Diary of a Katrina Survivor: Twelve Years Later

A Tale of Two Cities and Building Bridges of Understanding

 

Katrina Reflections
It is again that time of the year when we reflect on the days that changed our lives forever. It was a dozen years ago that we experienced Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of the levees breaching leaving many stranded-on rooftops, the Superdome, and the Convention Center drowning in a sea of misery and facing an uncertain future. As I look around 12 years later much is changing in our great City; and these are truly as stated in the “Tales of Two Cites” the best of times and the worst of times. Walking, driving or biking around the City we are witnessing a renaissance where we see pockets of progress, but conversely only a few blocks away there is often wreckage as if Hurricane Katrina happened yesterday; reminding us that we still have a long way to go in our recovery.
New Orleans: A Divided City
As we are on the verge of the eve of the New Orleans Saints beginning their season and the unity and camaraderie that we have around the boys in black and gold; this fall we will have our local elections. This October is important because we will decide who will lead us and hopefully help bridge the historical divide between Black and White and rich and poor in our City. In these times we are living we must ask ourselves how far we have come since the days of Ray Nagin and his Chocolate City remarks, which some considered divisive?  And unfortunately accept the stark reality that today much hasn’t improved as we are still facing a racial divide in our City over Confederate Statues and a host of other issues that’s keeping citizens separate and unequal.
Measuring Progress: The Ballot and Your Bank Account
With a smaller population post-Katrina of 391,000 New Orleans is still a majority Black City at 60% according to the U.S. Census. And while this can equal political power it does not always translate into economic opportunities for African-Americans. This is something that must be placed on top of the agenda for those we elect this fall. As a community, we must move away from the politics of symbols and more to substance.  This is not to suggest that we are not competent to lead for we undoubtedly having people more than capable who are fit to lead. But no longer can we consider progress as simply having an African-American Mayor, majority Black City Council etc.; while the economic reins of power continue to lie in the hands of a few that in many instances happen to be White. So, the question we should be asking ourselves as a community moving forward is where do African-Americans fit into the power equation of the “New” New Orleans and how do we measure success?
Education and the Future of New Orleans
Also after Hurricane Katrina what we have seen is a dismantling of public education and our children being made into pawns for profit. Yes, there was undoubtedly a problem with the Public Education System in New Orleans prior to Katrina, but firing all the teachers was not the solution; when many other societal problems had as much as if not more of an impact on students’ performance in the classroom. And one thing for certain, the answer definitely does not lie in our City becoming a petri dish for experimental approaches to education, where teachers are not much older than students and are transients who are not fully invested in our City and our children. And I say this in taking nothing away from them and their efforts, for they are simply pawns as well, but in the end, it is our children who suffer by getting an inferior education leading many kids to never reach their full potential. Where hope dies before they get a chance to dream or aspire to reach higher, and in my view, this is a crime worse than the violent crime we see on the streets, where young people are not supported and given the tools they need to become successful.
How to Build Bridges: All Zip Codes Matter
But in spite of all the problems with the politics, the inequality, corruption and lack of progress, New Orleans still retains one of its greatest assets. It is not the buildings, the food, music and culture alone that make this a great place. It is the people whose resilience fought back after the storm knocked it to its knees. It is the citizens of this great City and those who came to help and some even planting seeds and moving here. This is the reason New Orleans is where it is today and it again is up to the people to take a stand and make a difference. It is time to get out and be civically engaged and understand that true power is in our hands. It is time to build bridges of brother and sisterhood and recognize and work for the betterment of everyone and realize that all our zip codes matter. And when that day comes we can celebrate as only we do in New Orleans, second lining together in the direction of progress for all.

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