my friend, joseph

“Hollygrove monster,
Eagle Street creature
Come to your funeral,
Kill everybody but the preacher”
Lil Wayne – Grove St. Party

Things that I know about Eagle Street in New Orleans:

  • Lil Wayne raps about it a fair amount. It’s where he was born and raised
  • It’s located in one of the lower-income neighborhoods in New Orleans
  • It was affected greatly by Katrina, averaging around four to six feet of standing water
  • Habitat for Humanity and other groups flocked to areas like Hollygrove and Leonidas, along with the Lower 9th Ward post-Katrina
  • I worked there, and Joseph Massenburg worked there, serving AmeriCorps*NCCC 17 and 19, respectively

Last night, I lost a coworker, a partner, and a friend. He and I had never met.

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Joseph Massenburg was 18 years old. He had just graduated high school and signed up to serve for ten months with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), working on teams of ten to 12 people providing support in the areas of energy conservation, infrastructure improvement, urban and rural development, environment, and disaster relief. Basically, N-trips are the first responders to any natural disaster in the United States; and when they are not there, they’re working in schools, homes, and open spaces across the country.

Last night, Joseph was shot multiple times on the corner of Eagle and Birch in New Orleans while talking on the phone. He was pronounced dead upon hospital arrival.

You might ask how Joseph was my friend, my coworker, my partner.

Once you serve your country in any capacity, you are linked for life. This program was unique.

This was cutting down trees that were affected by the Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle to create a safer fire mitigation situation for those who live in the Flatirons and foothills. This was working in charter schools, teaching children about Nobel Peace Prize winners that they could look up to, bringing in people who rap about organic farming and sustainability instead of murder, hoes, and cash. This was giving a child an instrument to hold for the first time in southeastern Arkansas, handing them a paintbrush and teaching them what secondary colors were. This was working with families who had lost homes in Katrina and received the opposite of help from FEMA. This was, in Joseph’s case, installing energy-efficient lighting in low-income housing while educating homeowners and renters about what their new use would do for their homes, their family, and their environment.

Joseph’s service term was brand new. This was his first project of four that he would go on. Joseph was the son of two ministers in Matteson, IL. He had just graduated high school. He was just getting started on his life as a public servant, which his parents said he had been doing since he was a child in the pews of their church.

The way the country was rocked by the gun deaths a mere nine miles from where I live in Colorado, by the deaths of adults and children alike in Connecticut – these were all mass murders. These were horrific, no doubt. But what about the everyday gun deaths? What about places like the south side of Chicago? What about Detroit? What about Philly? And what about New Orleans, tallying around 54 gun deaths since the Sandy Hook shooting?

As a nation, we come together like none other during times of tragedy. The pay it forward campaign that came out of Sandy Hook was mesmerizing and beautiful to see. But what do we do in the wake of the aftermath? We live in a place where our “property” and our “rights” are so important to us as individuals, yet we forget that the Native Americans who were so wrongfully removed and mistreated by us upon entering this country never had the chance to teach us that things like “property” and “rights” can and should be shared in such a vast, beautiful landscape. Instead, we continue to hold on to the need to protect what’s ours by any means necessary. In Joseph’s case, a probable case of who-are-you-and-why-are-you-on-my-street-corner took place. Random acts of violence are prevalent in our country, and guns are truly only adding to the larger problem.

Joseph was my coworker. Joseph was my partner. Joseph was my friend, just as anyone who has served their country in any capacity would say of someone who did the same. And now I don’t have the chance to see Joseph become something greater than himself, which was absolutely what he was on track to do, all because of the need to murder a boy on a street corner talking on the phone.

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4 thoughts on “my friend, joseph

  1. I met the Massenburg family 2005 when they so graciously allowed me to have my nephew’s funeral services at their church, this was also another sinceless murder of a young man. Joseph was about 10 years old and I am remembering his beautifully white teeth when he smiled and his dimples peeking out. i can almost here his voice telling me the car was in front of the church and asking me if I need any help with getting my brother to the car, and I will cherish every memory I have of such a giving young man and always will I remember his hugs. ( He gave the best hugs ) This hurts so badly for another promissing young man to leave this earth for no reason. I am and will continue to pray for the Massenburg family and all of the families that are losing their children sincelessly.

  2. My son is in one of the two NCCC teams pulled back to Vicksburg after Joe’s murder. He got to know Joe during training. At one point Joe told my son, “You’re like a brother to me.”

    Joe was a beautiful person – I might even call him angelic. I can’t help thinking that, as a young man who loved God, Joe must have prayed that God would use him to accomplish something with major positive impact. I can’t help thinking that Joe’s death might in fact do just that, as a result of galvanizing the efforts of others to make his death count for something.

    The night of the shooting, my son managed to get only two hours of sleep. One of the girls on the two teams seems to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. These kids are more than just a team – they’ve become a family. In a very real sense, they have lost a family member.

    The NCCC staff now has the challenge of helping this broken family heal, rehabilitating the two teams to the extent that they can return to productive work. May the spirit of their lost brother Joseph Massenburg be in all their hearts and minds in a way that strengthens their bonds with each other and drives them to make his prayers for positive impact a reality.

  3. I didn´t know Joe, but I know many like him.. those willing to step out of their comfort zones to serve others. But their work is counteracted when persons are able to go out a buy guns on the street without anyone batting an eye. Why, you ask? Because these persons commit acts of violence that further tear down communities and rob youth of their childhoods. This has to stop.

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