As New Orleans settles into the newly elected city officials, we want to celebrate and share a victory with you all. In January we co-organized two candidate forums for District E through a coalition of 19 organizations across the communities East of the Industrial Canal. The Lower 9th Ward, Upper 9th Ward, and New Orleans East make up District E and the communities East of the Industrial Canal. This region makes up 44% of the city’s tax base but there is less than a 2% return to our communities. The unity of these communities is so powerful for the future of these communities. Both the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East have historically been disenfranchised and disinvested in by the city.
Both communities have similar issues such as overgrown, abandoned lots, unmaintained streets, no street lighting in some areas, and a lack of necessary infrastructure. With this recognition, the communities came together to advocate for each other by hosting joint candidate forums.
We hosted the city council candidates for districts E, D, and Council-at-Large on January 14th, and we filled every seat and more in the Saint Maria Goretti Community Center in New Orleans East. Over 400 community residents were in attendance. Then, in the Lower 9th Ward, we filled every seat of Trinity Lutheran Church with community residents eager to hear and question the candidates for Criminal Sheriff and Mayor on their commitment to rebuilding and developing our communities. This was by far the biggest gathering of community residents in regards to local politics with over 200 seats filled. It was so powerful to see the whole district E come together at both forums and support each other.
At both forums, the Village contributed volunteers to take notes on what the candidates promised. Then, we compiled a “pledge” for each candidate to look back on for those that get elected. We now have a pledge of promises and tasks for each candidate. The coalition is currently strategizing around how to keep our elected officials accountable to these promises and to the needs and rights of our communities. We want to ensure that not only are our communities rebuild and redeveloped to provide the necessary infrastructure and resources, but that we are an active participant in this process. The work should be done by those in the community and we want to make sure that happens.
We, at the Village, would like to thank our great volunteers from UC Berkeley, Providence College, CELSJR, and UMASS Boston for helping us to reach out to the community about this event in January. As well as, we’d like to thank the local volunteers who studiously took notes for us at the Candidate Forums. With many people putting their drop in the bucket, we are able to have huge victories.
The opportunity to spend almost seven days in the Lower Ninth Ward Village was a really eye-opening experience. As I look at the picture of the community center, I notice how the rays of the sun peek over the roof of the Village, illuminating the artwork and assortment of colors painted on the exterior helping to enhance its curb appeal, and giving the illusion that the community is back on its feet and thriving. However, when you look closely at the picture you will notice the doors are closed, there is no one around, and written on the upper-right are the words “Where is your neighbor?” alluding to the fact that many residents of the Lower Ninth Ward have not returned. I learned that even after eight years, families still remain separated, homes sit destroyed, and places like the Lower Ninth remain ill-serviced and underfunded. This made me feel angry, saddened, and despondent towards society and administrators who have done little to respond to the people of the Lower Ninth. However, my personal feeling pale in comparison to the lived experience of the individuals in the Lower Ninth Ward, who are not simply visiting New Orleans on a service trip, but are confronted with the reality of their situation on a daily basis. Ward “Mack” McClendon played a significant role in the way I think about the Village, the Lower Ninth community, and the socially unjust disparities that exist throughout New Orleans. Mack is the founder of the community center and has dedicated his life towards rebuilding the Lower Ninth and reconstructing the sense of community that was lost after the hurricane. Mack gave me hope, not only for the people of New Orleans, but hope that if we continue to create awareness about New Orleans and give our helping hand in the rebuilding process, the Ward can slowly but surely get back on its feet. It is my hope that by sharing my experience and what I’ve learned that discussions about New Orleans can continue and that people (including myself), continue to “put their drop in the bucket” as Mack would say, and remember what happened to New Orleans, the people who live there, and the right of this community to rebuild and overcome the injustice surrounding the hurricane and the lack of governmental aid or response. I am very thankful for this service-learning opportunity and I encourage others to continue to learn about New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward Village.
By: Rakiah Anderson
For two weeks during this past winter break, I was unplugged. Parallel to Neo’s new found reality in The Matrix, the bubble I had previously been living in was challenged and I came to understand the true state of this nation. As one of twelve participants on the Alternative Breaks Winter Magnolia Project trip, I witnessed the continued existence of greed for profit and power in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the intentional neglect and cleansing of such a culturally rich and valuable community. Poverty business, and corporate control became forces of a destructive nature, stemming out of a history of systemic corruption in the United States. The disaster had not been a natural occurrence. Rather it was a carefully crafted one that exposed the racism and discrimination of “disaster relief” efforts. I have difficulty reconciling the complexity of it all, and the lack of a simple solution to so much suffering. In hopes of grounding myself, and taking action towards a just future, I simply listened… to those living with this disaster, those fighting for a fulfilled life, and those rising to recreate their community.
During our service with the Lower Ninth Ward Village, executive director Mack talked passionately about a life of purpose, and of happiness. Clouded by my own privilege, I did not understand how purpose could be actively pursued when living within such an insidious network of systems. Mack posed the question to each of the participants, and I listened. “This nation is suffering, and is broken because people are not living out their purposes. The richest places in this country are cemeteries because that is where the potential, dreams, and purposes of so many fallen brothers, and sisters lay.” Mack still had his life, and shared how he had changed after the storm. He no longer pursued materialistic wants, and saw how his community was suffering. For Mack, the Lower Ninth Ward Village, and the community center he dedicated himself to was his calling. He wanted his community to be whole again. We began envisioning alongside the Lower Ninth Ward Village and Mack, as well as with Chika and Becca. Both women were previous UC Berkeley students who moved to the Lower Ninth Ward after graduation. They worked hard and selflessly to continue a long term relationship with the folks they had served in New Orleans during their time at Cal. Change takes commitment, and trust.
I felt a thriving vitality when I first met Ms. Maggie (photographed below). She is a young eighty-two year old resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, with a fierce energy to her personality and is more capable than most of the college students on our trip. She fought for her way back home, and began rebuilding knowingly facing the injustices in her community. Our group served that day by building a closet for Ms. Maggie. “What will make you whole now, Ms. Maggie?” Mack wanted to know. Her clothes had still been in boxes after moving in some time ago. The constant hunching over to find anything was ailing her back. She needed a closet, and we got her a closet. Community members, neighbors, and us students worked together to meet the needs of Ms. Maggie. Did this dismantle injustice on a systemic scale? No. What we were trying to accomplish as a group of privileged students was to transform our understanding of what solidarity in action looked like. Listening to the community was our purpose and a reinvention of what serving meant was what we gained. Purpose is a collective necessity in this nation, a driving force in peoples lives and in their actions. That was the lesson I gained from my service experience, knowing we cannot forget.
By: Johanna Romero
We are proud to announce the launching of a new project, Bringing Back Our Community (BBOC). Through this project, we are documenting the experiences of Lower 9th Ward residents to build a knowledge base in order to collectively advocate with the community. Through the interviews, we connect donors with residents through direct sponsorship as part of a move towards building a community driven recovery structure that can be used around the world in times of disaster.
We currently are interviewing community members of the Lower 9th Ward focusing on their recovery process and interactions with governmental resources like Road Home. We ask–given that it will never be the same, what can we do to help make you feel whole again? With these videos we are aiming to create an online apparatus to propose their needs to the many donors and volunteers who still want to help. This sponsorship program puts a direct face on the need and allows the donor and recipient to interact. We work as the liaison to prevent contract fraud and to advocate for the residents. Simultaneously, BBOC will document the experiences and analyze the scale of the injustices. We aim to organize town hall meetings to collectively address the many complicated layers and barriers preventing full recovery.
We are developing BBOC with a larger ideal—a clear structure on how people around the world can help communities recover so that the funds dedicated to recovery actually reach the families and residents in need. People want to help; we hope to create a better process of channeling help to reach those in need.
Stay tuned for updates on our progress.
Please help us save the Village! Check out the L9WV Letter of Support!
On October 20th, Mack was invited by a longstanding community partner, Community Unitarian Universalist Church to speak to their congregation in Plano, Texas. The weekend was filled with delicious BBQ, Mack’s famous shrimp boil, and other opportunities for the Plano community to become aware about the Lower 9th Ward community. We showcased the work we are doing to get the Village back open and celebrated their 4+ years of commitment they have given to the Lower 9th Ward Village. We greatly appreciate their continued and sustained support.
The Village hopes to engage in more speaking engagements like this one. If you are interested in hosting Mack in your community to build solidarity, contact us!
On October 20, 2013 from 11am-3pm, the Play Streets event at Joe Brown Memorial Park showcased our skateboard ramps and rails to promote health and fitness for New Orleans residents. We used this opportunity to publicize the current situation around the Lower Ninth Ward Skate Park.
The event was a great way for families to have some fun at a beautiful park and gave us the opportunity to help with our outreach.
On August 24th, the Lower 9th Ward Village will be hosting a fundraiser to generate funds resume regular programming, open the skate park and reopen a recording studio, library, computer lab, garden, and commercial kitchen.
We hope to see you there!
Your donations are needed at this time to bring the Lower 9Th Ward Village facility up to code so we can become operational again.
THE IMMEDIATE NEEDS ARE: (1) to properly upgrade the Electrical System and (2) complete the Skateboard Park. Although the Skateboard Park is in limbo, it is expected to be a vital part of the Village’s Community Center and will not exceed 30 percent of what the Village does for the Community.
Please go to our homepage or donate page to send us a donation today!!