One Million Bones connects world

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER --   The New Orleans chapter of One Million Bones in cooperation with St. Anna's Episcopal Church put out a display to bring awareness to street violence and murder. Thursday, November 1, 2012. Here volunteers lay out the bones which were made by local volunteers and school kids.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The New Orleans chapter of One Million Bones in cooperation with St. Anna's Episcopal Church put out a display to bring awareness to street violence and murder. Thursday, November 1, 2012. Here volunteers lay out the bones which were made by local volunteers and school kids.

In an effort to connect victims lost to the bloody conflicts across the globe to those dying on the streets of New Orleans, the One Million Bones organization worked with students in 30 local schools to sculpt 10,000 human bones out of clay.

On Thursday evening, the fragile chalky white bones were laid out on the grass next to St. Anna’s Episcopal Church on Esplanade Avenue, where church officials continue to compile and display a list of local murder victims. The church began to record the names in 2007. The list, updated on a regular basis, now numbers more than 200 dead.

Emily Gatehouse said that the primary goal of the New Orleans organization, which is one of 50 chapters nationwide, is to raise awareness about genocide through arts and education.

Gatehouse said that while working with students to make the bones, the group tailors its lessons to the age group. For younger kids, Gatehouse said that the presentation that accompanies the art component centers on human rights and communicating to children that every life is to be valued equally, despite any difference in appearance or culture. For older kids, Gatehouse said the lesson includes some of the “hard-hitting facts” about child soldiers and acts of genocide in African countries, information to which they might not otherwise be exposed.

Gatehouse said that she visits schools she asks students to raise their hands if they know someone who was murdered. They all do, she said.

Gatehouse said that the conversations with the kids have been “extraordinary.” For many who have gotten into trouble, the message was the same, she said.

“They know violence is wrong — they know hatred is wrong, but they feel trapped in a cycle.”

In the St. Anna’s art class, one child asked if they could write a loved one’s name on the bone, which spread to an effort to write the first names of more victims, and the date they were killed, on the bones, Gatehouse said.

In April, the group built a larger installation of 50,000 clay bones in Louis Armstrong Park. The 60,000 bones made in New Orleans will next go to Washington D.C. for a goal of a total of 1 million bones to cover the ground in June 2013.

The Bezos Family Foundation agreed to donate $1 for every bone created, up to $500,000, to on-the-ground efforts in Somali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Through the direct donation based on the students’ work in making the bones, Gatehouse said she hopes that the lesson of providing help to children in other countries who lack the basic necessities of food and water will resonate locally.

Before the bones were laid out on Thursday, “Mama” Jamilah Peters-Muhammad joined hands with students and other volunteers for libations.

“The fact that we are so quiet about so many people suffering,” Peters-Muhammad said, makes it important to do “anything we can to bring awareness to the amount of human lives lost, and to say that we don’t accept it as a norm.”

The bones will be on display through Saturday. There will be a bone-making activity and a vigil-lighting beginning at 4 p.m. Friday. An event at the church Saturday begins at 6 p.m. and will includes testimonies from a mother of a son lost to a victim of gun violence in New Orleans as well as that of a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

The bones represent a tangible image of a street filled with the bones following the killings in Rwanda, as well as the notion that, “if we strip down to our bare bones, we are exactly the same,” said the group’s state coordinator Dana Nguyen. “We all have the exact same right to live and the responsibility to protect the right of others to live. Especially in New Orleans.”