"Rich or poor, black or otherwise, you are important to this place whether they like it or not. As we remember all that was lost because of Katrina please keep in mind all that was lost because of the ignorance to the freedom and humanity of all people."
Nine years ago, a great event occurred. Lives were lost, physical communities destroyed and this city was forever changed. In the days after citizens of a great city were left without not only homes & businesses but without direction as to what was next. We shifted to depend totally on those whom WE had elected and appointed as leaders to make things all right. The response was anything but. Those who were deemed as lower class were treated as vermin as if the waters had brought pests up from the bowels of a sinking ship. They were cast aside while those in power (not limited to elected officials) waited to see what would happen inside the peltry dish. Outside influence resulted in minor attention to the leftovers of this city. A new title of “refugee” was given to those who simply didn’t get out in time, in some instances only due to an error in culture. “We never leave for hurricanes!” “I gotta go to work after the storm, I need to be here.” , were ideas that many of this city’s citizens shared. I watched this happen first from a hotel in Shreveport, La and later from a Little Rock, AR. I much like many others could not believe what this was on the TV. I remember the exact moment when it hit me. Everybody was looking to see which parts of the city and coast were damaged in the lobby of the hotel. We had folks on our hallway in Shreveport who were from Grand Isle, Belle Chase, Lafitte, and of course New Orleans. One evening in Shreveport as the screen switched from area to area, a large man, about 300 lbs, 6’4 maybe, broke down crying, his body slid down the wall, I , still not knowing if our house was flooded or not, sat next to him, I tried to talk to him and comfort him but he couldn’t speak in that moment. The screen showed his town onscreen and confirmed everything he had was gone. His wife approached, thanked me for caring and they sat and cried together in a Super 8 hotel. We were still waiting on an update from our homes.
Prior to the storm I had recently moved out of my mom’s apartment in the Lafitte Projects to help with care of my grandmother uptown on Apple St. We trusted nothing would happen in the Lafitte, they were built of concrete and high of the ground so we thought they’d be fine. But as for my grandmothers house uptown, we were unsure. Somehow a friend of mine was at the convention center with a working phone. We’d text back and forth when he could but of course it didn’t last. He kept me updated on stories of eating from the riverwalk popeyes, and even when some folks grabbed some things from the gamestop, “What they gon do with a f**kin Xbox?” was one text he sent to me. He causally recalled the dead bodies around him as well as the lack of support from police. One day while watching the news it happened, they showed the area of uptown New Orleans where my grandmother’s house was, I still couldn’t believe it. But not because it was impossible, because I’ve never actually seen it happen to me or us. It’s always closer to the coast or… I went through many excuses as to why it couldn’t be real. A few months later we visited the house, it was clear it happened, the whole trip was like a crazy movie and I was the main character. But so was the lady that lived across the street, and guy that lived next door, and the man from the Super 8 in Shreveport.
Since Katrina we have seen some of the worst treatment for people of a certain class. Homes are literally being taken, lives and deaths are declared worthless. Culture is bottled and sold to those who saw us as a spectacle, children are being refused the right to education, adults are being refused the right to work or housing. In some instances it was not even isolated to just color. In most it was. Sitting just below the troposphere and radiating outwards from the center of Lake Ponchartrain in the attitude that “We, don’t want THEM here anymore.” A city built on foreign culture is bleaching itself of it’s very architects. Bleeding itself free of those who fit the description until it’s time to put it’s heart on display for paying customers or media. It is then we call our local Jazz heroes to the rescue or we tap our rich artistic culture for a quick flash of the camera. Sit down foreign diplomats for a good “southern meal” and tell the cooks to leave when the pot cools.
To just resign your position as a citizen in this gumbo of a city is a choice but I do not believe it is not a solution. Those who’ve fought for their rights since the waters receded have given life to some of the greatest communities, organizations, initiatives, etc. Sitting in my room in a free apartment in Little Rock I saw Ray Nagin on the TV. He was speaking about the city needing it’s citizens, in that moment I decided that I could help. Just by being present I could help the city that gave me all my greatest, and hardest moments. So that’s what I did, I came back and enrolled at the University of New Orleans. Since I’ve moved back many things, good and bad, have happened but the one thing that I haven’t forgotten is my mission to help, to be apart of this body that is New Orleans, and to encourage others to do the same. Rich or poor, black or otherwise, you are important to this place whether they like it or not. As we remember all that was lost because of Katrina please keep in mind all that was lost because of the ignorance to the freedom and humanity of all people.
- Jevon Thompson