Why We Came Home Wednesday, Aug 26 2015 

TW K10 – The K10 anniversary has produced so much media coverage and reminiscences that it has become overwhelming. Instead of writing and posting I wanted to hide. And I wasn’t even here during Katrina. Hence the trigger warning.

A couple weekends ago I was driving to Mississippi with my chosen-sister Alexis. She was 10 during Katrina and lived in St. Bernard Parish. I was explaining to her the nature of my PhD research and its focus on examining resiliency and recovery in order to figure out why people return after a catastrophic disaster.

She looked at me like I had two heads. “Because it’s home sissy. Where else would we go?” This perfectly sums up what I’ve heard from everyone in the 7 years I’ve been visiting New Orleans. Because it’s home. (Now to turn that sentence into a 100 page dissertation!)

Picture by Amanda Fotes

Picture by Amanda Fotes

Last night I read an article by Lolis Eric Elie who I had the privilege of meeting several years ago at a Resurrection After Exoneration fundraiser. Lolis is a brilliant writer and this piece captures the spirit of the city in a way unlike I’ve seen anyone do. “Why We Came Home” looks at the good and the bad, the positive and negative, the hope and despair. New Orleans is not a perfect city and never will be, but what city is? It is vibrant and full of hope though, while at the same time teetering on the edge of depression and sadness.

Like my sister Alexis said it’s about home. The piece isn’t worded “Why We Came Back” because that leaves out the essence of New Orleans. It’s “Why We Came Home” because home = NOLA.

do you know what it means

For those who have never been to New Orleans I hope this piece captures some of the vibrancy of the city and yet explains its underbelly. For those who have visited my wish is that you see pieces you remember in Lolis’ words. For those who returned and are rebuilding your lives and your city I hope the author captured your reasons and if not, please share yours in the comments to continue this discussion. For those, like me, who have moved here since Katrina, I’m sure this piece reminds you of your reasons for planting roots in NOLA. For those who evacuated and have yet to make it back, come home soon, we need you here.

Resurrection After Exoneration Tuesday, Aug 3 2010 

One of the things that I am trying to do here is to volunteer with different groups to gain both new experiences but also to learn about various organizations and meet people.

Lately, I’ve been working two afternoons a week with a group called Resurrection After Exoneration (RAE). I volunteer with a computer class that they teach providing a basic overview and introduction of everything from how to turn the computer on, to using Word and getting online.

Staff, students and volunteers at RAE

This class runs two times a week (either evenings or afternoons) for six weeks. The group I work with has Christo, the RAE staff member who leads the class, Nicole with Hands On New Orleans who coordinates volunteers and provides support to the group, myself and other volunteers, and four lovely ladies Miss Debra, Miss Josephine, Miss Rose and Miss Ester. The evening class works the same way but has about 8 students.

Recently the class learned about using the internet.  Some of the ladies have already been exploring the blog so I thought I would make a post just about them so that they could learn about the internet and see themselves, and RAE, all at the same time.  Welcome all y’all!

Here are the four students. This week they finish their lessons and have another week to finish all of their checklists (ie exams) and on Wedneday next week we hope that everyone will graduate. In the hopes of a successful graduation all hands are in for the win!!

(From Left to Right – Miss Josephine, Miss Ester, Miss Rose and Miss Debra)

I missed two weeks of classes because of my pinched nerve. I did try to go one time but there were paint fumes so the class was cancelled. This week when I went in to class Miss Debra had bought me a card; everyone signed it for me….so sweet! I ❤ these folks.

Tanya and Miss Debra This is Miss Debra, a 60 yr old longtime resident of New Orleans, born and raised. She spent some time in NYC during her 20s and then came back. Following Katrina she evacuated to Washington State, then Picayune, MS.

Ms. Debra is the founder of a new organization called Q_Orleans which is hoping to renovate a property (obtained before the storm but then damaged) to create an African-American Doll Museum. It’s a fascinating project but is struggling post-Katrina; she lost at least 10% of her 5000 dolls because of Katrina.

Ms. Debra worked as an RPN since 1972 but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since Katrina has made it impossible for her to get back to work. In fact, her PTSD left her fairly isolated and she rarely left her home.

Christo, the instructor of this class, who had met Ms Debra when he and others volunteered to clean up her house after the storm, kept in contact with her, visiting her, and encouraging her with her project. He invited her to join the class and  finally she did because she knew it would help her with Q_Orleans.

In the end, it helped with more than that. It has started to give her back her life. He helped her break out of the PTSD shell (though of course it still impacts her greatly). She has been coming to class, started back to church and getting out more.

(Christo, 24, an Exoneree Advocate with RAE,

uses the PowerPoint to show the class how to do each step).

Miss Ester wanted to learn about computers because she was somewhat intimidted by computers. She wanted to become more comfortable and try to conquer her fears.

Born and raised in the Gentilly area of New Orleans Miss Ester is 54. She is often found cruising the internet before class starts.

The day of this photo she had been at the hair salon and was so eager to not miss class, that she had them put it up in rollers and came to class to make sure she didn’t miss anything.

So far, she says the most important thing that she has learned is “not to be afraid to open things up.  If it’s not right, just X it out.”  I suspect she is soon to be a convert to my belief that Ctrl-Alt-Delete will cure just about any problem in Windows.

Miss Josephine, 63, works with Nina one of the volunteers at her laptop. She took the class because she wanted to learn more about the computer world. She says that even though it is different it will help her be more up-to-date and help make it easier for her to keep up with things. She is also excited about getting on the internet.

She also likes meeting new people and volunteers because there are different folks every day. One of the regular volunteers is Nina who says she finds it rewarding and that “it is nice to be able to share knowledge I was lucky to have growing up.”

And the final student is Miss Rose, 63. She saw a sign in the window and knew it would help her learn more for her upcoming business. She is soon going to be starting up a Pampered Chef business, selling home business.

The class is very helpful for her she says, because she didn’t know very much about computers at all. During this week’s class for example we learned about formatting in Word which she feels would be helpful for creating her business cards, correspondence and invoices/receipts.

And now, a little about RAE. The mission of RAE is to “promote reform-minded leadership among those who have been imprisoned by assisting them during their transition process to ensure a successful reentry, and by empowering exonerees to confront and reform the system that victimized them.”

RAE was founded by John Thompson; Miss Josephine is his very proud mother.  John Thompson

John spent 18 years in prison, 14 on death row at Angola, and all for a crime he did not commit. His goal is to help exonerees reintegrate into society and to empower them as leaders for social change.

John says “Exonerated prisoners (exonerees) and returning long-term prisoners re-enter the free world with high hopes of a fresh start but are soon trapped in the cycle of poverty and disillusionment that led to their original imprisonment.”

Here is a brief video about John’s experiences and RAE.

cover of Killing Time book

He’s also the subject of a recent book called Killing Time. The description states   in part: “After spending 18 years in prison, 14 of which on death row, 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, John Thompson was exonerated. Killing Time: An 18-Year Odyssey from Death Row to Freedom by John Hollway and Ronald M. Gauthier is a narrative account of John Thompson’s quest to prove is innocence. With the help of two anti-death penalty advocates, John Thompson’s freedom was granted and his case exposed severe misconducts of the Louisiana judicial system at the time.”

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