This weekend is the fifth anniversary of the devastation that Katrina wrought in New Orleans. As a member of the Creole community, I have long felt a deep connection to New Orleans and the Gulf region, and I want to send out my prayers to those who are still working to rebuild there. The destruction that Katrina caused really struck home for me -- so many brothers and sisters lost; so many lives shattered and families displaced.
When I was with the Fugees, we headlined the very first Voodoo festival, in 1999, and it felt like going home. I played the festival again (as a solo artist this time) in 2008, and I was so grateful for the warm welcome we received. The people of New Orleans are some of my favorite in the world -- they've created an atmosphere in their city that just can't be found anywhere else. To know how much they've suffered since Katrina hit their shores is enough to make any caring person heartsick.
I see a corollary to the vast destruction of the earthquake that Port-au-Prince suffered just seven months ago: Like the people of the Gulf Coast, my countrymen in Haiti have been forced to witness more despair than anyone should have to bear. And in New Orleans, as it is in Haiti, so much of the loss was suffered by those who had little to begin with. I am optimistic that soon the great city of New Orleans and also my great country will have the means to rebuild better and stronger homes for all who need and want shelter.
I'm overwhelmed with emotion when I think of New Orleans, and I'm saddened to see the conditions in the city. There is no reason that such a beloved community and rich culture, existing within one of the world's wealthiest nations, should still be in such disrepair a full five years after it was torn apart by the hurricane. We must all unite and put more pressure on the powers that be to rebuild New Orleans. The people can no longer be displaced, no longer be compromised, no longer be out of work. Yes, we live in a blessed country, but now is the time to realize that these people are not asking for a handout -- they are giving all of us an opportunity to put hope into action and pride into good use.
New Orleans is still in the process of reviving its communities, and on this fifth anniversary, there are many great plans and events through which people can come together to rebuild where it's still needed. I'm so inspired by the scores of people -- and companies -- who have stepped in, and are still stepping in, to show their support for those who continue to struggle to get their lives back to "normal."
I recently read of a Washington, D.C.-based publishing company, United Communications Group, that had led a relief effort five years ago for Katrina victims; at a cost of just $80,000, this corporation and its employees were able to assist hundreds of people. Many more companies are timing rebuilding campaigns to the anniversary this week: Among them, Marriott will work with Habitat for Humanity to build a home and a playground. Barnes & Noble's founder, Leonard Riggio, funded a nonprofit, Project Home Again, that will be putting up houses in still damaged neighborhoods in New Orleans. And Sears has partnered with Rebuilding Together on its Fifty for Five event, which aims to put 50 families back into homes in one week (an effort I had planned to join until it became clear that the current challenges of my campaign for Haiti's presidency will not allow it.).
There is probably more rebuilding in this one week in New Orleans than there has been in Haiti in the seven months since the earthquake struck. Though that thought is in some ways quite discouraging, in another way it is incredibly inspiring: The corporate sponsors helping to redevelop New Orleans reinforces my thought that Haiti must be re-opened for business -- and soon. Let's get companies into Haiti with projects and plans to rebuild the houses that were toppled by the earthquake; let's encourage voluntourism -- those who will come to our country to help build new shelters for those who are living without.
God bless the New Orleans natives who are still fighting to rebuild their neighborhoods, and their lives, and I ask all of them to say a prayer, in turn, for the Haitians who are still fighting to survive in my homeland. I leave you all with this motto from Haiti, "L'union fait la force."