September 1, 2006

Katrina Survivors Speak Out On Aid for Black Community

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Yesterday the Cornell community recognized the ongoing struggle in New Orleans one year after the Katrina disaster with a panel discussion about the implications of the storm in a forum titled “Katrina: One Year Later.”
The speakers brought attention to the physical, political, and social problems which are still pertinent today, as the new storm season descends upon the nation.
The panelists focused mainly on the storms impact on the city’s black community living in Treme, a section of the city adjacent to the French Quarter, a location where, one of the panelists pointed out, many people are still not back in their homes.
“We are still living and dying because of Katrina,” said Kimberly Richards, organizer for the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans. “Stress is still impacting the community.”
Richards criticized the social structure of American society witch she believes escalated the aftermath of Katrina. She spoke of the racism and neglect that her organization is fighting against.
“We have seen the winds of economic injustice, we see them right here in Ithaca with the high unemployment rate for black people,” Richards said.
The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans provided aid to disaster victims, housing for relief workers and ran an anti-racism workshop for the aid workers.
Community advocate, Dyan French, known as Mamma D, was one of many who weathered the storm in her home of 61 years in New Orleans.
“We sat in water for almost 3 weeks,” Mamma D said. “It was lose your mind or lose your life.”
Mamma D was firm in her criticism of both the government and the police. She explained that while she worked tirelessly with neighbors and friends to survive and help others make it through the disaster, the police often threatened them and offered little assistance.
“The police came with guns and no life vests or first aid equipment,” Mamma D said.
Allen Harris, a community leader and parishioner of St. Augustine Catholic Church, was also critical of New Orleans authority, even months after the Hurricane.
Harris spoke of his recent victory over the Archdiocese in preventing the closure of his Church, which is the oldest black Catholic Church in the United States, and is an important part of the New Orleans culture.
Harris described the solidarity of his community in response to the proposed closure of the historic Church. He explained even in the face of armed police inside the Church, nonviolent protestors young and old stood their ground.
“We just came through Katrina, and you want to take the only sanctuary we have?” Harris asked. “We shall not be moved!”
Justin Davis ’07, co-president of Black Students United, concluded the panel discussion with comments on his experience helping to organize “Katrina on the Ground”, a student relief trip during Spring Break in 2005. His remarks echoed other panelists’ calls not to ignore the suffering communities in New Orleans.
“12,000 black students across the nation spent their Spring Break in New Orleans with Katrina on the Ground,” Davis said. “You should have seen the open arms we received because we were black students. [The victims in Treme] thought we had forgotten bout them.”
“We sent students down to New Orleans to help relieve, to help ourselves, to help our people. It is important that we understand that we are all one connected people, and if we start factioning off ourselves as if we are better or as if we don’t have time, than that’s when our communities begin to fall,” Davis said. “We went down there to help save lives, help save our own generation. And it’s about time America that the youth step up and say something.”
The panel discussion is part of ongoing efforts to raise awareness and money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. There will be a reception at the Southside Community Center 6:00pm as well as a showing of Spike Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Brake: A Requiem in Four Acts.”
The forum included several sponsors, ranging from the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy, the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development, and Cornell United Religious Work, along with many other campus organizations.