NEW ORLEANS – As high school bands took to the field for a competition Saturday, organizers said this battle of the bands was unique.
“We're going to make a statement. We want everybody to know we're here, we care, we want to make a difference,” said Michael Willis, co-founder of Helping Other People Endure, or HOPE.
Willis is no stranger to the effects violent crime can have on the families of victims and suspects. He is the father of Kendall Harrison, 18, who is charged with the high-profile murder of Algiers Good Samaritan Mike Ainsworth in January.
Willis said he originally dreamed of starting the HOPE organization in 2006. After his son’s arrest this year, Willis decided he needed to reach out to other families as soon as possible.
“I think we need to do it now,” said Willis. “I think we need to start letting people know we care now.”
And that’s why HOPE spearheaded the first-ever Algiers Battle of the Bands. Its goal is to be a positive force for young people.
“Try to bring culture back and faith back in the community, the pride, the spirit you know,” said Willis.
The event is aimed at bringing families together through entertainment.
“I learned that if you're trying to really capture people's attention, you do it through entertainment. Entertainment's been a culture, a universal language for a hundred years, so basically I'm doing what I know how to do best,” said Willis, who has been involved in the music industry for years.
Families at the event said being involved in their children’s lives is key.
“It energizes [teens] to look over and see mom or families out with them and it just gives them something else to do, different than anything negative, get them out in the community,” said Evada Primus, the mother of a student on O. Perry Walker’s dance team.
The competing high schools included O. Perry Walker, Edna Karr, McMain, and Southwest Dekalb of Atlanta.
“You see how important it is to keep the kids involved in positive activities and it's a no brainer. If they're involved, and if they do something that's constructive, not only will it lead to future opportunities, but it keeps them engaged in something that's positive,” said James O. Seda, band director for O. Perry Walker.
Willis said the event's proceeds will be split amongst the four competing schools. It's just one part of the organization's effort to show the community it cares.
Willis said he plans to do more community events through HOPE.