Friday, January 19, 2007

Days in Review

Tuesday, January 16

Today started off pretty slow. It was our first day going to neighborhoods in New Orleans pamphleting. We hit up areas, in which there were many shoppers and passer-byers. It wasn't quite too much of a success, especially since we walked in gloomy cold weather. We went through Magazine Street and were educated about some of the history of New Orleans. But the event that really topped off the day was that night.

After dinner, we attended Tulane University to listen to Dr. Cornel West. Going to that event and listening to his wise and powerful words, is exactly what we needed to hear. A lot of the students felt as if he was directing his whole speech towards us and what we as young people are striving to do and change. He dropped down knowledge and reinforced ideas that I needed to reminded of: about society, mainstream, the importance of individualism and courage, and how I do NOT want to be a "peacock." "A peacock struts because he can't fly," West said when referring to rappers who only try to look pretty with the bling bling, money and success. They're faking the funk.

After West spoke, the Louisiana Winter students were invited on the stage. Scott told West the details about the project and West replied, "You got 120% of my support." Students left the auditorium inspired and ready to take on the rest of the week. I know I did.

Wednesday, January 17

This was an early and definately QUIET morning. 6am and ready for our bus ride to Mississippi! We were welcomed with open arms at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Gulfport, MS. Kay Bethea, a Gulfport resident and Katrina survivor, spoke to us students about her experience during and after the storm. "I did not expect much from the government, and I have even got less," Kay said.

She shared her before and after photos with us, describing to us how her home was covered under 26-feet of water. She also gave a detailed desription of the stench of rotten food and how death peremeated throughout her neighborhood after she returned to see the damages Katrina had caused.

What followed, was the door-to-door visits we made to Gulfport residents. This was my favorite part of the day- being out in the neighborhoods and talking to residents who have been directly affected by the hurricane. I cannot stress the difference of hearing about Gulf Coast survivors through the filters of the media and actually meeting them for myself. It's surprising to sense their genuine willingness to listen to me, even if in the back of our heads, we know that they probably are tired of hearing people talk to them after more than a year of continous false promises. But the thing is, even if we just met, at that moment we are connected. And it's definately a beautiful thing when they respond with enthusiasm or even with a genuine nod of the head acknowledging the cause.

Gulfport resident Everett Roberson and his dog Buster at the Katrina Kitchen talked about his life before Katrina. He was once a photographer for twenty years and became a chef.

Shannon Cook, who lives in one of the FEMA park trailers, had a lot of interesting things to say about his community and with the social issues.

ANd here is my favorite photo. Through the rubble...

The flower that grew from concrete...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am definately exhausted from today's events. From the rally in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in the Ninth Ward, to the march through downtown, and to the housing take-over on St. Bernard... today, has definately been a long day.

The morning started at 8 a.m. as we boarded two buses headed out to the Ninth Ward. We continued onto a bridge where we saw exactly where the levees broke. We passed by houses that were halfway gone or completely diminished, windows broken or boarded up, heaps of rubble at almost every corner, and a feeling of emptiness as we drove passed deserted streets. Was it always this quiet before Katrina? One of the taxi-drivers said that it has been more quiet since the hurricane hit. Another Xavier student I've spoken to said that New Orleans has definately changed since the day she evacuated her dorm room to drive home to Alabama. New Orleans pre-Katrina- I may not know, but the New Orleans I saw today, almost reminded me of neighborhoods I'm used to seeing in the Philippines.

As for the rally in front of MLK, I think it was a sucessful one. About 130 of us all wore the red "Louisiana Winter" shirts, as we listened to Joseph Recasner, the Dean of Students at the MLK Elementary School, and many students speak of this week's events. Joseph and Jeff offered their art of words by presenting their poetry at the rally. I always admire people who speak in front of crowds, but to also share one's art in front of everyone also brings in another dimension of courage.

Courage is definately something I have seen from a lot of people while on this trip. Whether it being the courage I see in the students that have come on this trip to talk to residents or whether it being the courage I see and feel from the residents of New Orleans, it is all courage I feed off from. I feel it, therefore I try to reflect it as best as I can. I think the most high-lighting event for today, was the opportunity to actually witness a resident cleaning out her own abandoned apartment. Her name is Monite Riley who has been displaced to Houston, Texas because of Hurricane Katrina.

Monite Riley sweeps the porch of the apartment she and her family have lived in for three years prior to Hurricane Katrina.

Riley's son, Nathaniel, 4, draws on the front porch of their apartment.

Students from Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA, carry out a mattress and help Riley clean out her family's apartment.

Volunteers decided to help residents "take back" their homes during this demonstration on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

From right, volunteers Mary Liz Van nes, a Occidental student from California, and Sister Lilianne Flavin from Hope House, help the St. Bernard residents clean out their homes.

Willie Hunter, 10, looks out of the porch before starting to clean up again.

To meet and to talk to these residents was definately an experience I want to share. Not everyone had the chance to hear her story, and it's definately something that I rather have on the web then have it in my personal journal. I want people to see it, read it, and share it.

I believe in the power of storytelling--it's a passion that drives me. I believe in sharing experiences--it's a way to learn from eachother. And I believe in listening to my inner voice- my intuition- even if external forces may say otherwise.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Louisiana Winter Begins

It's about 1 am Central Time, and I'm still stuck in Pacific Time. Although, it has been a long and definately productive day, I feel the need to write...

Yesterday, a group of about 25 San Jose State students arrived in New Orleans to get things started with Louisiana Winter. And about 150-200 attendees were present for today's orientation at Xavier college.

It's just amazing to witness the blooming of an idea, into a beautiful movement.

On the taxi ride from the airport to Xavier college, I saw abandoned houses with boarded up windows and spray-painted numbers that don't make sense to me just yet.

Here are photos I have taken...

Walking just around the block of Xavier college, numerous houses look has if they havn't been lived in for a really long time. I can't help but wonder what happened to the residents? Did they have a chance to escape the wrath of Katrina's aftermath? Did they seek refuge somewhere else? Or were they stuck...

We're not too far away from the Superdome. When I saw it, I remembered the image in the news during the storm, when it was surrounded by water on all sides. Where we are staying right now, was basically under water at one point. It's hard to believe when one is driving through, but being on the streets for just 10 minutes, and being exposed to empty abandoned structures that used to be homes, is a definite reminder that what may have seemed like only a movie on the news, actually did happen. It's not that I denied it; it is rather that it's hard to believe that after more than a year, conditions have not changed. The crazy thing is, that we havn't started the interviews yet. We've met and talked to residents and students here, but we're about to embark on neighborhoods that were hit the hardest.

Today, we welcomed more than a hundred students to Louisiana Winter. It is definately amazing to hear where they all have come from: Pennsylvania, Mississippi, North Carolina, etc... The first thing I always ask them is: How did you hear about this? Mostly all of them reply via email or internet. It's overwhelming to meet so many people from different places that see eye to eye on the necessity of something being done.

From left, Xavier University students of New Orleans, Victoria Lewis and Zuri Oliver, register for Louisiana Winter with San Jose students Danny Boyd, Darcie Kylan, and Cheri Nelms Sunday Evening.

About 150 students from colleges nationwide attended Louisiana Winter's orientation Sunday evening.

San Jose student Victoria Chavez, right, tells Xavier student, Shante Berry, about Louisiana Winter's week agenda before orientation on Sunday at Xavier college in Louisiana.

San Jose State student Joseph Nance, hangs up the Louisiana Winter banner to welcome students to the week's events.

It's only the beginning, but I'm quite excited about the rest of the week. The purpose of the trip is to hear what residents of the Gulf Coast have to say and to hear their stories. Far too often do we, as outsiders, assume that we know what should be done, but we are going to see for ourselves, what they have to say.