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