Refresh SBP Monday, Aug 1 2011 

A message from my friends Liz McCartney and Zack Rosenberg at the St. Bernard Project:

Dear SBP supporters,

28 days from today it will be 6 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the homes of thousands of families. SBP is committed to continuing our work in the New Orleans area until every family is home. We are also committed to sharing our model and lessons learned in New Orleans with other communities affected by recent disasters. Every day this month you can help SBP ensure that families in communities like Joplin, Mo. and Tuscaloosa, Ala. do not wait as long as the people of New Orleans have to come home again.

Pepsi is awarding a grant of $50,000 for innovative ideas to rebuild the South and we need your help! Some of you may remember our run in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge last year, in which we earned a $250,000 grant from Pepsi. Just through popular vote, we were able to secure this funding to expand our mental health services and continue the work in our successful rebuilding program.

Well, after a year long break, SBP is back in the Pepsi Refresh game! This month we will be competing for a $50,000 grant. If we earn this grant, we plan to begin to replicate the SBP disaster rebuilding model in other communities.

Here’s how you can VOTE:
Goto this link: http://www.refresheverything.com/stbernardproject
Click”Vote” … It will then ask you to create a Pepsi account. (If you have one from last year, you can use it, but you might need to set a newpassword)
Fill in the necessary information and after that is all complete…
Go back to your email (where there should be an email from Pepsi) and confirm your email address
Click the link in your email
Sign in to the Pepsi Refresh site
Go back to this link: http://www.refresheverything.com/stbernardproject
Click VOTE!

You did it! You can vote every day, but thankfully you only have to register once and then each time you go back you just have to sign in and vote.

 

Destruction in Tuscaloosa, AL. Taken May 2011.

 

 

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Maybe We All Are Friday, Jul 8 2011 

There’s a scene towards the end of Mississippi Burning when the FBI agents find that the Mayor has hung himself.

Agent Bird says to Agent Ward: I don’t understand why he did it. He wasn’t in on it. He wasn’t even Klan.
Ward: Mr. Bird, he was guilty. Anyone’s guilty who lets these things happens and pretends like it isn’t. No, he was guilty all right. Just as guilty as the fanatics who pulled the trigger. Maybe we all are.

Living in New Orleans, especially living in St. Bernard Parish presents me with lots of opportunities to reflect on issues of race. The parish I live in was a ‘white flight’ suburb; created in large part by whites fleeing the Lower Ninth ward as more African-Americans moved in and purchased homes. Pre-Katrina it was 93% white. It’s a community that post-Katrina tried to pass  ‘blood relative law’for housing so that rentals could only be made to blood relatives.

Today is the 16th anniversary of my brother’s murder; a racist killing. I told the story last year so I won’t repeat it but it’s here for anyone who didn’t read it then. Watching Mississippi Burning tonight and thinking about the anniversary of Tyler’s death made me realize that I hadn’t written my reflection of my Civil Rights trip to Alabama in May with my students. I know some of them did but here are a few thoughts, mostly in pictures, from me.

It was one of the most profound experiences of my life.

It was my third trip to the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama; a town that’s mostly known for being the centre of so many civil rights actions. My first trip was with Pascal Murphy, my co-instructor, as we drove to New Orleans. On my second, he and I and most of our students did a day trip (5+ hours each way, not recommended). This year I took 11 students for an overnight trip. We did the Civil Rights Memorial, the Greyhound Bus Station where they had just opened the Freedom Riders Museum, Martin Luther King parsonage and church, and then drove from Montgomery to Selma; the reverse of the famous Civil Rights March. In Selma, we walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge; silently, two by two. 

Students celebrate as we pass into Mississippi.

Martin Luther King quote outside Civil Rights Memorial

The Memorial is designed so that you put your hand in the water and look to see your reflection as you trace the names of civil rights heroes and martyrs. The space, shown here, is left to represent all those battles and people not inscribed. The motto is "The March Continues..."

Words to live by. I often question "what would I have done" if I had been a teenager/young adult in the 1960s, especially if I was born in the United States.

Joining into the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March...

Students crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge, 2 by 2, silently. Only tears, no words, were shed.

After our check-in at the foot of the bridge, we all put our hands together - black, white and asian - and pledged to "Keep on Walking Forward, Never Turning Back"

There is a scene in a movie we watched at the Selma to Montgomery Trail Interpretative Centre where one of the marchers talks about standing on a rock. The camera zooms in and shows a small pebble. Each of us took a pebble for ourselves, and a pebble for all the students who hadn’t come on the trip. Mine sits on top of my TV where I see it as I pass by everyday. It’s a vivid reminder of all that we experienced.

As I told my students these battles are not far over. The US Civil Rights Act was signed only a few years before I was born. As a queer woman – and indeed even as a woman – I have been harassed and discriminated against. My brother’s killing was only 16 years ago. Battles continue to be fought.

We need to figure out what our role is in the civil rights battle. If we do nothing, then indeed “maybe we all are”.

I cheat on my city with NOLA Thursday, Jun 23 2011 

Originally, when I applied for this course, I had no idea what I was getting into. I simply thought it would be a great opportunity to travel somewhere new, hopefully use some of the theoretical concepts we have learnt in class in a practical setting, and be given the opportunity to help people that are still recovering after five plus years of disaster. I never thought that my life would be changed forever. I arrived home from New Orleans on my 25th birthday, sitting on the runway at Person, Olivia and Pascal wished me a happy birthday as we taxied into our gate. It was the perfect end to a great trip that showed me just how amazing the people I went with are (like the awesome birthday cards I received the day before). Going on a trip with 21 strangers could be a difficult time, especially when you factor in hard work, sleep depravation (which was our own fault…mostly), new surroundings, a new climate, a new culture and different personalities. However, by the end of the trip I had made 21 new friends and became a new person.

My first week was spent at the St Bernard Project. I was teamed up with Olka and Emma…Team Hardibacker…*slow thrust*. Our job was to finish the floors and install a laminate shower kit for this amazing family who, since Katrina, had such a difficult time returning home. Living between New Orleans and Florida to survive and also suffering the ill effects of the asbestos filled FEMA trailer, the family just wanted to come home, and we wanted to help. We all did. I have never seen 10 strangers come together like we did to complete a common goal. We encouraged each other, learned from each other, laughed with each other and definitely sweated with each other. The house was so close to being finished that we wanted to be the group to welcome home the family. Realistically, that wasn’t going to happen, there was still going to be a lot to do after we left, but we all wanted to finish the goals that had been made for us by Willem, our leader, and we might of finished them had we not gone to Stephensville to do some sandbagging. But it was worth it.

Stephensville, could be one of those, “once in a life time”, experiences, but I think realistically it was training for a lot of us. We got the opportunity to help a small Bayou community prepare for the possibility of severe flooding working alongside a chain gang from a local prison and a group of Christian missionaries. We were a group of odd balls, at least on the surface, but underneath we all wanted the same thing, to save this community. We all worked tirelessly to fill, tie and load sand bags into the trucks of people and even using our own van to transport sand bags to community members who needed them and in the case of a few we even unloaded and set-up a wall of sandbags at a couple houses (most notably Ms Junes). The one thing, being in the Deep South, that I was expecting a lot of, was racism, but up until the sandbagging I hadn’t really seen any. Even at the sandbagging, it was just a few hints at it from a few of the black inmates in regards to what a few white community members had said/done that made it somewhat apparent. It wasn’t until the next day that we would really see the racism and hate of the South.

For our first full weekend in New Orleans, 11 of us, led by Tanya, headed to the Civil Rights memorial in Montgomery, Alabama for a lesson on civil rights. Up until this trip I never understood, truly, what was(is) going on in the Deep South of the United States, and for me it was overwhelming. Walking into the memorial, we all had to get searched and have our bags x-rayed, as I was waiting in line for my turn, I noticed a charred and damaged clock on the wall behind me. Under the clock it read “Why the security?” and outlined how, since 1983, the memorial has been bombed (or attacked) more than two dozen times by the KKK and other white supremacists. This was unfathomable to me (and still is), how could anyone hate that much? When we walked into the memorial we were quickly sent into a theatre to watch a film on the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and how men and women, black and white, stood together to peacefully stand up for what is right. Learning about the segregation of the South, it quickly dawned on me, and the rest of us, that in a time not that long ago (40+ years) we would not be allowed to be friends with each other or study together or sit beside each other like we were doing.

After the film we went back out to the room we started in; it was a round room, with a window that looked out to the circular monument outside, there were a number of interactive computer stations to show us geographically where certain key locations around Montgomery were, and the walls were covered in a mural highlighting key figures and newspaper articles from the times. Standing in this room, with 12 like minded individuals looking at this memorial, I started to cry. I will never be able to understand how anyone could hate as much as the white people in the South did, and how strong and heroic the black and white people who stood up for civil rights were.

This put into context some of the racist planning and decision making ideas that all levels of Government in New Orleans (municipal, state and federal) have put into place. It might not be as blatant as blowing up a memorial (but what about a levee?) but with tons of homes still not rebuilt, thousands of units of social housing left rotten, infrastructure (deplorable roads and destroyed sidewalks) in tatters it is clear that even following Katrina, the disaster is not yet over. Environmental injustice is rampant in New Orleans, as Tanya Harris pointed out, and not much is being done by the Government to help the black people of New Orleans, so they are left to help themselves.

I cried a few times on this trip (and a few times since I’ve gotten back), and aside from when I watch the odd Disney-Pixar movie, that doesn’t happen very often. I don’t like to show people when I’m upset, but this trip showed me that its alright to let it happen. When we first started doing check-ins, I wasn’t fully convinced they were necessary, in Alabama, it became obvious that they were and we went as far as to request one.

The second week opened my eyes even wider, instead of going back to St Bernard Project and because I told Tanya to “put me wherever” I was shown a wide arrangement of new experiences. Day one and five was spent at Magnolia house, a school for adults with special needs. Going there, I had no idea what the school was for, and originally thought it was simply a school we would be helping rebuild. Magnolia School, for the most part seemed intact, and we were asked to help with some gardening around the front entrance of the school. For me, this work was hard, but it was just digging, NBD (no big deal, or as Briar would say no big dog) that was until we went in for lunch. That is when I understood the reason we were there. We ate lunch with about 200 other people, and aside from the few workers, everyone had special needs. This was new for me; I haven’t spent a lot of time with people with special needs and at first I was uncomfortable. But the warmth of the students and the staff quickly made me feel at home. Following lunch we were given free time to hang out with the students and Remo, Shakera and I decided to wash dishes. As we washed dishes, with a number of the students (who were on work detail) this feeling came over me, like I had been wasting my time in Toronto. I wanted to help people, I loved helping people, all people and this opportunity showed me that. I would be 25 when I came home from New Orleans, I wasn’t going to sit around and waste hours on the TV any more, I was going to come home and help.

I spent one day at the Green Project, taking nails out of reclaimed lumber and mixing paint (Timmies Double Double paint to be exact) and talking with Sarah about the homelessness class she and Pascal were teaching when we got back, and I decided then that was something I wanted to do. I was ready to keep learning and learning how to help back home as well as abroad. The two final days I spent at the Food co-op which opened my eyes to the importance of food security for neighbourhoods like the Lower Ninth, who had no grocery stores in the whole area. This was something I had never really thought of before, and coming from Canada, I think I took for granted. I have three large grocery stores and three local grocery stores in walking distance from me. If I could say one thing about this trip, is that it opened my eyes.

I regret not doing something like this sooner. I arrived back in Toronto on my 25th birthday, a milestone to some, and a milestone to me because it marks the year I make change. I will no longer waste my time, idling through life, letting things go on in the world around me while doing nothing about it. I no longer look at people and places the same and I can’t shut up about New Orleans, and I don’t want to. I read NOLA news and Youtube New Orleans music, I just can’t get enough. It is such a beautiful city with beautiful people and rich and diverse culture; I would go back any day and plan on it very soon. I took from this trip a desire to help, a desire to look deeper into the root causes of problems and issues and a desire to learn. I finally found what I was looking for through 6(ish) years of schooling at the University level, a way of learning that I blossom in, and lessons that aren’t theoretical in place or idea but something that was real; I touched it, I saw it, I helped to change it, I was physically there and did something about it. I will never go back to the way I was before, I’m new, I’m fresh and I’m ready to go.

NOLA, I will be back I promise! Tuesday, May 31 2011 

Civil Rights MemorialThe journey of a lifetime is now coming to an emotional ending. This was an opportunity that I can’t imagine could have gone any better. I really do not know how I will explain the things I have seen or learnt while down here in New Orleans. This city is captivating, it is magical and completely addictive. Walking around the French Quarter on our last day was enjoyable, but very sad. This reminded me of that wall in New Orleans that we saw on our very first day. The wall where people wrote down what they would do before they died. I know what is definite, before I die I will bring my loved ones back to New Orleans to let them see what I saw.

For me particularly the last two check in’s were the most emotional. What happened in Alabama should definitely not stay in Alabama. I will tell my story of what I learnt everywhere I go. Before last weekend I had a very slight knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement but after leaving Selma that sunny Saturday afternoon, I was well informed. To think that only 45 years ago such hate and oppression occurred sends chills down my spine. The Civil Rights Memorial is a wonderful and creative museum in Alabama that pays tribute to the heroes that died for their rights and for our rights. What struck me the hardest was that so many young people were the ones who died. Young girls praying in church one minute and the next their bodies torn apart by a bomb. A young black boy from Chicago visiting the south for a vacation happened to speak to a white woman, this costed him his life. I could really go on for days about how much I saw in Alabama, but I will leave it to all of you to discover it for yourselves. It is the most powerful when you see it first hand. We had the opportunity to walk under the Edmund Pettus  bridge, where the march took place on Bloody Sunday, March 7th, 1965. When we crossed we picked up pebbles. These pebbles were representative of those 2500 heroes who marched that Sunday, these were the stones they stepped on. During check in I let my friends hear my experience of Alabama. But I also shared my feelings about the pebble I collected in Selma. I told them the next time they feel feelings of hate, racism or segregation towards anyone or thing they should remember this pebble and the people that died for us on those rocks. The heroes were the freedom riders, those who marched and anyone who stood up for their right to vote. It is because of them we can be friends with people of any race and share our lives togethor today. We should remember these brave souls and be thankful for the times we live in and the rights we have been given.

I am so thankful for Alabama, for my educators and new friends. I really did not expect New Orleans to become such a big part of my life. This was truly a defining trip which I will never forget. I have learnt so much from the “fascinating” (Thanks Shannon) people on this trip. Each and every one of them are strong, inspiring and courageous people. The citizens of New Orleans are the ones that defined my visit to NOLA. They are some of the warmest and interesting people I have ever met. My role in New Orleans was defined by the looks on their faces when I started helping them heal with whatever help I could provide. NOLA still needs so much help and recovery. I know that I have truly made my mark there and will continue it at some point in the near future.

Much love New Orleans,

Iryna

“If you build it, they will come” Saturday, May 14 2011 

“If you build it, they will come”–an infamous quote from the infamous Field of Dreams novel. As this trip is nearing an end, I can’t help but think and feel that this quote is so applicable down here in NOLA and in any community that has experienced any kind of trauma or devastation.”Building it” doesn’t necessarily have to be an object. It can be a relationship, a dream, a movement of sorts, a partnership, or anything that requires a vision, a passion, and an action. And all of these have certainly been relevant and present in the past 2 weeks.

This week has been pretty intense to say the least! Beginning off the week in Tuscaloosa was not easy to say the least. But who said disaster response was easy anyway? But walking through communities that used to once house families, that used to once share memories, that used to once have stories and finding them reduced to rubble on the street was not an easy one to swallow. Remembering the situation in retrospect, I am reminded of the implications of this quote in this community. I am reminded of the inspiring school groups that came to the warehouse we were volunteering in for a class period; I am reminded of the little girl who was sorting toys with her nana when she could have been at home playing with them; I am reminded of the beautiful couple who drove down from Austin, Texas to lend a helping hand. Working alongside these volunteers was extremely inspiring that I actually took a few breaks just to admire their efforts. Building all these partnerships within the community are in my opinion how people will come not only to volunteer and give back, but also to come back to rebuild their homes, lives, and to re-patch any devastating experiences. Beginning off the week in Tuscaloosa was very emotional, and while I am still processing everything in my mind, there is one great lesson I learned: The act of “building” (whether physically building a structure or building community partnerships) draws people from all walks of life. And whether that’s drawing volunteers or drawing people back to their communities that have been hit, one thing is certain: coming back to a community that has been reduced to nothing breathes life back into it, which is a very positive sign.

And speaking of positivity, a real highlight was having Tanya Harris speak to us on Wednesday night. The title of this entry was actually inspired by her answer to a question of “what does it take to get people to come back to the Lower Ninth and New Orleans in general?” What was so intriguing about Tanya was her fiery passion for protecting her community and her contagious spark that hits you at your core. But Tanya’s talk was more inspirational than anything. I feel like with all odds against people in Lower Ninth and with all the neglect that these people faced in the wake of Katrina, she took a stance to not be a passive bystander and is still continuing to evoke change 6 years later. To me, Tanya and the many that stand for a cause to protect a community that would have probably otherwise been wiped out, are examples of builders. Builders of partnerships, builders of change, builders of communities that naturally draw people to stand and fight alongside them for the same cause. If it wasn’t for activists and organizations being present and loud about the social, political, and economical injustices surrounding Katrina, I probably would have never come to NOLA myself. But understanding this from the perspective of people who lost their American Dream that they had been building for generations, it puts things into perspective. I have a real respect for activists like Tanya because it sheds light on experiences of community members that are not necessarily portrayed in the media. And for that I am thankful.

This experience has been amazing to say the least. The Southern hospitality has been surreal. The sights and remnants of Katrina have been shocking. But the community members I came across have been truly inspirational to say the least.

To Tanya Gulliver and Pascal and to everyone in the group, thank you for keepin it real spicy in New Orleans and I really enjoyed sharing this experience with ya’ll (I had to!!).

To the people of NOLA, thank you for building an amazing place and community. You built it and that’s why I came. And for that I am forever grateful!

Smiles,

Karen

2 sleeps away from NOLA! Thursday, May 12 2011 

The days have just flown by it seems!I am happy that the winter semester is over, summer is approaching and that I finally leave for New Orleans on Saturday 🙂

I look back into my calender where I highlighted and underlined the class times in February and it seems like yesterday. I remember selling candy grams with Mandi and Rochelle. I also remember baking St.Patrick’s day themed cupcakes. Selling our goodies and telling Ryerson students why we were travelling to NOLA was great. The feedback we got was positive and many students wish they came with us! It really made me feel important as a volunteer, knowing that I will make a difference.

My feelings are a mix of excitement, anticipation and a lot of intimidation. Up until today I could not sit myself down to pack and finish completely. Usually I am very excited to throw everything in the suitcase and roll away. But when I finally started tonight I couldn’t wipe a huge grin off my face…guess its finally sinking in! I am very well prepared now and equipped with a fully loaded first aid kit (my mom is a nurse)..so yea I have everything under the moon medicine wise.

Over the past few weeks a lot of news has come from New Orleans. With the anniversary of the BP Oil Spill and now the devastating April 27 tornado in Alabama. I have read many of the blogs of my peers in NOLA right now and am touched by the images they have left in my head. Images taken by Tanya and the crew were incredible. So much loss, so much destruction. The reality of disaster and death has yet to sink in for me. Knowing that I may even experience it first hand while in New Orleans is a little overwhelming right now.

I am ready to help, learn and grow as an individual. Ready to paint some walls, plant some trees and talk to some residents from N’Orleans. Experiencing something outside of my comfort zone and the safe walls of my current life. This trip will define my view of promoting health. I believe it is so much more than just a physician exam or an apple a day. I want to leave my handprint on a home that will house a family that was potentially separated by Katrina. That is a layer of health- bringing a family a home and not just a place to live in. I want to hear the stories of survivors and support them for their bravery. I am finally ready for this experience.

Just to add, my friends and family who have visited New Orleans had ONLY great things to say. Not going to get into it because on Saturday it is our turn GROUP 2! Here we come:)

See y’all soon, Iryna.

The end is nigh… Thursday, May 12 2011 

I made it to my final day of the trip. Like most endings, it’s bittersweet. I am definitely ready to go home, see familiar faces and familiar places (use my own bathroom!), but two weeks is also just enough time to feel like we’re just getting started here. I feel like I’ve invested this much time already so I might as well hang around. The amount of work that still needs to be done here is staggering and I feel almost guilty turning around and flying back to my safe, secure (overpriced) apartment in Toronto when so many people still do not have a safe and secure home to return to. I know that 10 able bodies will fill my place though, volunteers are still stepping up to the plate here and are sorely needed, despite the more recent catastrophe in Alabama. All through the trip we’ve been told how volunteers are making it happen down here, how the homes would not be rebuilt without them, so I’m proud to say I’ve been a part of that movement.

Two of us are leaving a day earlier than everyone else, due to our own scheduling error, so tonight will be our last group dinner together in New Orleans, then I hope to get some souvenir shopping done because I certainly cannot go home empty-handed! Luckily the souvenir stores are a dime a dozen in the Quarter. We leave tomorrow morning at 10 am and have a full day of traveling because of a layover and time change. It won’t faze me though, because we’ve been traveling a lot already this week. Monday morning we drove to Alabama at 5 am, then drove back to NOLA on Tuesday afternoon. We helped out in some warehouses, sorting, organizing (as best we could), hauling, and meeting people affected by the tornadoes. Tuscaloosa is a pretty city not unlike any mid-sized city in North America, the only difference being the large swath of destruction the tornado cut right through it. As we drove through a bit of the city that had received the most damage, it felt eerily like stepping back in time six years and standing in the middle of the devastation left behind by Katrina. In NOLA we see blighted houses on every block, empty cement pads, and houses in various stages of repair, but it’s all overgrown and time has softened the raw edges. In Alabama, the destruction is fresh, raw, rubble everywhere, roofs torn off, entire homes and businesses demolished. The community is still reeling from the sucker punch of the tornado, while NOLA is standing back up but is still wobbly on its feet. I was glad to be able to see it, I have even greater appreciation for my own home and for living in a place where natural disasters are unlikely to affect me, and I was glad to be a part of the volunteer relief effort, but I don’t feel like sorting mountains of clothing in a warehouse was all that effective. Our large group size and unskilled status prevented us from being able to do anything else, but so much more needed to be done. Good luck to everyone in Alabama, and I hope all the affected residents receive more support than the people in NOLA did.

Goodbye (for now) New Orleans, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other again….

THANK YOU to our amazing instructors/facilitators/pseudo-parents/guardians/chauffeurs/role models: Tanya & Pascal, you guys are heroes to all of us, your dedication and tireless motivation is inspiring. This experience has been life-changing and I will take what I’ve learned to hopefully follow in your footsteps and be a positive force for change in my own community. 🙂

A day and a half in Tuscaloosa Tuesday, May 10 2011 

So, a couple of hours ago we arrived back from a day and half in Tuscaloosa. What a roller coaster that was. I think the first day we were there I felt every emotion possible.

There was excitement….of the car ride there, getting to know some people better and having some fun. When we got to Tuscaloosa we went to register as volunteers with Give Tuscaloosa ( http://www.givetuscaloosa.com), and were sent off to a warehouse for the day.

Then there was confusion…. The warehouse was quite chaotic. There was more stuff coming in than anyone really knew what to do with. We started with a motivating assembly line to work efficiently and then approximately fourty trucks came with even more stuff. No one was really sure what to do with it all.

Piles of donations

Then there was a feeling I really can’t explain…. The amount of clothes was too much to even sort through and be helpful for those who needed it, and as a result much of it was to be shipped to Honduras by the end of the week. Spirits were down, people were angry, confused, upset, frustrated, etc. There were complaints that Tuscaloosa was not the only city that needed help, and while there were over 40 trucks here in that couple hours, some places were only getting two trucks a week…

Then there was pure sadness… After the workday we took a drive through Tuscaloosa to see some of the damage done by the tornadoes. I was in absolute shock and essentially speechless at much of what we saw. Most people described it as surreal, and it truly was that. There was a point on our drive where we got out to walk around a bit and take some pictures. It was at this point I wasn’t really sure how to handle any of it. I got out of the car and walked closer to the water we were by to look at the surrounding houses and damage, and had to turn back to the car to collect myself and hold back tears. I could not believe it. Most of these houses were just piles of debris. Everything that was inside that person’s home was gone. There were Xs everywhere, like those still on many houses in New Orleans, they were even on the cars that were in the areas. There was an older women who was looking through some of the debris and as we drove by I could see the shock and sadness on her face.

destroyed home in Tuscaloosa

The craziest thing about it was that here you see all this debris and half-standing houses, and across the street the buildings are fine or there are maybe a couple broken windows. Even on the same side of the street where there was extensive damage, there was somehow one cell phone store still open. I don’t know how, or why it was not damaged, but it was shocking to see. Seeing everything just broke my heart.

This difference in the damage really made me understand that the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa were a disaster, whereas Katrina was a pure catastrophe. I’ve been reading A Paradise Built in Hell and Solnit describes catastrophe as a turning over, an upset of what is expected, to emerge into the unexpected. Disaster has many of the same impacts, but not to the same extent; it’s a “misfortune due to astrologically generated trouble”. There was damage, but there were others still there to help keep those in need kicking. There were still stores and restaurants and so many things open. There were people coming together from the areas in Tuscaloosa there weren’t hit that were volunteering their help. On the other hand in New Orleans essentially everything was damaged. After the feelings I experienced in Tuscaloosa, I can’t even imagine the feelings of seeing New Orleans after Katrina hit. Whether the disaster/catastrophe is human made or natural, it’s devastating.

Even through everything it was inspiring to see the people who did come together, from in town and from out of town. Even though the amount of stuff that was donated was overwhelming, it was inspiring to see that people do care and want to help. As depressing as it may be good things can truly eventually come from disaster. The door above the warehouse yesterday said something along the lines of, if you think it can’t be done don’t get in the way of those who are doing it. It’s these types of things that really keep me going through the feelings of confusion, frustration and sadness.

Alright, that was enough rambling for me.

– Shannon K

One year ago… Thursday, Apr 28 2011 

A year ago today I woke up in Birmingham, Alabama and went to sleep in New Orleans; I had officially moved.

Today, several tornadoes have ripped through Alabama.   Several group two NOLA students (those arriving on May 14th) were planning to go on a Civil Rights field trip to Alabama. Some of the areas hit today were amongst those I planned for us to visit, or at least pass through.

I was going to post today about my experiences over the past year, but instead, my mind is caught up with the images and news coming out across the south. This has been a bad year for storms; a bad year for tornadoes. We have had several hit the Greater New Orleans area, including in St. Bernard Parish where I live.

A few weeks ago, this was my phone weather alert system going crazy:

The more I study disasters, the more news like this hits me hard. It is part of my PTSD for sure; it’s part of knowing more about the impact. And sometimes it is personal. My friends Jess and Fred are from Alabama. Their hometowns have been hard tonight. Jess has heard from all her family; Fred hasn’t. I was just talking with him today because he is arranging a sound system for the van I will be using for tours with the students. Statistically speaking, it is likely that Fred’s family is fine. But, dozens of people have been killed and thousands more affected. Regardless, my thoughts are with Jess and Fred tonight, and with all those who are waiting to hear from those whom they love.

I have never lost someone close to a disaster, but the suddenness with which they occur reminds me of the loss of my brother Tyler. That unpredictability, that instant loss; the way life changes within minutes.

I’m really just feeling quite sad tonight.

TMG

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