Living Museum Appreciation BBQ!

The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum hosted an Appreciation BBQ this past weekend to thank residents for their generous contributions of time and knowledge. The outreach team has spent the summer gathering oral histories from residents that will be featured in audio and video throughout the finished museum. Residents have also contributed to the Remembrance Room that will honor memories of Lower Ninth friends and family members who have passed.

Over 60 people attended the Appreciation BBQ. The event got off to a great start with delicious food, great music, and neighborhood kids playing in the yard.

Throughout the evening, residents watched a short film featuring interviews with people from the neighborhood. Residents also gave feedback on rough draft exhibits in the red, yellow, blue, green, and purple rooms. These exhibits start with the early history of the area as a runaway slave colony and end with present events in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Toward the end of the evening, a group of residents gathered in the green room and shared stories of Hurricane Katrina and Betsy. Surrounded by mock exhibits, they debated the causes of the catastrophic levee breach, giving meaning to the “living” part of the museum as a community space for history as told by the people.

Special thanks to Cafe Dauphine, Cast Iron Rose Creole, Cajun Joe’s, Mardi Gras Zone, Jack Dempsey’s, The Joint, Elizabeth’s Restaurant, Maurepas Foods, Jimmy’s Grocery, Montrel’s Bistro, and “Mack” McClendon from the Lower 9th Ward Village for their generous contributions to this event. Also, many thanks to Stephanie Dragoon (the “Dragon”) for making this event happen.

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Midpoint Reflection

It’s been a little over a month since I arrived in New Orleans and I am amazed at the amount of work our group has done. As Co-Coordinator of the Community Outreach crew, I help oversee the development of relationships between the Living Museum and residents of the Lower Ninth Ward. In only five weeks, we’ve knocked on over 500 doors and have met countless residents. We’ve been informing the folks in the neighborhood about our mission and getting feedback on the museum. With Ian’s help, Rachel and I have interviewed about 20 residents, recording incredible stories of what it was like growing up in the Lower Ninth Ward, people’s experiences with Hurricanes Betsy and Katrina, and what it’s like to live here now. Oftentimes people don’t see beyond the French Quarter when they come to experience New Orleans culture, and I have to say that this is a sad mistake: the Lower Ninth Ward’s rich cultural history is fascinating and one of a kind. I’m really looking forward to meeting more residents and hearing their stories. The last five weeks have been full of eye-opening and life changing experiences and I can’t wait for the next four.

Thanks, Nick “Media Intern”

Going Back to Oakland

Wow. I’ve been here in the Lower Ninth Ward for just over a month, but it feels much shorter. I leave on Friday to go back home to Oakland, California, and cannot help but reflect on my work here in New Orleans.

With the guidance of Professor Heldman and Ian, this group of interns has been fortunate enough to be part of something that could have a true impact on the Lower Ninth Ward. In giving the outreach crew the task of canvassing the neighborhood, letting me decide what color to paint house, and having Madi write the museum’s exhibitions, we interns have been instrumental in shaping the project in substantive ways.

Of course none of this would be possible without collaboration with residents of the Lower Ninth Ward. Resident stories are essential to making the museum be what it is; a space for community empowerment. The encouragement and positive vibes we’ve received from many of our neighbors in the Lower Ninth Ward give us momentum in our work. Important advice from community members such as Smitty and Mack has also helped us better navigate our role in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Much work remains to be done. Nothing can erase or completely reverse the human-made disaster of the flooding of New Orleans. In a neighborhood that formerly had the highest rates of black home ownership in the nation, only one-in-five residents have returned to the Lower Ninth Ward. Our goal is to create a space for the residents to remember the past, share stories of the present, and make plans for the future. I believe that the museum will be a great space for these goals to be realized. To all who are reading this blog, I urge you to read Professor Heldman’s blog post on Hurricane Katrina (http://carolineheldman.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/the-truths-of-katrina/). It will scratch the surface on many of the injustices that occurred during and after the hurricane. Most of all, Americans need to know that, despite the election of an African-American president, we are far from overcoming racism. Hurricane Katrina exposed the gross deprioritization of equality that persists in the United States.

My experience in New Orleans has been great. It is a beautiful, vibrant city with a unique culture. Most importantly, I now see social justice and political activism as an important part of my future. I feel that it would be impossible to ignore any inequalities present in my surroundings. I will return to my hometown of Oakland with a greater desire to learn its history and to study the systems that have created its reputation for violent crime.  Lastly, this will not be the last time I see the purple and blue double-shotgun house on the corner of Deslonde and Urquhart. Nor will it be the last time I spend time with the awesome group of people who I have lived with for the past four plus weeks. This internship has been an amazing experience, and one that I will definitely never forget.

— Alex Parker-Guerrero (“The Runt”), Media Intern, Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum