both organizations to reach more kids.
With the Save Our Youth Campaign, we are going door-to-door asking our residents for $1. That money is going toward our building fund. We have faced many challenges working with city officials and other organizations. We faced all types of roadblocks; now we are taking the initiative. We need the community to help us help them.
Zenger: What is the timeline to getting your building?
Harness-Parker: Six months to a year. Not necessarily to get the building, but be able to buy the land or lease a building. If it takes longer, fine, but that time frame is perfect.
Zenger: When you face roadblocks, what keeps you going?
Harness-Parker: Prime example, today is Saturday, I just left another kid’s funeral, a kid I had been coaching since he was 13. He’s now 19 and he was just killed. I have my daughter, I have my husband, I have a small group of people who are always praying for me and there for me. But sometimes, it does get hard. Since 2011, I have lost over 10 kids. I lost more kids than that during the pandemic.
I feel like it would be selfish of me to just stop. I’m on the phone with you right now, and my husband is taking care of the $300 that was stolen from me. And trying to get this little girl out of jail because she took three guns out of a car and put them in the trunk. I really don’t have a choice here, I have got to do the work.
Zenger: For all the great things New Orleans has to offer, crime can get out of control. Is the goal to offer these kids something other than being on the streets?
Harness-Parker: A lot of people say: “Keep our kids off the streets.” We changed the narrative. We actually want to keep them on the streets, meaning we want them to be able to build the land like this new building.
I’m about to roll out street basketball tournaments across the city. We don’t want them off the streets because when they are not on the streets, they are plotting against each other. We want to provide economic opportunities for them.
Zenger: Is there a particular age group or limit you guys deal with?
Harness-Parker: Starting at age 6, we have resources and programs. We really have job opportunities for youth starting at age 14.
Zenger: You came from the criminal-justice system and didn’t agree with the way the juveniles were punished. Did that lead you to create the New Orleans Youth Coalition?
Harness-Parker: I’ve been into this kind of work since I was 8. The coalition came about by me saying: “I know all of these organizations, all of these people across the city, the state and the world.” I took my resources and put them under my group. If you call me on the phone and say, “Hey Brideisha, I have a kid from the Juvenile Justice Center, they just came out, they need some available resources,” I’m not just going to be able to send them to one place. I have a bunch of opportunities.
Let me say this: I feel child or adult, the crime you committed, you should definitely abide by those consequences. I’m not trying to baby or give anybody a pat on the hand. I’m saying that, I worked in a youth study center. Kids should not be treated like prisoners are treated in Angola, by not feeding them food, stealing money that’s supposed to go to them, lying to their parents about certain things that are going on in there.
What needs to happen is fix the policies and procedures that are supposed to be in place, so we can get a little progress. But right now, the youth center is like World War III. We got kids from different ward’s fighting each other, we got staff having sex with the kids. It’s too much. What happened to the idea that kids, mommas, adults and senior citizens were not to be touched? We’re losing our kids more than ever right now.
Zenger: You just did an event in the 9th Ward. What type of event was that and what do you have planned?
Harness-Parker: That was our Easter Event, the day we kicked off our $1 campaign. We’re actually about to lock down a date for our “Save Our Youth” rally, where it’s going to be a festival for all kids to take advantage of resources and job opportunities and mental-health services for families.
Zenger: Do you feel poverty is the main escalator to crime?
Harness-Parker: It’s definitely poverty, along with a little of the systems that are purposely made to keep us below that poverty line.
Zenger: What would be the perfect ending to the goals you are trying to accomplish in New Orleans?
Harness-Parker: At this point, we have gathered all the organizations, all the resources — now we need a building where we can provide resources and services to families and actually house these kids. Because what’s happening in our Juvenile Justice System, they come out of jail, they have to go back and live-in poverty.
There is not one rehabilitation center in Orleans Parish for our juveniles. How can we keep them off the streets if our system is designed to keep them on the streets?
Zenger: Is there a kid that really stands out in your mind and turned the corner through the program?
Harness-Parker: V. Anderson, he is one of my kids who was born and raised in the Melpomene Projects. He has lived in poverty his whole life. Even after losing his mother, just recently losing his grandmother, and always been surrounded by gun violence, he’s actually been pretty successful as a young local rapper.
He’s also active in his community, and he told me he’s trying to follow in my footsteps, coaching and mentoring kids. That’s big for me, to have a kid, who came to me at the age of 13 and is now 22, saying: “Coach, I’m doing what I’m doing because of you.”
Zenger: Keep doing what you’re doing, because you are literally saving lives.
Harness-Parker: Please encourage people to visit our website and follow our social media platforms: @for_theyouth, @noyc___, and 2saveouryouthnola.
(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Fern Siegel)
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