Oxy in New Orleans
Solidarity, Not Charity

Reflections on the First Week

We have been working in New Orleans for one full week, and the experience has been eye-opening. Some students worked with Lower9.org to finish installing drywall in a home so the family could move back at the first of the new year. Some students worked with local kids from the Lower Ninth Ward in the community garden at Our School at Blair Grocery, while others organized the library and laid carpet at the Lower Ninth Ward Community Village.

We took a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, a tour of the levees, and a tour of the wetlands that are disappearing at a rate of one football field every 30 minutes because of oil exploration and re-routing of the Mississippi River. We learned a lot from talks by Malik Rahim, the co-founder of Common Ground, Mack McClendon, the founder of The Village, Andy Howell, a long-term volunteer, and Amanda Tonkovich, an Oxy graduate who has relocated to the city.

In the evenings, we have been exploring the rich nightlife of New Orleans — Kermit Ruffins at Rock-N-Bowl, gypsy jazz on Frenchmen Street, the fireworks over the Mississippi River on New Year’s Eve, and the more touristy French Quarter. Douglas Brinkley writes about the two cities of New Orleans, and we see this divide clearly. New Orleans is thriving on Bourdon Street, in the Garden District, and in the Central Business District, but just a few blocks away, boarded up homes and empty lots mark the landscape. Only 1 in 5 residents of the Lower Ninth Ward have been able to return to their homes. This is a national tragedy that most of the nation has forgotten about in the wake of a Superbowl victory, tidy images of New Orleans in Visa ads, and irresponsible broadcasters who repeat the dishonest refrain, “New Orleans is back and better than ever.”

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