An Eyewitness Reflection on Trauma & Recovery in Post-Katrina New Orleans
by R.L. Stephens II on August 30, 2011
Guest Post from @Justin_Alan.
Allow this blog to serve as my inner reflection and scattered thoughts. Allow these words to be my written tears, my unreasonable hopes, and my universal plea. My story is similar to that of many New Orleanians; a story of denial, confusion, depression, resentment, anger, survival and resiliency. Exactly six years ago, my family and I did the usual routine, packing only basic necessitates, for what we expected to be a short three-day trip. Except this one was different. This one didn’t yield mercy. This one was the one that generations of New Orleanians feared. We first traveled to Houston and eventually Dallas. I remember frequently crying to myself; knowing that my city, my family, my life as I knew it would never be the same, for better or worse.
Returning to New Orleans on October 15th can only be described as visiting a lifeless, soulless place that we once called home. Everything that I had known and loved was destroyed. My home, my school, my community, my church all stood shattered. My great- aunt, who like many New Orleanians refused to leave, drowned in her home. Many more family members died slow deaths, after months and years of stress and mental trauma. What I remember most from this time, most of which I try to forget, is frustration. Not necessarily from a natural disaster, those are inevitable, but from mental fatigue and failure as a result of trying to navigate federal and state bullshit (sorry I couldn’t find a better word but I think this fits perfectly) to return home.
Six years after Hurricane Katrina, we, as city, are still hurting. Yes, the Saints won the Superbowl, Mardi Gras is still happening yearly, neon lights are flashing and booze is flowing on Bourbon Street, but we are still hurting. Still putting together pieces; still wondering when acronyms like FEMA and SBA, will no longer be followed by despair and hopelessness. Still hoping that racial equality and economic opportunity, a manifestly unreasonable for some, will become reasonable. Still hoping that politics will no longer trump social justice. Unfortunately, we continue to willfully ignore the people who need the promises of this country the most. Politicians and bankers conceal their self-interested financial motives under the cloak of fiscal responsibility. Programs for the poor and the elderly are now described as ‘wasteful spending’ and are the center of many deficit reduction pursuits. Community centers, public education, and mental health facilities are the first to go with budget cuts. The greatest lesson that Katrina attempted to teach us, has fallen on deaf, arrogant ears.
For if Katrina were to hit tomorrow on the south side of Chicago, south Los Angeles, or the inner city of Detroit or St. Louis, the effect would resemble that of August 2005. Those who are systemically disadvantaged will bear the brunt of the attack and once again become the marketed face of despair. As the poet Sunni Patterson says, ‘We know this place’, and unfortunately it may never learn the lesson of August 29th 2005. Sadly, the voice of Katrina wasn’t strong enough.