We’ve finished our 3rd full day here in New Orleans. It has been a rich, and welcoming experience for the 20 youth and young adults of color from UU congregations across the country. We’re staying in the volunteer center on the 2nd floor of First UU New Orleans on Jefferson and Claiborne. It is nicely suited to our group, with two sleeping rooms, a dining/meeting room, and a full kitchen. There are new showers on the 1st floor.
The LDC (leadership development conference) has focused the first 3 days on experiential learning, visiting Plaquemines Parish where an African American community is rebuilding with UUA/UUSC help after the government abandoned their effort. We met with Jyaphia and Viola who facilitate the Race, Class and Katrina dialogue mandatory for all groups coming to do service work in the area. We toured the infamous 9th Ward with Ms. Mary of All Congregations Together, an interfaith social justice organization and saw the massive devastation. Hundreds of houses totally destroyed. At this point, most of the debris has been removed, and all that remains for blocks and blocks are empty lots with a foundation or a patio here and there. It felt like you were in some open field with not a soul around. To imagine that there were once hundreds of houses lined up and all ages of folks walking around was difficult, and sad. Friday we worked with Common Ground, a People of Color led organization facilitating rebuilding efforts and volunteer coordination. The group worked at several sites doing clean-up. There is still a lot of clean up to do, some volunteer groups have been here five or six times. Progress is indeed slow.
I’ve learned several things:
The 9th Ward which is predominately People of Color had a 70% home ownership rate, and has been targeted by developers including Donald Trump. This was one of the last areas the government committed to helping rebuild.
Prevailing wages (i.e. living wages) for skilled labor are still suspended per order of the Bush Administration, and affirmative action requirements have been suspended.
Katrina the Category 5 Hurricane missed New Orleans, Katrina’s wake, a Category 1 storm is what triggered the water surge and massive flooding. The city has withstood much more powerful storms for years.
The levy which broke (thanks in part to a huge barge that became a battering ram), was rebuilt to the same size and height, and folks are questioning why it isn’t reinforced more significantly. It is literally a tall cement wall.
We wrap up on Tuesday July 3rd.