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Blacks 'left behind' in New Orleans recovery

Freddie Allen | 9/3/2015, 2:30 p.m.
As Gulf Coast residents and policymakers celebrated the recovery of the Crescent City on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, ...
A National Guard Humvee departs the New Orleans Superdome to patrol the streets after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city leaving thousands stranded. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

— As Gulf Coast residents and policymakers celebrated the recovery of the Crescent City on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, advocacy groups challenged the narrative of a resilient and better New Orleans by launching KatrinaTruth.org, a website that shows that post-Katrina progress in New Orleans still hasn’t reached poor Black communities.

Judith Browne Dianis, the co-director of the Advancement Project, a multiracial civil rights group, said that, 10 years ago, the Advancement Project was on the ground in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, working with communities to protect the rights of survivors.

“Ten years later, the city of New Orleans wants to sell us a bag of bad goods, telling us that the city has gotten better, but unfortunately the recovery and the reconstruction has been uneven and African American families have been left behind,” said Dianis.

On the a telephone call with reporters to discuss the launch of KatrinaTruth.org, Dianis described a landscape dominated by charter schools, dispossession, destruction and gentrification and new businesses that catered to a “new class of wealthier, White residents,” as Black New Orleanians face severe disparities in education, employment, housing and the criminal justice system.

A recent poll by CNN/ORC found that more than half (51 percent) believe that the United States is still vulnerable to a “Katrina-like emergency” 10 years after the storm claimed more than 1,300 lives.

“This is why the myth of resilient New Orleans that the city wants to sell everyone is so dangerous,” explained Dianis. “It is a narrative that paves over the history of Black New Orleans and ignores the true cost of exclusionary, disaster capitalism policies.”

KatrinaTruth.org is a direct response to the wrong narrative of progress espoused by the city’s Katrina10 media campaign and the media that echoes those sentiments, said Dianis.

“In New Orleans, especially post-Katrina, what we’re seeing is nonprofit groups parachuting in, to ‘fix’ New Orleans and to fix our families and to do what they think is best for New Orleans, but this has led not only to the duplication of work but also opportunity for new organizations to ignore the historical struggles that have plagued the Black community,” said Gina Womack, the executive director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), a nonprofit focused on juvenile justice reform.

Womack continued: “There’s been a racial divide that has always been prevalent in New Orleans, Katrina just highlighted and exacerbated what was going on. We feel like there was desire for Black people to leave the city and not return.”

Womack added that advocates working for New Orleans’ communities most at-risk want people to understand that Black people are being left out of the recovery. The numbers tell the story, Womack insisted.

More than 50 percent of Black children in New Orleans live in poverty and more than half of all Black men are unemployed, according to statistics quoted on the KatrinaTruth.org website. Black women make less than 50 cents for every dollar a White man makes in Louisiana. The median income for Black families in the Crescent City ($25,102) is less than half of the median income for Whites ($60,553).