NEW ORLEANS - Clarence Nero, author of "Cheekie" and former LSU Professor of English, recently buried his third brother, Sean Simmons, 27, in his hometown of New Orleans. Simmons was gun down in the driveway of his apartment complex on Sunday, February 20, 2011 in a violent massacre that swept the city with six murders on that day. Nero, who has already lost two other brothers to gun violence in the city, is trying to make sense of the tragedy.
"It feels like my heart is about to explode," Nero said from his home in La Place where he's struggling to make peace with the incident. "I can't believe they killed another one of my brothers. Sean was such a good man. Had a job and was hardworking. You know he was trying to live a decent life. Everyone will tell you how kind he was. They gunned my brother down like an animal in the streets. Black men killing each other is an epidemic of huge proportions and something has to be done about it."
With over 45 homicide events, the murder rate in New Orleans is more than doubled what it was at the beginning of 2010. The city's Police Chief Ronal Serpas believes that the majority of the homicides in New Orleans are relationships that went astray. However, Nero, whose first novel "Cheekie" told a wrenching story of a boy growing up the city's Desire project, believes that the problem is much bigger.
"The black community has been broken for a longtime. Families are broken. Parents are on drugs. Fathers are in jailed. Violence and killings are the norm," Nero expresses with tears in his eyes. "The youth are becoming a product of their environment. It's time the city government, officials, leaders, teachers, parents - everyone for heaven sakes - come together and try to solve this growing epidemic before more of our young people are killed!"
In order to raise the consciousness of the community and inspire youth in the city, Nero has started an essay contest in conjunction with the Bayou Soul Writers and Reader's Conference during Essence Festival Week, June 30-July1 at the New Orleans Public Library. "The Sean Simmons Inspirational Essay Contest" is targeted towards high school students who can win cash prizes for writing an essay on BET's Reality Star, Toya Carter's new book, "Priceless Inspirations."
"Carter also grew up on the gritty streets of New Orleans, and she has overcome many challenges," Nero said with hope. "I think her story will inspire the community and the youth to do better. By promoting reading and writing, we can begin to have critical conversation and engage our youth in a discussion around the serious issues that they are dealing with."