Weighing The Levees…
After recent news of rapper Juvenile facing the tragic death of his daughter at the hands of her brother, a teenaged gunman, and the baffled media response, the world once more had to enquire of the legacy left after the Great Flood. Although this homicide is not a direct result of hurricane devastation, Terius Gray (Juvenile) has suffered from the greatest tragedy of the Mississippi River Valley basin year later. Brian “Baby” Williams lost his sibling in a car accident when a driver bolting the wrong way down the road struck her. Longtime Cash Money Records producer Mannie Fresh also endured pain after his sister’s untimely death in a home invasion last November. The Katrina phantom hangs over New Orleans, a city already torn by crime, poverty and corruption.
Since that epic failure of government response, the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Black folk and the slow-going restoration efforts, there have been heinous incidents to remind the country of its broken past. FEMA trailers fester with formaldehyde and a Congressional panel reports the issue should have been long ago addressed. Murder rates climb to unseen heights. Worse still, the suicide statistics have been unpromising, rising at one point to three times the pre-storm level. Even with local government descending on the area, pleading for souls to resolve this ominous malaise, thefts and burglaries have spiked according to USAToday and law enforcement struggles to establish order.
The rap stars of today usually enjoy a shield from the shades of underclass living because of gated homes, security guards and the like. However, there is no reprieve from the dastardly crimes being perpetrated by the seething locals and the predatory federal forces stationed there. Education has also been indefinitely affected by the storm with fewer students translating into degraded resources; and environmental hazards like rats creeping into classrooms have no immediate fix.
Lil Wayne wrote a rap about the emotional consequences of natural destruction that aptly described the pain, frustration and disappointment curdling beneath the surface of New Orleanian skin. “Georgia (Bush)” was an elegiac outcry from one of the area’s most successful and famous citizens, made partly to cast an aspersion on its lingering ghosts. But even Dwayne Carter’s poetry falls short of the increasing grimness of the scenario in his hometown. Drug dealers engage in territorial battles for the worst land in our country all while their “representatives” threaten to raze the remaining public housing in the region. That means the city will further dispossess its most needy in a time where faith has fled elsewhere in tandem.
Watching the NBA All-Star game in mid-February plagued me with guilt over the clear disparities in the tourist attractions of downtown and the ailing poor just outside the city. As if to say “we profit but we care” the NBA sprung up numerous service initiatives and celebrity faces in time for the event. And despite the New Orleans Hornets team’s active involvement in the charitable uplift of their metropolis, there is still nakedness bedeviling the majority of the residents. Patrons, developers and temporary workers cannot easily ameliorate the spiritual downturn of the NOLA.
In April, I will travel to New Orleans for the first time in my life, alongside students from East New York, Brooklyn (also beset by poverty) to tour colleges and to add our efforts to the renewal process. But what part of the renewal can reclaim the soul of this skeletal city? Arming our nation with cashflow has never been the answer to social imbalance, just as the gentrification proposed for New Orleans will not soon credit the education system. The hollowness of Hurricane Alley remains consipicuous even through our collective pity.
For New Orleans, the only road to repair will involve attention from healing forces, musical reincarnation and the love it has been neglected for so long.