Ten years after Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans creating one of the worst natural catastrophes in American history, much of the hard-hit city on the banks of the Mississippi River has been rebuilt.
But one nagging question remains: What is the future of the Ninth Ward, the predominantly Black community that remains forsaken to this day?
Regrettably, the overall rebirth of the Ninth Ward has not materialized and today the area remains mostly desolate. There are empty lots on almost every street, just like in 2005, and only 37 percent of the households have returned to a community that once boasted 14,000.
It’s unconscionable today there are still no supermarkets or grocery stores in the Ninth Ward. Some folks, correctly, have likened the community to a Third World country — mobile trucks bring in fresh produce once a week and cracked streets on many blocks can break a car axle.
On Friday, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, city officials, residents, human rights activists, musicians and artists will gather all across New Orleans to celebrate the city’s reconstruction and renaissance but they will also remember the pain, loss of life, and destruction caused by nature’s fury.
President Barack Obama will also take part in 10th anniversary commemoration. Obama will travel to New Orleans on Thursday to meet with the Mayor Mitchell Landrieu and residents – including young people — in several neighborhoods who have rebuilt their lives over the past 10 years. The President will be joined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, who has helped spearhead and coordinate many of the administration’s efforts during the past six and a half years.
Black residents will probably never forget the slow response to Katrina by the federal government, which prompted many civil rights activists to blame then President George W. Bush for abandoning the city’s poorest residents, most of whom were Black.
When I walked through the glass-strewn streets of the Ninth Ward four weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the city, I saw the devastation. I saw the houses marked with bright red paint to identify police searches for bodies. I watched exasperated Black folks sift through rubble in a desperate attempt to salvage family keepsakes. And I spoke with one young man who choked back tears while standing on a pile of bricks where his home once stood.
Here’s what I wrote in 2005:
“Today, again, an unprecedented number of Black families are separated — only this time, the story is set in America 2005. Black Americans are witnessing history repeating itself, not because of slavery, but because of something equally insidious: benign neglect, a stalled response to a national catastrophe as a result of Hurricane Katrina and the national, decades-long failure to provide adequate resources for America’s Black and disadvantaged residents.”
Since then, $19 million has been invested in a new community center and there are plans for a drug store. But many insist that progress in the Black community is taking far too long while other parts of the city are now gleaming.
Bush wasn’t the only politician to let citizens down. This fall, New Orleans residents will be reminded of another painful moment in the city’s history: On Oct. 5, a federal appeals court will hear arguments in the case of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin who is challenging his conviction on fraud charges.
Nagin was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for taking bribes from contractors who were seeking city work. Nagin was convicted on 20 counts, but his appeal claims jurors were improperly instructed on how to apply the law on nine of the counts. Nagin also has challenged a $500,000 judgment entered against him by the court, saying he’s destitute. Nagin was voted into office as an African-American politician who residents hoped would uplift the Black community by creating jobs and training. Instead, Nagin failed miserably.
On Friday, the city is planning numerous festivities that will feature a parade, a two-mile walk to commemorate the anniversary, a dedication to the hundreds of people who died during the hurricane, a mass for first responders, musical tributes, a Latino festival and selected readings by local writers and poets.
Celebrities like Jay-Z, Jamie Foxx, Julia Roberts, and John Travolta have been involved in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Actor Brad Pitt founded the “Make It Right Foundation” in 2007 to rebuild environmentally-sound homes in the Ninth Ward. New Orleans native Wendell Pierce, best known as Detective Bunk Moreland on The Wire, has also spearheaded the rebuilding of the community he grew up in.
Richard Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes Magazine, characterized the resurgence in New Orleans as “the greatest turnaround of our lifetime.”
Sadly, many Black residents still struggling to rebuild in the Ninth Ward ten years after Katrina can’t embrace Karlgaard’s zealous declaration.
I can’t either.
What do you think?