This is a copy of the “Letter to the Editor” sent to the Times Picayune New Orleans Newspaper on Aug. 31, 2005 that went viral.
N.O. Inner-city teacher mourns ...
By Jon Donley
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August 31, 2005 (two days after Katrina)
New Orleans Inner City School Teacher mourns possible loss of students
(Putting a face on a hurricane victim)
I had to leave my students behind.
Much of inner city New Orleans is filled with indigent or low-income families with no transportation. These people didn’t stay in the city, for the most part, because they were “attached” to their homes. Most have little to attach to and no money or means to leave. Instead, many either rent one side of a shotgun double house or “stay” in one of the city’s five huge housing projects. And that’s where I had to leave my students: on the second floor, in their neighbor’s apartment in the Lafitte Housing Project.
Dwight and Dwan, twin brothers who just turned 17 years old, first became my students at one of the lowest performing middle schools two years ago. Their individual stories are sad before Hurricane Katrina and maybe too intensely painful for the average parent or reader. But their reality was to call Children Services themselves last Friday when they came home to find their circumstances unlivable, once again. That day, they asked if they could live with me, but it wasn’t possible Friday. We agreed to meet on Sunday and plan their future. Hurricane Katrina made all that impossible when I evacuated Saturday night.
We spoke several times trying to coordinate how to drop-off food for the storm but officials issued a curfew by 7p.m.on Saturday night making that impossible. I asked their neighbor to take them to the Superdome, but she said it was a bad experience two years earlier when they evacuated for a tropical storm and that they trusted God.
We spoke at 4:00 a.m. and the storm hit Monday morning at 5:00 a.m. We spoke a few hours later and I haven’t been able to reach them since.
From a hotel room in Houston, I sit tortured in front of the TV hoping to see a shot of their building or a face. The news just reported that the Orleans Parish School System would be closed for the next two to three months. What I want to know is will my students be alive.
On August 29, 2005 an American city was nearly wiped off the face of the earth. This is the story of one woman's struggle with piecing together not only her life but the lives of others who had come to regard her as their last hope.
How one woman's life struggle was transformed by the events that followed Hurricane Katrina
Ten Years Later – August 29, 2015
“New Orleans Teacher mourns possible loss of students
This was the title of the article that ran on NOLA.com two days after Katrina, written by Diana Boylston. Diana is a New Orleans Inner-city teacher from the city’s infamous “Lower 9th Ward.” That article became the catalyst for a self-financed, documentary that follows two of her students from the Katrina evacuation to their eventual return “home”.
In her film, Diana assembles her current performing arts high school students in a round table discussion to help them understand that they are not alone in the difficulties they face today. She offers that “the arts can be your way to express yourself and to be heard,” as it became for her former students, brothers Dwight and Dwan, and herself.
At the end of this long journey with the brothers (whom Diana is still in contact with today,) she returns to her love of performing and teaching. “A Story Like Mine” is a story of connections and abandonment, parallels and diversion, triumph and tragedy. Most of all, it is about a teacher who doesn’t give up.
Dwight & Dwan Valdery
Next Move Productions
A letter to YOU,
This film took 10 years to make because that’s how long it took to learn how to put this continuously evolving story into images that convey our theme – “Everybody has a story to tell and no matter how different the details, we all are more alike - than not!”
“A Story Like Mine” is a plot-driven POV documentary hitting critical themes that we as a society, and as individuals, grapple with daily. As a teacher, documentary director Diana Boylston has witnessed inequality, lack of opportunity, bullying, and deliberate tracking of students into the U.S. prison industrial complex. She uses radical tactics to fight for two of them, twin-teen brothers, and things become more complex when one of her beloved students changes from a drag queen, to a cross-dresser, and ultimately becomes transgendered.
Our film brings these major themes to viewers in riveting fashion.
As characters on screen (Boylston herself, the two twin boys she guides through the years, and current students who comment as it all unfolds) realize everything they’re fighting, and that society has laid odds against them. When Boylston is unexpectedly forced to confront her own loss, she realizes she is drawn to these young people because of her own history and decides to do for them what she couldn’t do for her own family.
The characters run largely on faith, compelling viewers to question the environment in which many kids must grow up - one that we’ve all created. Boylston never set out to be a filmmaker, as she started using video simply as a tool to help her students find their voices. In the process, she has found her own.
Thank you for the opportunity to share our stories with you.