“Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed levees and exploded the conventional wisdom about a shared American prosperity, exposing a group of people so poor they didn’t have $50 for a bus ticket out of town. If we want to learn something from this disaster, the lesson ought to be: America’s poor deserve better than this.” – Michael Eric Dyson
What word comes to mind to describe New Orleans to you? Jazz? Gumbo? Mardis Gras? Beignets? Voodoo? Art? The options of such delightful facets so deeply rooted in New Orleans’ history are endless, but they also make it easy to avoid the harder truths. For example, as tourists we drool over New Orleans’ famous southern dishes, whereas in reality the 2014 Map the Meal Gap project revealed that 38.4% of the city’s families with children could not afford enough food.
New question: what word comes to mind to describe post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans? Destruction? Poverty? Death? Insecurity? Race? Neglect? Does this mean these only existed as a result of Hurricane Katrina? In reality it did more than wreak physical havoc and tragedy on the city; it exposed the raw destructive processes taking place there long before nature imploded upon it. Despite this it has since been used as an explanation for the insecurities surrounding food, housing, education, race and economy to detract from the true social climate in the States. Perhaps rather than being seen as a cruel misgiving of nature whose effects were greatly accentuated by the inequalities pre-existing in these social factors? Why is it natural disasters tend to move the hearts of strangers more than disasters that are a product of human design? These are questions we are highly anxious to explore.
In our pre-departure state, it is true that we are only armed with our preconceived notions of New Orleans’ culture, and the statistics of Katrina conveyed by the media. As equality advocates and more importantly humans belonging to a global community, it is imperative that we delve deeper to discover the truth of New Orleans; that it is the epitome of resilience, but also contains a community that has long been hurting. This is why it is so important that we go there and educate ourselves on what exactly determines a healthy community, the roots of how this is lacking in New Orleans and, most importantly, how we can apply this knowledge to build it both there and in every community we enter in the future.
In light of the current social and political climate in America, I feel we are more driven than ever to embody a resilient nature, like that of New Orleans’ citizens, and face off against social injustice and oppression to install equality in all its forms. February 19th cannot come quick enough.
-Ellie C. (ucalgarycares BHC in New Orleans participant)