I returned to my beloved hometown of New Orleans five days after the levees broke. Evacuees — sick, malnourished, dehydrated and disheartened — still were being rescued from the squalid Superdome.
My home — my mother’s home — was destroyed. Devastation was everywhere.
And yet the one thought that overwhelmed me was, “How are we going to get rid of all this water?”
The enormity of some sins is impossible to comprehend all at once. The death and the heartbreak were too much to bear. But all that water … It was all I could see.
My shock soon turned to dismay, and that dismay did not diminish over time. The storm may have been God’s doing, but the devastation and the unconscionable delay in the city’s recovery were entirely the work of man.
Months after the storm, I attended a meeting at a church in New Orleans East. The electricity in that neighborhood had not even been restored. Had it not been for the sheer determination of citizens, it might never have been restored.
The city planned to abandon them — to turn their neighborhood and other poor and minority communities into lagoons. Those communities fought back, but the hostility toward them delayed their recovery by years, and a decade later they are feeling the repercussions.
According to “The State of Black New Orleans,” recently released by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, the city’s recovery appears to be replicating the same inequities that existed before the storm. The wealth gap between people of color and whites continues to widen, housing costs are out of reach, health disparities persist and black men are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
The ULGNO’s study found that the number of African-American children living in poverty has grown by 6.5 percent since Katrina. More than half of African-American men in New Orleans were unemployed in 2011.
More than 35 percent of black families live below the poverty line.
As anyone familiar with the Urban League Movement knows, we are not an organization that simply identifies problems, but one that offers solutions. And “The State of Black New Orleans” does just that, with solutions that range from public policies requiring access to quality educational opportunities for all students to vocational job training programs, mentoring programs and incentives for investment in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
I encourage everyone who cares about the future of New Orleans to read the report and join us in advocating for its recommendations.
Marc H. Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League and a former mayor of New Orleans.