Sunday, August 29, 2010

Katrina 5 Years Later


Thanksgiving weekend 2004 - my family was in New Orleans for a day to watch the Battle of the Bands. We walked along Bourbon Street and watched a step show along with the Battle between Southern and Grambling's bands inside the Superdome - the pinnacle of Southern Black culture. With "Nolia Clap" and "Go DJ" played non-stop in the arena and surrounded by Black Greeks, it was a wonderful time.

That night we watched Black folks celebrate in downtown New Orleans. While I was dreaming of regretting that decision not to apply to Morehouse, I felt like I was getting a taste of the South that so many of us in Cali don't see.

9 months later, that memory was replaced by something else. I remember moving in my senior year of college and hearing that a hurricane was coming to the Gulf Coast. It didn't hit me just how huge this was gonna be. I remember as an 8 year old kid seeing how bad Hurricane Andrew was in Florida so I figured it would be close to that but nowhere the devastation.

Next thing I knew, we saw the Gulf Coast submerged under water. People floating in boats and standing on roofs. Houses nearly covered in water. I'll never forget seeing the chilling photo of a dead woman face down in a pool of water splashed on the front of the NY Times.

My uncle and cousin had to move to Atlanta. The Superdome became a home for the displaced. My dad's hometown was a living waterpark - with poor folks who looked like me struggling a terrible evil.

Looking back on it, I remember these feelings and the lackluster government response. It was a reality to a lot of folks that like John Edwards said, we lived in Two Americas. George Bush watching that response from Air Force One said it all - an America detached from the painful reality of the poor, working class.



(I always wondered what he was thinking. Like his reaction on 9/11)



I was so confused about my feelings of despair and anger that I wrote this blog on MySpace. I didn't want to blame the government at first but that later faded.

Katrina was indeed a hurricane of class and racial issues that this country forgot about. Those issues came up when White with supplies were called surviving and Black faces were called looters. They came up recently when we discovered that officers had the green light to shoot looters at will. It comes up when Bourbon Street and the Superdome have been rebuilt and refurnished while most of the lower wards are still in recovery mode.

And by the way, what about Mississippi and the rest of the Coast? You may hate Kanye West for what he said on the telethon but I admire him for having the balls to say what many of us were saying privately and still needs to be said. David Banner forever earned my respect for not just organizing a concert for Katrina relief, but performing this great poem on Def Poetry Jam reminding us it's not just about New Orleans.


5 Years Later, Katrina reminds me of the outpouring of love we have, the feeling of detachment when it doesn't affect you personally, and a reminder that the federal and local government show who they really care about. I think about what would my Dad have done if he were alive to it and how much he would have given.

This spring, I watched David Simon's new show "Treme" on HBO, which captures a slice of post-Katrina New Orleans for musicians. To me, it not only captures the wide range of emotions after Katrina but it's a reminder that there's resiliency in the area and there's hope. When I talked to a former coworker last year after she returned to NO, she told me the same thing. People are struggling but they aren't giving up -when others forgot about them, they show the same spirit they had beforehand.

Katrina opened my eyes a bit more and it's a bigger reason why I'm passionate about injustice.
In the worst of times, we often see the best of humanity but we leave that memory behind as we move on. Never forget the lessons we've learned and are still learning. That would be a tragedy as well.

One day I'll return and make a pilgrimage to my Dad's birthplace. Reflect and learn again from the city that showed me a great time and exposed me to a new side of my culture.

Here's a great link from the BBC on how post-Katrina New Orleans looks like.

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