Bostonians in the aftermath of the Marathon bombing like to remind themselves that Boston is strong. A similar sentiment was echoed hundreds of miles to the south in New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Its slogan is "Resilient New Orleans".
Last week, marking the tenth anniversary of what Dr. Ray Seed once called "the greatest man-made engineering catastrophe since Chernobyl," the circus came to town. No elephants, some clowns. Mainly foundation granters and thumb-sucking journos. Actually, there was an elephant, and they were the blind men. Perhaps the blindest was the walking TED Talk Malcolm Gladwell, who graced Meet the Press Sunday elaborating on his premise that "we needed to destroy New Orleans to save it." The reed on which he rested was a study showing that previously-incarcerated young men who didn't return after evacuation were less likely, statistically, to be re-incarcerated than similar males who returned to the city. Self-deportation for offenders, anyone? Finally, Mitt Romney has a soulmate.
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I watched as the stories came in that covered the destruction, fatalities and the chaos that ensued. And my heart ached for all those who were missing, dead and displaced as a result of this storm and the busted levies. This experience had an impact on me I will never forget.
Broadmoor wasn't a perfect community before the levee failures. We suffered from the systemic problems of poverty -- blight, slum apartments, and a failing public school -- and the deadly scourge of violent crime. But we possessed many assets -- historic homes, a public library, and an active neighborhood association -- and the greatest attribute of all, our people.
Sometimes we get ideas. Crazy ideas. Ideas that make us want to do interesting things, things that help others. And too many times we end up doing nothing. We push those ideas away, relegate them to that place where all our dreams languish.
Ten years after people were left to fend for themselves post-Katrina, we should all agree that inability to pay cannot mean inability to secure justice. Agreement on this principle, however, is not enough.
This week brought powerful reminders of what happens when a government fails its citizens. On Wednesday, as the nation continued to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's unnecessarily tragic destruction of a uniquely American city, the nation woke to yet another uniquely American tragedy, as two Roanoke-based news staffers -- reporter Alison Parker, and cameraman Adam Ward -- were gunned down on live television. It was the beginning of a news cycle we know all too well: shock, outrage, calls for sensible guns laws, and then, if past is prologue, nothing. Since the Newtown shootings in 2012, nearly 85,000 Americans have been killed by guns -- yet common sense gun legislation proposed at the time by President Obama continues to languish. On Thursday, the president called Katrina "a man-made disaster, a failure of government to look out for its own citizens." The same could be said of Roanoke.
It's been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the people of New Orleans have spent a decade rebuilding their city, but not everyone has felt the full impact of the recovery effort. But don't be too discouraged. We found five innovations that are improving the lives of citizens across the board.
I spoke with Wendell Pierce - most famous for his HBO series roles in The Wire and Treme - on the closing weekend of Brothers from the Bottom, a critically-acclaimed play about gentrification in New Orleans after the storm, in which Pierce played a lead role both on stage and in production.
When I teach a course on the history of New Orleans at I often tell my students that there were two Katrinas. The first Katrina was the result of a low-pressure system that formed off the Bahamas on August 21st, 2005. The second was a man-made disaster.
The President did the right thing by going to struggling neighborhoods and spending time with the young people who could see in a man who, through the dedication, love and hard work, a mirror of themselves and what they too could accomplish.
Despite the various narratives of progress, black and brown kids across our city--almost regardless of school, age, neighborhood, or income--are punished, threatened, failing, and producing predictable, vilified, low test scores. This is no surprise to any of us--not a one.
I struggled to find words to best commemorate this day. Today, on the ten-year anniversary since Hurricane Katrina struck and devastated the Gulf Coast, there is little that has not been said already.
When Hurricane Katrina struck, children were caught in the floods when the levees failed. Some were killed; others orphaned. Thousands were separated from family and hundreds of thousands were displaced. But there is another part of the story that is not often told. Children took action.
New Orleans is a tale of 200,000 cities. That's how many people were left in New Orleans post-Katrina. After the diaspora, each of them became a city unto themselves. And each has lived a lifetime in the last 10 years.