Katrina: Two Years Later

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The question is not only who is to blame, but why are so many still fighting for their rights to their own homes, the right to have schools for their children, the right to have even minimum health and human services, even the right to rebuild the heart and soul of their neighborhoods and churches.

 

The second anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is upon us and things are not much better for thousands of people. 

We must demand to know what happened and who is to blame. In New Orleans, it has been too long, and we must continue to insist on honest conversations about why structural rebuilding is stalled.

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article asking that we avoid casting blame in the Minneapolis bridge and Utah mine collapses. I asked for compassion for the families of those who lost their lives and their livelihood. 

But after we pause to support those affected, there is a time to delve into who is to blame and begin the process of rebuilding lives in those areas. The situation in New Orleans two years ago on August 29 was similar. Compassion for families was called for, but two years later, it has been too long.

Two years ago, we watched the movement of the enormous eye of a storm descend on the Gulf Coast. In the aftermath, we watched the unfolding of the rescue efforts that left thousands of people to fend for themselves; to find their own way out.  Some never did. I felt so helpless. I was in disbelief. Yes, I admit that I was furious and looked for ways to blame someone.

I could not believe what I saw on television; the levees crumbling away exposing family after family to the relentless waters that rushed upon them with no way to hold them back. Remember the faces of the children and the elders? 

Two years ago, in the immediate days following the tragic disaster as we saw and heard cries for help, it was hard to know what to do or how to respond. The soul of this nation and the entire world was moved.

Today, the soul of this nation must continue to be moved. We must be moved to demand answers to so many crucial questions. The question is not only who is to blame, but why are so many still fighting for their rights to their own homes, the right to have schools for their children, the right to have even minimum health and human services, even the right to rebuild the heart and soul of their neighborhoods and churches. 

Instead, one barrier after another has been put in the way to recovering this beautiful city that is the soul of this nation. In last week’s Witness for Justice, I challenged us to have an honest conversation about race and racism in this country. 

I said that I believe the primary reason that we avoid this conversation is that we simply do not want to believe that there is a status inequality in this country and we refuse to admit that race is the leading factor in that inequity.  I said that social policies are supposed to protect people’s rights regardless of their race. 

Social policies are simply not protecting the rights of people who are not part of the dominant culture. For thousands, it is not much better. It is not better for generations of residents living in New Orleans and all along the Gulf Coast. This is one of those instances in which things are worse than ever. 

The soul of this nation is being revealed in ways that we never anticipated through shameful images of disregard. The soul of a nation is at risk when it does not step up to invest adequate financial resources to rebuild one of its historic cities. The soul of a nation is being exposed when it refuses to notice when racism plays out in local, state, and national systems that ignore people’s rights, primarily African Americans who have built their lives in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast for generations. 

This is the soul of a nation that does not recognize that racism is not only a factor, but the factor at play in New Orleans. Let’s really have an honest conversation about race. The soul of this nation depends on it.

Remember to be a part of “A Day of Presence”—Massive demonstration on August 29 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans

 

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