A pulsating band, rhythmically people join in as they march through the streets. Umbrellas twirl, handkerchiefs whirl in the wind and bodies step forward and backwards, from side to side. This is the “Second Line”! In unison, they celebrate life. Yes, the maladies of life also touch the revelers, and challenges are never a stranger, yet the dancers float in the moment. And that moment is cause for celebration.
The tradition of the Second Line dates back to post-slavery New Orleans, when Choctaw, Seminole, Comanche and Osceola Indians helped run-away slaves. Later, joined by French Canadians, Arcadians, together they created neighborhood krewes or social clubs, to sustain fledgling communities. In costumes, with makeshift instruments and infectious bravado, values like faith, tenacity, resilience and communal unity became treasured traditions. Parades were most visible during Mardi Gras, but gatherings were common throughout the year for the new ethnic mixes of Creole and Cajun origins. Funeral Second Lines were just as celebratory as those seen during Mardi Gras, or a wedding in Jackson Square, or a graduation ceremony at Dillard or Xavier University.
Five years ago, we sadly witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Lives were lost, neighborhoods were demolished, and the world responded to this mass exodus of humanity. And while the old 9th Ward continues many reclamation efforts, most neighborhoods have been restored; and for the last three years, Mardi Gras has bustled. This year, the New Orleans Saints reclaimed the SuperDome and brought SuperBowl victory to the Cresant City, belying naysayers who said New Orleans would not return.
For 86 days, BP (British Petroleum) oil drills spilled millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. Shrimpers and oyster fishermen decried their halted livelihoods as marshlands and sea life’s long-range damage is yet to be determined. The workers became the clean-up crews, removing tar balls and petroleum slicks and placing down boons to collect the oil. And even in this destruction, people of the region continued to say, “this is our home……we will rebuild. We will recover”. This resilience is paramount to their heritage, echoing traditions that have permeated successive generations.
And while Milwaukee has not known such devastation, our 2010 Honorees are exemplary models of tenacity and impeccable values, with family histories that promoted achievement and community-responsibility. Each Honoree represents a Second Generation of power-building that continues to make Milwaukee a better place in which to live, grow and prosper. And, their heirs now continue these traditions as they matriculate, began employment, and families, their legacies that strengthen our communal trajectory. Milwaukee has reason to be proud: They are our “Second Line”.
The Dr. Thomas Scholarship students, recipients of over $34,000 in awards tonight, are buoyed by the generosity of the Honorees, our sponsors and community-thought leaders who support this Gala, each year. Each values academic excellence as their transcripts attest; they are the brightest of the bright. Yet, they cherish most your presence and the affirmation that their community cares and supports their pursuits. Their resilience reflects the virtues of the “The Second Line”.
This September, the Milwaukee Community Journal will celebrate its 34th year. The cyclic ebbs and flows of print-media today makes this 34th Anniversary a “Laissez le Bon temps roulez” experience. Yet, the loyalty of our readers, the continued patronage of tenured advertisers and the commitment of the MCJ staff, makes possible this celebratory spirit. For like the traditions of New Orleans, the emulation of community giants and the support of stellar honorees, who know and support our mission, inspires us to keep on keeping on. So we again pledge to always earn your trust. And in the spirit of New Orleans, with the resilience that is a shared history, we say: ‘Laissez Le Bon Temps Roulez…Let the Good Times Roll”.
Join our “Second Line”- our heritage, our strengths!