After spending a few days in New Orleans, our group had the chance to learn about the initiatives of local community leaders working towards rebuilding the neighborhoods. One of the experiences we had was learning about the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music at the Musicians Village. Our tour guide, Daryl, informed us about the funding of the center by a local New Orleans musician and Harry Connick Jr., who aimed to create a community of musicians and bring back the old artists that once formed the culture of the city, a vital organ in its effective functionality. After Katrina, it was exciting to see that this facility was built in order to create a sense of place and purpose in the community. We believe that it is an important initiative because it provides alternative activities for the youth that will keep them off the streets and engaging in illegal activities, which is found in high concentrations during the hours of 3-6pm (after school). The music village also creates a cohesive neighbourhood, and the occupied plots/houses create a strong sense of community. The fact that this facility was erected strictly by donations is quite inspiring. It stands in stark contrast to the lower 9th ward, which has empty plots, lack of after school programs for children and a diminished sense of community that contributes to a regression of the quality of life for the local population.
In addition to the music village, Our School at Blair Grocery and other urban farms and programs are run by local leaders who are advocating for the best interest of the local citizens, unlike many of the bought-out politicians and corrupt officials. For example, former mayor Nagin is charged for embezzlement, or even former governors in jail. Even Lil’ Wayne has given back to the community, indicating the importance of local leaders that are helping build community in New Orleans. New Orleans has a strong cultural background with proud individuals that are so adamant on maintaining their culture that it leads to strong community leaders, which creates a force field for positive change. The importance of external aid from Brad Pitt, from Habitat, and enthusiastic college students on their spring break is undeniable, however the home grown fruit doesn’t only indicate fertile soil, it provides seeds for future progeny.