#Katrina10: Disaster, Reform and Organizing in New Orleans
Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the surrounding Gulf Coast, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and communities. When the waters receded, the true story of Katrina's impact on the city and its future was just beginning: larger political and economic forces would reshape New Orleans and the lives of its residents over the next decade, often making public services like housing and education worse for the city's poorest and most underserved families. As author Naomi Klein described it in her best-seller The Shock Doctrine:
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans' school system took place with military speed and precision. Within 19 months, with most of the city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.
As New Orleans and the rest of the country commemorates the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, parents, youth, teachers and community advocates are doing more than remembering: they are charting a path toward a more just and equitable public education system for all.
Last week, a new site by the Advancement Project and Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), called KatrinaTruth, was released. demonstrate how post-Katrina policies worked to push out Black families and communities from their homes, their schools, and their government.
The site provides nine different "Reality Checks" addressing major areas in which post-Katrina policies have failed New Orleans: education, housing, economic inequality, Black leadership, criminal justice, environmental justice, queer and trans people of color, and health and wellness.
While test scores may have improved in New Orleans, they have come at the cost of children being pushed out of schools, harsh disciplinary practices, no accountability, and failures to accommodate students with disabilities or English language learners. As the site says, this isn't "progress," it's inequality and injustice. Visit the site here. Several community partners are holding a memorial event tomorrow, August 26, at New Orleans' Ashe Cultural Center.
This week, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans is hosting a Katrina commemorative conference titled RISE: Katrina 10. This three day conference, featuring local and national civil rights leaders and organizers, covers a broad range of issues impacting New Orleans, from education to criminal justice to healthcare. Learn more about the conference here.
The RISE conference also coincides with the release of their report State of Black New Orleans: 10 Years Post-Katrina. Its chapter on education makes a number of key recommendations, including an increase in resources for early childhood education and new measures to improve the diversity of teaching, staff, and governance. It concludes by reminding us all that the current debate should not stop us from taking action now to improve the lives of New Orleans' children and families:
Everyone seemingly profits from the debate except for public school families – the people who need more than words. However, durable arguments have concretized into an immovable tableau that gets in the way of both justice and progress. Regardless of whose side you’re on, pointing fingers to say who did what to who doesn’t solve problems. Progress forces us to ask where do we go from here.
In the latest issue of Responsive Philanthropy, G. Albert Ruesga, President of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, asks an important question: did organized philanthropy do the right things in the right measure? In “Philanthropy’s Response to Katrina: A 10-Year Perspective,” Ruesga lays out the stark reality that New Orleans today faces:
Rather than drag the reader through the entire chamber of horrors, let me focus on a representative statistic, published three short years ago in a report titled Place Matters for Health in Orleans Parish: “Life expectancy in the poorest zip code in the city is 54.5 years, or 25.5 years lower than life expectancy in the zip code with the least amount of poverty in the city, where it is 80.”
I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine which of these ZIP codes is predominantly Black and which is predominantly white.
He concludes with sentiments that are surely on the minds of everyone commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and doing the hard work to fulfill the promise of a better New Orleans:
If you’re moved to do so, make your pilgrimage to New Orleans this year. Give us an opportunity to thank you again. We can mourn together for the dead. And, most importantly, arm in arm, we can find a way to honor the dignity of those who are thankfully still with us.
The Neighborhood Funders Group, along with The Greater New Orleans Funders Network and Grantmakers for Southern Progress, invite funders from across the country to share in a virtual discussion of this important anniversary. RSVP today to watch it online! Speakers include:
Follow the conversation on Twitter using #Katrina10!