I vowed that I would never step foot in the Louisiana Superdome after the events of Hurricane Katrina. I grew up in Central Mississippi and New Orleans was like a second home to me. I knew this place very well, and after watching weeks upon weeks of grueling television footage, I felt somewhat disrespectful just thinking about going there for a concert or an event. July of this year was just two months shy of the anniversary, and I had the opportunity to return to that wonderful city for a music festival. Admittedly, I still had reservations. I stood on my soapbox in 2005, fussing with individuals of different races and backgrounds on why this administration failed its own people; I sent checks to numerous organizations claiming they were collecting in the name of Katrina survivors, I even urged others to go down and help with the rebuilding efforts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in the Lower Nine, but the truth is, I was a hypocrite. I was a coward. I was scared to go back.
While making my decision to participate in the trip, I grappled with lots of things: “How could I go here for ‘fun’ when so many are still struggling?” “How would I feel seeing the remaining homes with police markings on the doors?” “Will the residents resent us (tourists) for coming back, when in fact, we can leave after all the drinking and partying is done?” Even with all my uneasiness of returning to the Big Easy, I put on my big girl pants, gave myself a good talking, and made the trek.
Crossing Lake Ponchatrain was a real test of nerves—I couldn’t wait to see what lies ahead in Orleans Parish, but I was still afraid of the haunting memories I had watched on CNN just two years prior. As we entered the city from Kenner, things looked like they never changed—stores and buildings on either sides of the highways and homes seeming as though they were unaffected by the flood waters. But as we bypassed I–10 to take our favorite back way through the Gentilly neighborhood, my heart sank, and I had to fight back tears from what I saw. There were lots of abandoned properties. Homes were gutted and left as-is. I looked for things I could remember; The Circle Food Store, Two Sister’s Kitchen, Dillard University . . . something I could see that reminded me of the days when taking a trip to the N.O was as simple as gassing up the car and making the two hour ride down. I called my mother to report. I told her it wasn’t the same. Not even after two years did it look as though any progress had been made. Nothing.
When I arrived at my hotel room in the French Quarter, I smiled at everyone I saw—bellmen, valet attendants, housekeepers . . . even the bartenders in the hotel bar knew me on a first name basis by day one. I wanted to make a connection with the people, as if that would take away some of my shame for not “being there” for them like I should have. That night as I roamed Bourbon Street, I was still feeling a little down. As we walked closer and closer toward Canal (St.) I could hear the faint sounds of a trumpet blaring . . . then came a trombone . . . next thing I knew, there it was— a Second Line! I was so excited to see them, playing “Casanova” by LeVert, in their signature brass band sound. I saw residents dancing in the streets, people laughing, smiling. It was then that I realized what was meant by, “you can’t break my spirit . . .”
I ended up going to the Superdome later that weekend. When we entered the arena, I took it all in—the sights, the sounds, the smells. I wanted something tangible to hold on to in my memory. As Frankie Beverly and Maze took the stage, once again, music served as the great equalizer. People were happy, singing, unbeknownst of any troubles lingering outside of those walls . . . and if only for one moment, things were right in New Orleans.
Although two years have passed, and the government is still taking their precious time to do whatever is they “plan” on doing, the people of New Orleans are relentless. Their determination is inspiring, and their stories are real. I even made a vow that instead of going for mini vacations like before, I will use my time in a more productive way by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and other rebuilding efforts. I even plan to take my first “mission” trip this spring. I love this city, and the people and their struggles will never be forgotten or overlooked in my eyes.