New Orleans officials opened a permanent headquarters Thursday for its signature violence reduction program, NOLA For Life.
Looming over the ceremony was the murder of one of the star graduates of the tough-love counseling program. Michael Davis’ fatal shooting on Saturday served as a painful reminder of the steep challenges the city faces in stopping the bloodshed.
The newly renovated NOLA For Life recreation complex, along with NORDC’s administrative headquarters, is housed in what used to be the Milne Boy's Home on Franklin Avenue. Damaged by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters, the 17-acre site is being put back into action following an $11 million renovation.
Featuring basketball, boxing, exercise equipment and classrooms, the complex was dedicated Thursday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Landrieu addressed the tragedy of losing Davis, a 29-year-old graduate who three years ago was featured in Essence magazine as a poster child for the city program.
“It's horribly debilitating for us, especially if we know these young men, to have them in our grasp and then to lose them. Michael's not the only example,” Landrieu said.
Davis was one of the early NOLA For Life graduates. When he entered the program in 2013, Davis had just completed a prison sentence for cocaine possession. He had been shot several times before that, once in a drive-by shooting in 2009 that took the life of a close friend.
After attending one of NOLA For Life’s signature “call-in” sessions – in which at-risk probationers are given a carrot-and-stick lecture on going straight – he enrolled in the program’s counseling and job placement services.
In the Essence article, entitled “What Does It Take to Change a Life?” Davis talked about his pride in getting a job at Palace Café and building a new life for himself and his longtime girlfriend.
“I want us to one day have a house, with a mortgage, so we can really be together as a family,” Davis is quoted in the article. “I want to go wherever the future takes us.”
“Her heart is with me and I love her,” he said. “I love her hard.”
He also talked to the magazine about being devastated by murder in the past. Davis was four when his father was gunned down.
Saturday at about 7:30 p.m., Davis became a victim. He was fatally shot in the 3700 block of Hickory Street, around the corner from his 17th Ward home.
“In many instances it works for a lot of these young men. We move them into job training, mental health, substance abuse,” Landrieu said. “But in instances like Michael, we lose them on the street.”
Back in Davis’ neighborhood, family and friends continue to grieve. A sidewalk memorial of stuffed animals, balloons and cards continues to mark the spot where Davis was shot.
Torrey, a close friend who did not want to use his last name, said despite the drug convictions and prison time in Davis’ past, he was trying hard to do the right thing.
“It hit home hard, y'know man, because at the end of the day, nobody wants to lose a friend. Especially close to you like a brother,” Torrey said. “You can't go back into the past and rewind your hands, the hands of time, but he was really trying to get himself together.”