New Orleans – Tell Them What You See
I am in the airport in Minneapolis now, waiting to board my plane to return to Seattle.
The celebration of life I attended this morning was beatiful and inspirational. A great man who lived a great life and had a great legacy was greatly celebrated. We, his family, will continue to learn from his life until we too return home.
Today was my last in New Orleans. The images I’ve seen, the perspectives I’ve heard, the discussions I’ve had, the connections I’ve made, all of these have profoundly impacted me personally, practicality, and spiritually.
Briefly here, I will share the contents of a conversation I had with a group [of 5 men] in downtown New Orleans as they sat in front of their storm-ravaged apartment building. I greeted them and introduced myself as a writer from Seattle. They asked what I was taking pictures for, to which I happily replied, “www.TheSuperSpade.com, a site about telling the truth.” We then talked about where the were and what they did during/after the hurricane struck. 2 Latin men (brothers) said that they were able to evacuate by car with their elderly mother and go to Houston, where other relatives lived. I asked how early they left, and they told me they were gone on 27 August 2006, which was before the storm hit. On getting out early, the younger of the two said, “I just had a bad feeling. It was more than bad weather forecasts. It was a feeling, you know?” They returned on 25 September (my birthday) to find their apartment building completely destroyed (pictures will be posted upon my return) and the house of their mother greatly damaged. They moved in with their mother and are still rebuilding the home.
The other three men, who were all Black men, were neighbors in the aforementioned building, said they were part of the mass of people who went to the Superdome. They did not leave the city, and very interestingly labeled themselves as “hard-headed” for not doing so. One said, “I don’t know how I could have left, but I should have left. I blame only myself for my suffering.” I responded to this by asking is there anything else that anyone could have done to save him, and his reply was a flat “NO.” To him, his safety rested on him and him alone. “Why didn’t I leave? Hard-headed man, just hard-headed.” To him, only he could save himself and those around him, not Ray Nagin, not Kathleen Blanco, not G. W. Bush. One brother agreed with him, while the other did not. He retorted, “What kind of man won’t save himself? There’s got to be more to it than being bull-headed.” I asked if he felt hopeless or helpless and if so, did that contribute to his not leaving. “Helpless, but not hopeless. I guess if I had more help, maybe I’d have gotten out. But that doesn’t matter anymore. That was what it was; this is what it is.” I asked him if he thought a city and/or statewide emergency evacuation plan would be beneficial. “Ha ha. Yeah, but after I get my own d@mn plan,” he replied. “I ain’t nobody’s beggar, never have been, never will be.”
I left them with this question, “What can I do for you, to help you and your current situation?” The response was unanimous: “Tell them (your readers) what you see. Tell people who we are. Tell people not to forget…one more thing: tell people not to give money to the Red Cross.”
Keeping my promise to them, I am sharing my experience with all of you.
I’d like to hear reactions to these men’s stories, especially the man who blamed himself for not evacuating. More pictures will be posted soon.
One Love. One II.
Garlin Gilchrist II
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