Hillhouse High School Elsa Holahan talks about New Haven’s changing arts landscape and her story of social advocacy that’s in the works.
Tenzin Jorden, staff photographer
Elsa Holahan’s home “is a lot going on in a small space”. It’s an ‘arts culture’ and a hotspot for ‘politics’, brimming with people connected to each other in the biggest and smallest of ways. Her house is “beautiful”, and her house represents many things, but today “justice is not always” one of them, she said.
On March 20, the fatal shooting of her Hillhouse High School classmate, Keiron Jones, shook Holahan’s life, as it did for many other New Haveners residents. Born and raised in the city, Junior High spoke about the emotional dichotomy that comes with living here and being part of the city’s public school system. For her, the one word that will always linger in her mind when she thinks of New Haven is “complex.”
On one side of this “complex”, Holahan finds a community that has grown to embrace the importance of livelihoods and recreational opportunities, commenting on how the city’s artistic landscape has changed over the years. She thanks local spaces for bringing people together through entertainment and reminds her community to seek freedom in outlets that people don’t normally consider art, like newspapers. For Holahan herself, the arts conjure up memories of walking back to school as she listens to podcasts about the 1969 Black Panther trials in the city. They remind her of the visceral escape from school she gets playing cello with the Neighborhood Music School or sharing her favorite posts from New Haven’s The Daily Nutmeg with her friends and family.
More often, however, “complex” means progress not achieved, Holahan said. This means all the work that remains to be done. Growing up witnessing violence and inequality everywhere, from street corners to classrooms, Holahan has put social advocacy at the forefront of her story and plans to make New Haven a safer place for those who call it home. . Her work at the newly reopened Dixwell Q-House last year taught her that there is strength in community, in powerful and informed youth who continue to break down the walls of today while building the older generations. Every life deserves an opportunity to win, to survive and to be beautiful, she said.
“It is always difficult to share a community with someone and to make them leave [and] let it go,” she said, recalling sharing an English lesson with the late Keiron Jones in first grade. “There was no response from Hillhouse administration… [and] it was tragic. We [need] away from violence”.
For Holahan, fighting is about remembering stories like Jones’, the stories of the local community and people of color. This fight for remembrance is one that will forever imbue her trip to New Haven and her thoughts, whether it’s during conversations with her mother about the city’s angular relationship with Yale or while waiting in line at the Ninth Square Market Too Caribbean Style commander. his favorite Jamaican vegan plate.
Since October 2020, Elsa Holahan has served as Youth Director on the Q-House Advisory Board, managing the center’s social media and its ties to LEAP, or Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership.