Monday, June 14, 2010

The Story Writes Itself

Today I met a politician from New York State who came down to check out the oil spill and was shocked, as I was when I first came down, that New Orleans is still reeling from Katrina. When I shared with him that five years after Katrina New Orleans still doesn't have its major trauma center rebuilt he was as shocked as I was at the close of my conversation with the Tulane faculty I met with earlier in the week. Most of the time I've been here I've spent talking to the residents in the lower 9th ward where there are entire blocks growing back in weeds. It's impossible not to read the truth embedded in the landscape: the areas hardest hit by Katrina are the last ones being rebuilt.

Even so, just fifteen minutes away, ensconsed in the Garden District apartment I rented, it's easy to forget the reality of the lower 9th ward. On Sunday I went to Branch Baptist Church where they announced the opening of a new diner where I joined a family for breakfast after the service. They shared more stories of how hard it was to move back to the neighborhood after Katrina. The residents didn't feel they were adequately helped. And it seems reasonable to me to have expected not to pay to have utilities restored or not to have to make a deposit if you had never made one before. One family said it cost them nearly a thousand dollars to have the utility services turned back on because Entergy removed all the meters from the houses on their block.Why our tax dollars, our raised insurance premiums, our FEMA monies didn't cover these expenses, I will never understand.

And there's Mac at the Lower 9th Ward Village, a grass roots organization. He's out teaching people how to get to the other side of fear one conversation at a time. Without the infusion of large sums of money from business leaders and big-name non profits, the community continues its own grass roots efforts to rebuild.There's still no major grocery store in the neighborhood and the Circle Grocery Store, a busy African-American owned business before Katrina on Clairborne Ave remains closed. An enterprising family now uses the shaded entry-way to the store to sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

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