Humans of New Haven: On the word “complex” with Elsa Holahan
Hillhouse High School junior Elsa Holahan talks New Haven’s evolving arts landscape and her social advocacy story that’s in the works.
Tenzin Jorden, Staff Photographer
Elsa Holahan’s home is “a lot going on in a little space.” It is a “cultivation of the arts” and a hotspot for “politics,” brimming with people connected to each other in the biggest of ways and the smallest of ways. Her home is “beautiful,” and her home represents many things, but today, “justice isn’t always” one of them, she said.
On March 20, the fatal shooting of fellow Hillhouse High School classmate Keiron Jones rocked Holahan’s life, as it did for many other New Haveners. Born and raised in the city, the high school junior spoke to the emotional dichotomy that comes with living here and being a part of the city’s public school system. For her, the one word that will always trail 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 recreational livelihood and opportunity, commenting on how the artistic landscape of the city has evolved over the years. She thanks local spaces for bringing folks together through entertainment and reminds her community to look for freedom in outlets that people do not normally consider to be art, such as newspapers. For Holahan herself, the arts evoke memories of walking home from school as she listens to podcasts about the 1969 Black Panther Trials in the city. They remind her of the visceral escape from school that she gets from playing cello with the Neighborhood Music School or of sharing her favorite posts from New Haven’s The Daily Nutmeg with friends and family.
More often than not, however, “complex” means unmet progress, Holahan said. It means all the work that still needs 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 this past year taught her that there is strength in community, in a powerful and informed youth that continues to break down the walls of today while uplifting the older generations. Every life deserves a possibility to win, to survive and be beautiful, she said.
“It’s always hard to share a community with someone and have them go [and] leave you,” she said, remembering sharing an English class with the late Keiron Jones in freshman year. “There was no response from the administration at Hillhouse… [and] that was tragic. We [need] to stray away from violence.”
For Holahan, to fight is to remember stories like Jones’, the stories of the local community and of people of color. This fight of remembrance is one that will forever pervade her New Haven journey and her thoughts, whether it is during conversations with her mom about the city’s angular relationship with Yale or while waiting in line at Ninth Square Market Too Caribbean Style ordering her favorite vegan Jamaican dish.
Since October 2020, Elsa Holahan has served as the youth director on the Q-House Advisory Board, managing the center’s social media and its connections to LEAP, or Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership.