Traveling through New Orleans, Louisiana has not always been easy, especially when confronting beautiful homes down on Esplanade Road, while 10 minute away there are boarded up homes, left abandoned ever since Katrina, 2005. This contrast shocks and amazes me, while also frustrates me, that many of these spaces are hidden from the view of a visiting tourist. It creates a false illusion that New Orleans is restored and people have returned to continue their lives, as if they were not brutally interrupted by a natural and societal disaster. However, that understanding is far from accurate and a drive through the Lower Ninth Ward confirms that. Not to say that the city hasn’t come far in the last couple of years, as it has, with businesses slowly opening up and homes becoming rebuilt, one by one each infrastructural project has in some way enabled families to come back and resettle, but the city still has years to go. As sad as it is, many communities that existed prior to Katrina will never be restored, as they comprised of families that lived nearby and depended on each other, many of whom can no longer afford housing in those neighbourhoods, or some may not want to return at all, due to trauma. Yes, it is a rather sad truth for New Orleans as a ‘space’, but that doesn’t mean that NGO’s such as St. Bernard Project or Make it Right Foundation along with many others, that relentlessly continue to support the local communities, supporting them in the rebuilding process, highlighting and emphasizing that New Orleans is a space of hope, love and kindness. It is also one of courage and perseverance, that understands the devastations of a natural disaster, but also understands and does everything it can to remedy its ills, with smiles and kind words. For that I am thankful to have experienced New Orleans for all of its colors and shapes, and of course, spaces in which some of the most beautiful people I have ever met, are living and continuing to struggle for a change.
The last two week of volunteering have been life changing, but that does not mean that they has been easy, or what I expected the experience to be. It has been both, physically and emotionally challenging. We began with digging a rain garden and ended with remediation of a home, two completely separate projects, but each initiative was an active effort in the process of rebuilding, to bring those families to homes that are sustainable and safe, so another beginning could be possible Being a part of an organization as a volunteer is a challenging task. At times, your efforts are minimized and overlooked, making it difficult to push forward. However, there are those other times where you are taken aback and fully inspired to see the creations of spaces that surround you and the impact that they will have once they are completed. They can help families purchase a home, or enjoy a garden which will create a safe environment around a home, by properly draining excess water. Any effort can be actualized and given a life of its own, whether it is a rain garden, a recycled paint color sold at a fraction of a cost or a home, for a family that has lost everything, these efforts are opportunities for life to flourish and thrive. This emancipates a whole new understanding of spaces for me. It is about community, family and the coming together of people for the common benefit. People of these spaces are beautiful and gracious, they always understand that it takes masses to make a true lasting difference, so we pick up from where others have left, keep doing it, creating spaces that will continue to flourish and inspire life and happiness!
There were other spaces that have left a lasting impact on me. When going to Alabama last weekend to visit the civil rights memorial, I knew that this road trip would be emotional and uneasy. It is never an easy task to face the brutalities of history, no matter how far we’ve come in our present. The spaces in the city of Montgomery continue to remind us of the racial discrimination that continues to persist in our communities, with its exhibition of the famous Rosa Park’s bus stations, Slave Market along with the museums that depict such horrors with accurate detail, bringing its visitor to tears. Visiting Martin Luther King’s home was a very powerful experience for all of us. To see his home, his library, the books and the people that inspired him, has evoked a new sense of awareness. This made me realize that the fight, no matter how exhausting and dangerous it was, has to continue today for the rights of other minority groups that continue to be treated unfairly. So the main idea of the monument that included a round granite sculpture with an engraved of all of those who have died in the fight for the civil rights, is that the march continues, more battles are to be overcome.
Another space that inspired me was the Preservation Hall Jazz Bar, which is a venue that has recently turned 50 years old and has not been damaged by Katrina. What a wonderful intimate space, with wonderful art work, weathered walls, interiors and of course, music. We saw an 8 piece brass band, composed of brothers and cousins, what a wonderful set up, had me smiling from ear to ear. This is a space where music came alive and so do the people that are immersed in it. Music is shaped by people and people are then healed and constructed by music, it is through music and art that we cope with the issues and circumstances that surrounds us.
I want to end this blog on a happy note. New Orleans is a place of its own, that is not solely defined by the disaster but continues to remain resilient with its fight to overcome so many of its issues. That as a concept of space, remains inspirational and empowering. May we continue constructing and persevering spaces that are inclusive and resilient.
Peace, Love and Respect,