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New Orleans Tourism

When Brandan Odums got caught spraying graffiti art in an abandoned apartment complex in New Orleans, he thought he was in real trouble.

It turns out that getting caught would be the thing that launched the next chapter of his career.

Photo by Patrick Melon, used with permission.


Odums had begun creating graffiti art in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the storm left thousands of homes ruined or abandoned. He and a group of other artists created paintings there that captured the pain, frustration, loss, and hope that the community was feeling.

It started out as a project, but as people stumbled upon the space and word began to spread, it quickly became a phenomenon.

"I had no idea that the response would be what it was," Odums says. "Before we knew it, the space had turned into an underground art experience."

[rebelmouse-image 19532391 dam="1" original_size="2000x1335" caption="Photo by Jeremy Tauriac, used with permission." expand=1]Photo by Jeremy Tauriac, used with permission.

It turned out that lots of other people identified with the feelings that the artists were capturing, too — including the landlord.

"The owner of the property walked in as I was painting," Odums says. Odums expected to get thrown out, but instead, the owner was actually impressed by what he saw — so much so that he handed over the keys to the space so that Odums and the other artists could set up a temporary art show, called "#ProjectBe." He then later helped Odums set up an exhibition in a more permanent space, which he called "#ExhibitBe."

People came from all over the city, state, and country to see the art that Odums and his colleagues were creating in New Orleans.

"It was an amazing experience, just seeing the power of art, alchemy transforming this negative into a positive," Odums says. Many of the people who came through used to live in one of the now abandoned places that were ruined by Katrina. Witnessing something so painful turned into something powerful, Odums says, is what the project is all about.

[rebelmouse-image 19532392 dam="1" original_size="2000x1335" caption="Photo by Jeremy Tauriac, used with permission." expand=1]Photo by Jeremy Tauriac, used with permission.

"I think there’s a certain spirit in New Orleans that’s about alchemy. There’s a certain spirit that’s about transformation," Odums says. "I think all the beautiful elements of New Orleans, when you look at it closely, you see that all the things people find beautiful about the city, they were all born out of struggle or pain or sadness."

The power of Odums' art comes from more than just the place. It's also about the people he chooses to paint.

Odums paints black people, both prominent icons from history as well as everyday people that he’s met or seen. The portrayal of black beauty on such a large scale has a huge effect on the people who pass through.

"I think it could be summarized in this one particular moment," Odums says. "We gave this tour to a middle school, and afterward I asked this young man which painting was his favorite."

The boy pointed to a portrait of a teenager that Odums had painted with a shirt on it that read "alchemy."

"I asked him why," Odums says. "And he said, 'Because it looks like me.'"

[rebelmouse-image 19532393 dam="1" original_size="1335x2000" caption="Photo by Patrick Melon, used with permission." expand=1]Photo by Patrick Melon, used with permission.

That struck Odums in a powerful way.

"It brought me back to the moments when I was in art school," he says. "It made me remember that I never had that experience, where I went to an art space where I felt like I was reflected or where I was able to see something positive or beautiful about who I am reflected on the walls." He’s able to give that representation to a younger generation.

Now, Odums is leaving his studio and taking his art out into the streets of New Orleans.

For the city’s tercentennial, he’s paired with local government to start putting up graffiti murals all around town, depicting the history of each individual place.

"There’s all these historic sites and markers in the city. So how can we use visual art and street art and murals to bring those stories alive?" he says. "We’re bringing another layer of New Orleans to life."

[rebelmouse-image 19532394 dam="1" original_size="1080x721" caption="Photo by Jeremy Tauriac, used with permission." expand=1]Photo by Jeremy Tauriac, used with permission.

The sites of the new murals haven’t been chosen yet, but they will likely reflect New Orleans’ history as the birthplace of jazz, a major player in the struggle for abolition, and many of the other significant events that have taken place over the city’s 300-year history.

"There’s so much history, so many important ideas that were born in this city," Odums says. "How can the visual arts explore that? That’s what we’re trying to figure out."

Odums doesn’t paint just because he loves the practice. It’s also about giving back to his community.

His commitment to community service stems from a philosophy that he’s held since he was a child.

[rebelmouse-image 19532395 dam="1" original_size="2000x1335" caption="Photo by Brandan Odums, used with permission." expand=1]Photo by Brandan Odums, used with permission.

"My father was in the military for 25 years," he says. Growing up in a military family, Odums learned early what it means to live a life committed to serving others. "Seeing him put on the uniform and understanding what it meant, this extreme type of service," Odums says, rubbed off on him and inspired his work in New Orleans.

He says that his love for others actually is rooted in an attitude of healthy self-love.

[rebelmouse-image 19532396 dam="1" original_size="2000x1335" caption="Photo by Jeremy Tauriac, used with permission." expand=1]Photo by Jeremy Tauriac, used with permission.

"I was raised with this level of love for myself, and in return, love for my community," he says.

"If I deserve better, then my neighbor deserves better," he continues."It’s this idea that we all should be engaged in demanding more from the status quo."

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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It can be hard to find hope in hard times, but we have examples of humanity all around us.

I almost didn't create this post this week.

As the U.S. reels from yet another horrendous school massacre, barely on the heels of the Buffalo grocery store shooting and the Laguna Woods church shooting reminding us that gun violence follows us everywhere in this country, I find myself in a familiar state of anger and grief and frustration. One time would be too much. Every time, it's too much. And yet it keeps happening over and over and over again.

I've written article after article about gun violence. I've engaged in every debate under the sun. I've joined advocacy groups, written to lawmakers, donated to organizations trying to stop the carnage, and here we are again. Round and round we go.

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