Serving the proud city of...
New Orleans, Louisiana

Brought to you by the Office of
Mayor Mitch Landrieu

5 Questions for...

Emanuel Lain Jr.

President, People United for Armstrong Park

The grassroots organization People United for Armstrong Park (PUfAP) is known for its efforts to revitalize and enhance the historic Treme park and for its series of free outdoor concerts called Jazz in the Park.

While working to make Armstrong Park a safe, nurturing and thriving space, the group is also dedicated to providing opportunities to at-risk, formerly incarcerated and unemployed individuals through a growing Event Production Training Program. PUfAP recently received a grant from the NOLA FOR LIFE Fund to assist the training program’s efforts.

NOLA FOR LIFE: Congratulations on the third series of Jazz in the Park. This series is about more than great music, right?

Emanuel Lain Jr.: Thank you! Our series falls in line with PUfAP's mission statement of making Armstrong Park the hub of New Orleans’ cultural economy. It’s designed to provide weekly employment opportunities to people who want to participate in the cultural economy and eventually turn their experiences with us into careers. We have twenty-one show dates, which works out much differently than other festivals. Typically, most festivals like French Quarter Festival, Jazz Fest and the others only last three days or two weekends out of the year. Don’t get me wrong, those festivals are great, but what about the rest of the year? Our Jazz in the Park concert series provides training opportunities throughout the year.

PUfAP has five production areas that we manage and train high-risk individuals to support: staging, event management and production, digital media and communications, health and sanitation, and promotions. We try to start trainees in areas that match their skills and interests. Trainees often rotate through most or all of those five areas so they can get the most out of the program.

N4L: One of the five pillars of NOLA for Life is “Promote Jobs and Opportunity.” How is PUfAP doing that?

EL: PUfAP's Jazz in the Park indirectly and directly provides employment opportunities to more than ninety individuals in the community. On a weekly basis, we hire stagehands, sound technicians, musicians, laborers and promotion staff. Each week our twelve food vendors (who each usually have a staff of three) are able to earn a living selling good, authentic New Orleans food. Our fifteen craft and art vendors get a chance to sell their wares to our Jazz in the Park patrons. One of our organization's core goals is to promote New Orleans backstreet culture, and we hire local brass bands, social aid and pleasure clubs and Mardi Gras Indians on a weekly basis.

N4L: How are employees recruited?

EL: Last year, we partnered with HANO and Urban Strategies, so they could provide us with individuals to participate in our event production training. Some of the people who worked with us last year are still working with us today. In fact, these staff members now lead our event set up and breakdown teams. Most of the people who work for us are people from the Treme neighborhood. We seek out individuals who have had trouble in the past and who are now looking to earn an honest living. Many of these people have been incarcerated and have felony convictions. We currently are working with the Sojourner Truth Job Readiness Program, and we have more applicants that will be working with us next week.

N4L: PUfAP has long worked to promote the revitalization of Armstrong Park. How does a vibrant Armstrong Park help the community and reduce crime?

EL: Before we started Jazz in the Park, there was a prevailing sentiment that Armstrong Park was not safe, and people would advise tourists not to go cross Rampart Street. A year and half ago, a young lady was murdered right outside the park. Jazz in the Park has done a lot to change that perception, and now thousands and thousands of people attend our series and the park is viewed as safe place to have a good time. Armstrong Park is now a major contributor to New Orleans cultural economy.

N4L: What can other people get involved in what you’re doing?

EL: People United for Armstrong Park heavily relies on volunteers to help with our efforts. Our core staff is all volunteers, including myself. We volunteer with PUfAP because we believe that Armstrong Park is the rising tide that lifts all the boats in the surrounding area. So people could come to the park and consider becoming a volunteer with us.

Currently, we have over three hundred-fifty members, too. Membership is a great and easy way to become a part of PUfAP and keep us going forward with all our initiatives.

For more information about People United for Armstrong Park, visit

5 Questions for...

Ameer Baraka


New Orleans native Ameer Baraka was introduced to a life of crime at an early age. Struggling with Dyslexia, he decided that academic achievement was out of reach and began emulating his father and other men in his community by becoming a drug dealer. As a result, Ameer was arrested and sentenced to 60 years in prison. It was there that he decided to turn his life around and strive for a better future. Ameer was released from prison early and decided to moved to Los Angeles to kick start his dream of becoming a model and actor. He is currently an accomplished actor and model and a passionate advocate for at-risk youth in New Orleans.

NOLA FOR LIFE: What was it like growing up in New Orleans?

Ameer Baraka: Growing up in New Orleans, my childhood was rough like so many other black kids. Devoid of a positive male, I took to the drug dealers in the hood. My image of a man was distorted and because of that I made poor choices.

My dyslexia diminished all possibilities for achievements. My mother didn't have the ability or the academic background to realize that her baby boy was suffering from what appeared to be an impediment. My siblings were both "A" students. So, I was called the slow one.

I was called many other negative names and that further pushed me away from school. The street was where I felt safest. My dad was a drug dealer and I felt that it was best that I do the same because I had a learning problem.

N4L: What made you realize it was time to "flip your script" and change your life around?

AB: The first book that I ever tried to read was the autobiography of Malcolm X, and that made me realize that it was time to flip my script. I was thrilled by his life and wanted to emulate him step by step. At the time, I was in jail facing a 60 year prison sentence. I avowed to my mother that if I got 60 year sentence, I would take that time to educate myself.

Also, there was Charles Dutton who inspired me. He also educated himself and started acting while in jail. The lights finally came on for me. I needed time to see positive men.

While in jail, reading and talking to older inmates motivated me to learn. After I got to the main prison, I saw hundreds of black men working in the fields and white men on horseback with guns telling me what to do and to do it fast. This was slavery I willingly subjected myself to. Freedom was what I wanted.

I slowly started believing that life had something better for me if only I had a vision. The Bible allowed me to see myself as God saw me. That was something I never thought about. He said I was a king, special in His eyes. Someone said Ameer Baraka was special. I was amazed and the ball started rolling in the right direction.

N4L: How did your friends and family respond to your lifestyle change?

AB: When I decided to change my life around for the better, my so-called friends thought I was crazy. When I start going to GED class while in prison, they said I was faking and was doing that so I could get out of jail early. I started speaking in the correct vernacular. After that, my "friends" thought I wanted to be white.

After telling them my lofty dreams of becoming a model and actor, they all just thought I was a nut job. However, my mother was elated and encouraged me through letters and phone calls and to this day she still tells me that it's nothing I cannot do if I put God first and work hard.

N4L: You're now a successful actor, what was your road to success like?

AB: My road to success was really challenging. Nothing came easy like I had thought going into it. After I was released from prison, I relocated to Los Angeles to become to model and actor. I was full of hope and nothing could alter my determination, I thought. But after a year of nothing happening, I was struggling to keep food on the table.

There were so many people doing the same thing I was trying to do. They were smarter, better looking and more talented. I found myself sleeping in my car crying and asking God why. But through it all something inside of me said, don't give up. I wanted to be successful so I would have a voice to speak to kids about life. I knew if I gave up, I wouldn't be able to share my story. I wouldn't be able to be a role model and the face of Louisiana Key Academy Schiller for Dyslexia. All the things that I have done and am currently doing wouldn't have happened. So I never gave up, though I have failed so many times, I kept going until the "no's" turned into a resounding "yes".

N4L: What's your message to other young men struggling to turn their lives around right now?

AB: My message to other young brothers is acknowledge that there are no excuses. Realize that if one person has done something you want to do, then it's possible for you. Encompass yourself with positive people who will encourage you to move upward. That means stop kicking it with your boys who don't desire to obey the law. Read about successful people. Find new friends and don't think about color. Ask for help when you don't know what to do. And never give up on what it is that you desire. But, know that you will need God to help you in all this. I say God because education won't keep you out of prison but living a life for Him will.

5 Questions for...

Ayo Scott

Artist and Graphic Designer

Ayo Scott grew up in the New Orleans art community learning and working alongside his father, John T. Scott, the renowned sculptor, 40-year art professor and recipient of the McArthur Genius Fellowship. He is making a name for himself as an artist, graphic designer and entrepreneur whose company, NOYO Designs, sells original artwork and clothing. Scott created a unique graphic tee to raise awareness and funds for the NOLA FOR LIFE campaign.

Ayo Scott

NOLA FOR LIFE: What’s the story of your NOLA FOR LIFE t shirt?

Ayo Scott: I was asked by a good friend and patron, Dwayne Bernal of Royal Engineers, if I’d like to work on a project with him, a project focused on lowering violent crime numbers and murders in the city, and I was immediately interested. I chose to use my company's logo (a fleur-de-lis with roots extending from its base) as a frame to capture many of the things that makes New Orleans a place that I never want to leave. So I filled the frame with icons of music, food, river boats, and countless other New Orleans treasures. I was honored to be asked to create such a piece and had a lot of fun in the process.

N4L: What’s the significance of the fleur-de-lis with roots?

AS: When I was in graduate school at the Institute of Design in Chicago, Katrina hit New Orleans and the devastation and isolation were too much to bear. People were not being allowed back into the city right away, so I couldn’t go home if I wanted to. I thought then that I wanted a new tattoo that represented New Orleans as my home and the place I planned to plant myself again as soon as I could – thus the fleur-de-lis with roots. After first creating the tattoo (that I placed over my heart), I thought the design might be marketable and thought why not create a few t shirts that I could sell and raise money to help in SOME way with building the community and cultural economy of this wonderful city. The line expanded to include designs that focus on the culture and history of the city in a way that I’d not previously seen in New Orleans t shirts (like those commonly found in French Quarter boutiques).

N4L: Your father was one of the country's most highly acclaimed contemporary artists. What is the most important lesson he taught you?

AS: My father taught me a LOT of lessons, so choosing one as the most important is difficult. But I must say that his most prolific teaching to me was that of passing it on. When a person told my dad thank you he didn’t respond you're welcome, but rather "pass it on" meaning to pay him back, you'd have to do something for somebody else. Pay it forward if you will. This has been immensely important to me. When I find myself without direction... or inspiration at times, I can always center myself around the idea of service to my fellow man. Helping others to reach their goals helps me to find fulfillment in life.

N4L: One of the ways that you’re passing it on is by working with young people. Why is this important to you?

AS: I’m a teacher (as were both of my parents / biggest inspirations). My mother taught kindergarten and my father was an art professor. I find that I learn more when I try to teach others. And watching a person take something you've taught or shared with them and push it to a new level is immeasurably rewarding. I’m a kid at heart, and feel I can relate to young people. I want to share with as much as possible the fact that you can make an honest and rewarding living through art and design. I feel that far too often kids find themselves feeling hopeless and without possibilities. So often people preach that you've got to be a doctor or lawyer to be successful, and that’s JUST NOT TRUE.

N4L: Can art play a role in reducing the violence in our city?

AS: I like to believe art can play a role in reducing the violence in the city. I also believe music, the culinary arts, and even sports can do the same. But there has to be a cultural shift to show the youth that there really are opportunities out there for them. Art can help to drive home a message, but not without the support of the community. I believe the city's NOLA FOR LIFE campaign is a great way to take a unified stance against the negatives that plague our city.

5 Questions for...

Paulette Carter, President/CEO, the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans

Paulette Carter knows that violence takes an especially hard toll on the youngest members of our community. Her organization, the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans, works with children on a myriad of issues, including the trauma of loss and the fear and anxiety that exposure to community violence can cause. During Mental Health Awareness in May, the Children’s Bureau is working to raise awareness about the importance of mental health in our community and is highlighting Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on Thursday, May 9.

NOLA FOR LIFE: Why is this issue so important?

Paulette Carter: Mental health is essential to the overall health and well-being of individuals and the community at large. It impacts everything from whether a child gets up and goes to school in the morning to avoiding potential violent situations like shootings, or even worse, massacres like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We want people to understand that prevention works and treatment is available. Through the national observance of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, we celebrate the fact that children and youth can and do recover from setbacks in their lives with the proper support.

N4L: How can addressing mental health issues help reduce youth violence?

PC: What we know about youth violence is that often times the perpetrator of the violence is someone who has previously been exposed to or is a victim of violence himself. They are acting out in response to traumatic stress that has not been addressed. In our program called Project LAST, which was created in direct response to the dramatically high rate of violence in New Orleans, we recognize children exposed to community violence have unique needs, especially child survivors of homicide victims. We work with children on a myriad of conditions including fear, anxiety, depression, anger and hostility, aggression, self-destructive behavior, feelings of isolation and stigma, poor self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, and substance abuse. Children who have experienced trauma also often have relationship problems with peers and family members, problems with acting out, and problems with school performance. The good news is that the treatment model we’ve developed has been shown to be effective in decreasing depressive symptoms and traumatic grief, and that these decreases are maintained 3 and 12 months after the intervention has ended.

N4L: In what ways does violence affect the youngest members of our community?

PC: Children exposed to violence are at greater risk of developing biological, social, emotional and behavioral problems. A national survey by the U.S. Department of Justice shows that approximately 60% of youth have been exposed to some type of violence in the past year. Our work with children in this community supports these statistics. Results from our own survey of 122 Orleans Parish students indicate 71% children have seen someone beat up, 32% have seen someone shot, 28% have seen a dead body outside or inside the home, and 16% have seen someone stabbed. For the majority of these children, exposure to community violence is chronic with more than half of them reporting exposure to three or more different types of violent events. Recent studies also indicate that people who have experienced traumatic events are more at risk for long term physical health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and cancer.

N4L: The Children’s Bureau was recently selected as a NOLA FOR LIFE Fund grantee. How will this grant support the work of the Children’s Bureau?

PC: Our grant from NOLA FOR LIFE is being used to build up the capacity of our Project LAST program, which directly addresses youth violence by providing critically needed mental health services to those most at-risk of committing violent acts or being further victimized by violence.

N4L: What can the community do to support this effort?

PC: The most important thing that the community can do is understand the impact that quality mental health services can have on children. It can literally mean the difference between life and death. Mental health is essential to the overall health and well-being of individuals and the community at large. And funding is always needed as the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans is a nonprofit organization. Anyone who would like to make a donation can do so on our website at or via mail to 2626 Canal Street, Suite 201, New Orleans, LA 70119.

5 Questions for...

Terry Clay, President/Founder, Institute of Behavioral Science

In his youth, Terry Clay got caught up in a lifestyle of thugs and drugs. He found a way to escape the streets and turn his life around and now has dedicated his life to helping others do the same. Clay founded the Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS), which offers a network of community-based services, including the trademarked “Addicted to the Lifestyle” program, which provides a researched-based, culturally specific cognitive behavioral approach to change. IBS is one of nine organizations participating in the NOLA FOR LIFE Fund Community of Practice.

NOLA FOR LIFE: How was the Addicted to the Lifestyle program developed?

Terry Clay: As a teen I, like so many of our youth today, became attracted to the lifestyle. After seventeen years on the streets of New Orleans I was able to escape the death sentence of the streets and change my life.

I returned to school and obtained a Bachelor and Master Degree. As an undergrad student I realized there was a gap in services in the mental health and substance abuse profession. There was no model in the mental health or substance abuse profession that was culturally specific to the thug/drug cultural phenomena destroying the lives of thousands of black youth.

Using my personal, academic, professional experience, I developed the Lifestyle Counseling curriculum specifically for African American males who were involved are at risk of becoming involved in the thug/drug lifestyle. From this work I developed the Hood Analysis workshop and the Addicted to the Lifestyle Violence and Substance Abuse Prevention/Intervention Education Program.

N4L: Why did you get involved with this work?

TC: Once the God of my understanding raised my level of consciousness and saved my life, I realized there are thousands of young black men and women who are being lured into the culture of violence every day. The same culture trapped me for 17 years. Thousands daily who do not get a second chance at life and thousands more who can be saved with the right information.

After going from a straight A student to getting shot on three different occasions, facing life sentences, getting hooked on drugs, becoming homeless and ultimately losing my only child in 1996 to street violence, giving my life to the reclamation of our children and community is my purpose for living and my personal ministry.

N4L: How will the NOLA for LIFE grant assist IBS?

TC: NOLA for LIFE will support the ongoing work of IBS in the area of violence prevention/intervention, professional development, community organizing, education and mobilization.

N4L: Can the problem of young men killing and being killed be solved?

TC: Of course it can. Culture is a social phenomenon. Culture influences the perceptions, values, beliefs, thinking and behaviors of the people who receive and internalize the messages of the culture. This becomes a way of life (G-CODE). In order to do this work we have to know our subject. Social scientists know if you change the culture you change the perceptions, values, beliefs and ultimately the behavior. The disease of violence is a scientific term. Behaviorism, socialization and conditioning are all scientific disciplines that are essential to developing a strategy to change the culture of violence. We have to move away from the ignorance that has us identifying symptoms as causes of black on black homicide and develop a strategy that addresses the cause: THE CULTURE OF VIOLENCE.

The culture of chattel slavery lasted for over 400 years. It was ingrained in the constitution of America. If you would have asked a southerner if slavery was going to end they would have said the same thing the majority of our youth and adults say: Slavery will never end. Yet, the culture of chattel slavery came to an end. If the culture of chattel slavery can change after 400 years the culture of black on black violence can change.

N4L: What makes NOLA FOR LIFE different from other initiatives?

TC: We have a mayor who has made the epidemic of black on black homicide a priority for his administration, and a mayor who is willing to put the resources behind developing an anecdote to the disease of black on black violence.

5 Questions for...

DJ Wild Wayne

Radio personality DJ Wild Wayne has been a longtime role model and public figure in the New Orleans community. Recognizing and wanting to do something about the city's murder culture, he decided to use his influence to help create positive opportunities for young men. Joining with NOLA FOR LIFE efforts, DJ Wild Wayne is an integral part of Midnight Basketball. Sharing the details of Midnight Basketball with his listeners and lending his talent and voice every week, he is committed to seeing change in the lives of New Orleans youth.

NOLA FOR LIFE: Why do you think Midnight Basketball is so important for these young men?

Wild Wayne: First off, it's a safe and inviting environment to get young men off the street in a state of the art facility and to get a great work out and work on team skills. Secondly, structured competition can be a productive life lesson and an asset to be used in the real world. Many young men look at competition in the real world as threatening, which is not always true. Competition when assessed properly can be a motivating factor for betterment on and off the court. Additionally, there's simply not enough positive activities for young men in New Orleans PERIOD, so any and all extra ones can have a positive impact. Also, adding JOB 1 and other resource tables is a great way to get these guys information that they might not otherwise get.

N4L: What kind of positive behavior have you noticed throughout the first three seasons?

WW: I've seen many of these young men build camaraderie, participate without violence if the game isn't going their way and increase their basketball skills. These guys seem to be genuinely appreciative of having an outlet every Saturday to get quality runs in a peaceful and structured environment. Also the weekly enrichment speakers are a great addition as well. The speakers have been diverse and having them speak to a captive audience gets a serious life lesson across.

N4L: How do you encourage young people to get involved in NOLA FOR LIFE?

WW: Primarily, I encourage people to participate when I'm on the air or often on social media and even word of mouth. I also encourage other young people to come by and see and become peer to peer beacons.

N4L: Why was teaming up with NOLA FOR LIFE so important to you?

WW: I was excited about having the opportunity bring my positivity to N4L. Since I have been a fixture in the community for many years and have championed community outreach, it was only natural to be involved with another positive outlet. Also, since I am a die-hard, born & raised New Orleanian, it was important to me because in my life and career I have already represented N4L, so it was a great fit. And I also believe it was important for youth and the new era of New Orleanians to see someone that they readily associated with and trusted to be a part of N4L.

5 Questions for...

Patrina Peters

There are life-changing moments that you can't prepare for. For Patrina Peters, losing her son Damond to gun violence on the streets of New Orleans in 2010 was one of those moments. While her life hasn't been the same, she's committed to helping other mothers and victims who share this burden of senseless violence. She's joining the NOLA FOR LIFE movement to make sure the rest of our young men don't fall victim to the culture of violence that plagues the streets of New Orleans.

NOLA FOR LIFE: Tell us about your son, Damond.

Patrina Peters: Damond was a great kid. He was smart and had good sense. He was active; he was a basketball player and also masked with the Mardi Gras Indians. He was my baby. More than just my son, Damond was my friend; one of my closest friends. But that friendship was taken away from me May 26, 2010, and my life hasn't been the same since. That night Damond had been lured into an SVU and his body was found later that night in the 9th ward. Almost three years later, thinking about that night still brings me to tears because I miss my son so much.

N4L: You still keep in touch with Damond's friends. How has that helped in your recovery?

PP: Still being a part of the lives of Damond's friends has been instrumental in my recovery. I see a piece of my son in all of them. They were always over my house, eating, playing games, and hanging out with Damond. They are my sons too. I do everything I can to ensure that they stay on the straight and narrow. I just want the best for them.

N4L: What do you want other parents and young men to learn from your story?

PP: I want other parents to cherish their children. Stay involved in their lives, make sure your kids know how to avoid trouble and learn how to resolve issues in a non-violent way. Turning around this epidemic of young black men being murdered starts with us, in the home. We have to enforce positivity and show our sons that life is worth living and all lives are precious. We have to remind them of their greatness. I want young men to know that they have so much life to live. They hold so much potential and promise. All of the old clichés ring true, they can accomplish any goal they set, the sky is the limit, and they are the gems of the future.

N4L: What's different about NOLA FOR LIFE from other murder reduction strategies you've seen?

PP: NOLA FOR LIFE is genuine. This initiative has truly been a huge part of my healing process. NOLA FOR LIFE calls for all of our input. It is a community effort. It's all of us working together, organically, to bring change for our communities. I can tell that Mayor Landrieu is passionate about this issue and it means all the difference to have the City backing our community.

N4L: Do you think NOLA's murder problem can be solved?

PP: Absolutely! Our sons are not a lost cause, we are not a lost cause. There's still so much that we can and have to do. But it has to be a "we" effort. We can and will come together to save our community. I know that it is possible. I believe that with every fiber of my being and that's why I am committed to NOLA FOR LIFE.

5 Questions For...

Bivian "Sonny" Lee III

Founder/Chairman, Son of a Saint Sports Foundation

The son of former Saints defensive back Bivian Lee Jr., Sonny never really got to know his father. Lee died of a heart attack when Sonny was only 3 years old, leaving Sonny's mom to take on the role of single parent to him and his older sister. In 2011, Sonny founded the Son of a Saint Sports Foundation with a mission to enhance the lives of fatherless young males through mentorship, educations, sports and mental health services. Son of a Saint is one of the first NOLA FOR LIFE Fund grant recipients.

NOLA FOR LIFE: Why did you start Son of a Saint?

Sonny Lee: I started Son of a Saint because I was enriched by everything that we offer our fatherless males; mentorship, tutoring, counseling and recreational access. I am a product of our formula. My father passed away when I was three, so I grew up with mostly women. It's hard for a boy to learn how to be a man from a woman.

N4L: What are the qualifications of a great mentor and what difference can a strong role model have in the life of fatherless child?

SL: It takes dedication and consistency. These boys expect the mentor to leave their life through their experiences with other males. When a boy realizes the mentor is there to stay and true to his word, he will open up and welcome the guidance.

N4L: Congratulations on Son of a Saint being one of the first NOLA FOR LIFE Fund grant recipients. How will this grant help your work?

SL: We are using the funds to help our core kids as well as other young boys in New Orleans. We will continue to help fund our kids' mental health services, mentorship outings, tutoring sessions and recreational cost. We are developing a Son of a Saint Code of Conduct poster that will be distributed to boys and expected to hang in rooms for years. It will serve as a reminder of how each kid is expected to carry himself. We will also ignite our speaking engagements at schools and hot spots for crime in New Orleans.

N4L: What makes NOLA FOR LIFE different from other murder reduction initiatives?

SL: The main thing is that it has the backing of multiple credible entities. It is a partnership where all parties are determined to guarantee its success. Synergy is powerful and NOLA FOR LIFE is a prime example. It starts with identifying the issue, developing a plan with awareness involved and financial backing. NOLA FOR LIFE has all three.

N4L: Tell us about Son of a Saint Amazing Challenge that's coming up in April.

SL: The Challenge is a course meant to bond adults and youngsters between the ages of 9-13. It starts at Pinkberry on Canal and ends at Pinkberry uptown on Magazine. There are eleven different obstacles that are related to Son of a Saints core mission of education, mentorship, mental health and recreation. We expect about 200 participants. The grand prize is a 7 day stay in Disney World for 6 people, eating Pinkberry with Saints Cornerback Jabari Greer and gifts from Magazine stores. Sounds good to me!


Ryan Dalton

NOLA FOR LIFE Midnight Basketball Coordinator

Having found his way out of the cycle of violence, Ryan Dalton continues to inspire young men to change their lives and pursue their passion. He completed a job training program at Café Reconcile in 2009 and recently served as an ambassador for the Youth Leadership Institute. That role took him to Washington D.C., where he discussed community solutions for disconnected youth at the White House. He currently serves on the Mayor's team as the NOLA FOR LIFE Midnight Basketball coordinator for the City of New Orleans. These days he’s happy to be part of the solution and not the problem.

NOLA FOR LIFE: What was it like growing up in the 8th Ward?

Ryan Dalton : I’ve seen a lot and faced a lot of first time experiences. Violence, fights, shoot-outs, drive-bys, you name it. Growing up in the 8th ward, I always had less than the other kids in the neighborhood. We had the house where the electricity was frequently disconnected, water shut off, eviction notices on the front door, and the repo man every now and then would come to repossess the car. I had a loving mother who could only do so much by herself. With five kids in the house and a drug addicted husband, we lived below a livable income. The 8th ward taught me how to improvise.

N4L: What made you realize it was time to “flip your script”?

RD: A multitude of things happened that caused me to realize it was time to flip the script, but being shot three times, and having family members, including my oldest brother taken away through violence really opened my eyes. One huge thing that impacted my change was the outside support, and having people truly believe and invest in me. This gave me the ability to think ahead, and create goals for myself, which led me to want to see all young people succeed and think differently.

N4L: How have your friends and family responded to your lifestyle change?

RD: Most of my friends and family encouraged me. They tell me every day to keep doing what I’m doing and that God has something in store for me. I am always being told how proud they are of me and to not let anyone or anything stop me.

N4L: You’re running Season 3 of NOLA FOR LIFE Midnight Basketball. What’s that like?

RD: Running Midnight Basketball gives me the opportunity to give back in a greater way, and interact with a lot of great people that will continue to inspire me to go higher. This is an opportunity for me to learn and grow personally every day.

N4L: What’s your message to other young men struggling right now?

RD: My message to young men struggling right now is that “trouble doesn’t last always.” In every negative situation there is a positive solution and it’s up to you to find that solution despite any situation or challenge. Your actions dictate your outcome. Start dreaming because your dream can be the weapon you use to win your battle. Dreams Are Weapons.

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Dollar for dollar. The City of New Orleans is matching your tax-deductible donations to the Nola For Life Fund, up to $250,000.