Voices on Violence arose as a response to the Mother’s Day shootings in New Orleans that injured 20 people. Comprised of one-on-one interviews with a diverse group of residents, the series explores why and how people live here, how they assess risk, and what specific things they believe can help change the cycle of violence in New Orleans. Please join the conversation; send commentary, responses and interview suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who: William Lambert followed his girlfriend to Louisiana last August. A 30-year teaching veteran with master’s degrees from Duke University and the University of Southern California, “Dr. Bill” teaches at NET Charter High School, an alternative campus for struggling students. He commutes 70 miles round-trip each day from Baton Rouge, because NET, with its challenging teenagers, is the place he wants to be. “This is exactly what I was looking for. All of the things I would do in a school to make kids succeed, she (principal Elizabeth Ostberg) was already doing.”
In his own words, here is what Bill has to say about:
The issue with kids: At every place I’ve taught, behavior is the key. Behavior can be problematic and antithetical to learning. You have to learn delayed gratification, have a quiet atmosphere, etc. I’ll be damned if I’ll let these kids fall through the cracks.
His kids: Almost all have been expelled from other schools. Mine is the bad boy class, all males. I get them when they’re released from jail. Only one of my students that I know of hasn’t been in jail. He’s been shot twice.
Honestly? They’re children. They’re teenagers, energetic souls. They’re just people. It wouldn’t surprise me if students here have more issues with poverty than crime.
Why potentially good kids do bad things: It’s mostly young, impoverished people, exposed to crime, to substance abuse. They absorb the culture. They get caught up in a world where they may be on the periphery, but then are pulled in. They can’t get back out to that periphery again.
I’ll tell you what happened on Mother’s Day – it’s almost surprising to me that it’s not common knowledge. One crew had a beef with another crew. They had to get them, as a matter of survival, when there was opportunity. It’s the driving dynamic of that life.
What one person can do: An enormous part of the problem is lack of supervision. That’s all I’m doing – I’m here for them. They have to know I’m here, that I’ve got skin in the game. It’s a trust issue for them: Who’s gonna have your back?
Kids in New Orleans are open, friendly. You have to respect their world, but you also critique it with them.
How he measures progress: When I have two of my students here at NET Night (to honor student achievement). Both have been shot; they probably have post-traumatic stress syndrome; they don’t get along that well with people. The fact that they’re here is major. These are people showing up on attendance charts who always hated school. The guy who served time for murder is now winning awards.
If he were tasked with stopping violence in New Orleans: There would be a smile on my face, because it’s doable. In California, the gangs are entrenched, and the gang life very centralized. In L.A., everything runs through the head of the gang. Here it’s different. A beef is a beef. There are more personal choices.
What he does: I’m 40 percent mom, 40 percent dad, 10 percent counselor and 10 percent drill sergeant. I think I’m making a difference.
Voices on Violence: Conversations about life in New Orleans is a NolaVie/WWNO series that features individual interviews with the city’s residents. If you would like to be interviewed, or to comment on the series, email email@example.com.