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HBCUs five years after Katrina


Five years after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina a large percentage of residents are back to living life as they knew it before, but many more continue struggling to get back on their feet and are still looking for help wherever they can get it.

Some neighborhoods can luckily say they received that help partially because of the dedication of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the area.

Xavier University of Louisiana, Southern University of New Orleans, and Dillard University are a few of the universities that were drastically affected by the storm, have repaired themselves, and are still working to rebuild their surrounding neighborhoods.

“We began assisting with rebuilding efforts before any other university was back in the city,” said Christy Legarde, assistant director of Student/Community Engagement at Xavier University of Louisiana. “Xavier has continued to assist with these efforts; just this past weekend on the fifth  anniversary of Katrina we commemorated the event with a Service Day on August 28. About 60 XU student volunteers came out in the rain (with flash flood warnings on the news) to serve. We assisted with a gutting-out project for a community organization that could not afford to have their facility gutted for rebuilding. The building has been idle since Hurricane Katrina, and with our assistance they are on their way to a newly renovated facility for our elderly in the community.

“Our institution was founded on service, so we are passionate and ready to serve. We believe that in order to be a true leader you must first serve. Our students participate in service projects throughout the year sponsored by our office here at Xavier called Service Saturdays. The students get together one Saturday every month to work on rebuilding efforts in the community,” Legarde explained.

“Xavier University is a huge name in the medical field for its contribution of minority doctors. It is also known in this very city for its contribution to the community pre- and post-Katrina, but I wonder to what extent. I see the surrounding communities around the college campus being rebuilt. I see the highest enrollment in years but, for what? I see that Xavier pays attention to the things that can potentially pay Xavier,” complained Dante’ Peppers, a former Xavier student. “It’s how I feel, it was pre-Katrina, and it seems to reveal itself more post. Communities like Gert Town and Holly Grove, namely Palmetto Street show the extremes. On one side you see abandoned buildings demolished and on the same street, new apartments being built and stores are re-opening. If you move closer to residential areas in uptown New Orleans, you’ll see homes decaying and families struggling. I ultimately feel Xavier only helps, when it can benefit its own future endeavors, like the new building for the pharmacy department. The money they received for such a project could have just as easily been used to rebuild some of the homes on its very campus,” continued Peppers.

Legarde stated that Xavier actually is working to repair the homes that are on its campus and so far have already begun to rebuild three that will be used for faculty housing, which is what they were used for pre-Katrina. “Not only do we do work in our immediate community, but our students go out to the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans East, St. Bernard Parish and wherever else there is a need. We work with other organizations in the community to do service. The students even worked with Habitat for Humanities to build a home, which they were really excited about.

“We really are doing our part,” continued Legarde. “Of course, there is still work that needs to be done. Gert Town isn’t completely back yet, but we have acquired a number of the buildings there and are rebuilding them as well. I definitely believe we have been an asset to the community through our efforts.”

Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO) has taken a slightly different approach to improving life in the community that surrounds their campus.

SUNO administration has developed specific academic programs to address the needs in New Orleans.

SUNO is the only four-year institution in Louisiana which offers an undergraduate degree in business entrepreneurship.  Formerly business administration, the program addresses the need to educate the community on building a business from the ground up, which many business owners have had to learn to do after losing so much in the hurricane.

SUNO is also the only four-year institution in the New Orleans area to offer Health Information Management Systems, a new program that addresses the need to educate more people on electronic records keeping in the healthcare industry.

This is especially significant in a flood-prone area such as New Orleans, where some citizens even died after Katrina, because of a failure to locate their medical records to administer the proper medicines.

Finally consider their program in Child Development and Family Studies. This program studies the development and education of children and adolescents; family dynamics; and the interactions between family systems and the social environment. This program holds particular importance in post-Katrina New Orleans because families were torn apart and pieced back together as citizens returned to New Orleans.

“We didn’t necessarily get into the ‘get-your-hands-dirty’ projects. As someone who came aboard in 2007, I could immediately see that a lot of employees and students were just worn out from evacuating and then coming back,” said Interim Director of Public Relations, Eddie Francis. “Consider that SUNO is mostly a commuter university. Consider also that the school took on 11 feet of water, so we spent from February 2006 to August 2008 working in trailers issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army Corps of Engineers. Incidentally, some of our classes and faculty offices are still in those trailers because our campus has not been fully recovered.

“We had employees and students who, at one point, who woke up in a FEMA trailer, went to work in a FEMA trailer, then went to bed in a FEMA trailer. I think our students and employees were so focused on rebuilding their own lives and the institution that we never mustered the energy to perform that type of community service at a high level,” said Francis.

Dillard University has also made an impressive climb back toward normalcy on the campus through their community service and rebuilding, diligent efforts to acquire funding, and incessant lobbying.

“This week, the American people will be inundated with images of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, said the president of Dillard University, Marvalene Hughes. “The loss of human life and livelihoods, neighborhoods and our centuries-old culture is tragic. We have been asked many times by many people, “How did you and your university survive?” The task was daunting. The damage done to Dillard’s campus in the wake of the storm is almost impossible to describe. The east levee of the London Avenue Canal, located near the rear of Dillard’s campus, was breached around 9:30 a.m. on August 29, 2005. Lake Pontchartrain poured into our campus and remained there for nearly three weeks. More than 40 buildings at Dillard were damaged or destroyed,” noted Hughes.

Dillard has been dedicated to improving the Gentilly community surrounding the university with their Deep South Center for Environmental Justice which has been at the forefront of post-Katrina efforts to research the impact of the storm on the city’s environmental and human capital. The director, Beverly Wright, Ph.D., was recently awarded the Heinz Foundation Medal, given to those who have confronted environmental issues in an innovative way. Currently, she is involved in training workers participating in the BP oil spill clean-up efforts.

Dillard has also incorporated a $15 million multipurpose Student Union Health & Wellness Center which is more than 55,000 square feet and it will house student offices, meeting rooms, a 60-seat movie theater, bowling alley, fitness center, and a 13,000-square-foot community health center. This will also be open to the community providing much-needed health care.
Many people have argued that more affluent areas have been repaired more quickly and thoroughly than the poor, predominantly African American neighborhoods. Most areas, especially tourist attractions and other areas that generate a lot of revenue were the first to recover from the hurricane. Some less fortunate areas still have yet to recover.

“UNO (University of New Orleans) was badly flooded as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. Unlike the 9th Ward areas, this area returned to life a lot quicker due to the richer people who reside in the area,” said Allen Wilson III, a former UNO student. Some damaged buildings on UNO’s campus were being worked on to restore functionality, although some never made a return. The park-like areas along the lake that were once open 24 hours, now close at dusk and are regularly patrolled by police to keep them clear. The UNO Lakefront Arena was also flooded and closed for almost four years before it re-opened for regular use.

The SUNO area was also heavily affected by the floods and most of the campus classrooms were replaced with trailer units that still exist to this day. Many stoplights have been replaced with stop signs and some of the local food venues have closed for good.”
This apparently uneven recovery relates to the lesson that Michael Eric Dyson tried to get across in his book “Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster,” where he stated, “To be poor, or Black in today’s ownership society, is to be left behind.”

Bush Administration Katrina time-line

Based on news article’s and excerpts from White House memos released

Monday August 29
7 a.m. Central Daylight Time (CDT) Katrina makes landfall as category 4 hurricanes

7:30 a.m. CDT President Bush and his administration has been notified of the levee breach: The administration finds out that a levee in New Orleans was breached.[AP]

8 a.m.  CDT Mayor Ray Nagin reports water is flowing over the walls of the levee system, and a pumping station’s in the 9th ward has stopped. According to Mayor Nagin “there will be significant flooding, it is just a matter of how much.” [NBC’s “Today Show”]

11:13 a.m. CDT An internal memo is circulated within the White House concerning levee breach. “Flooding is significant throughout the region, and a levee in New Orleans has reportedly been breached sending 6 to 8 feet of water throughout the 9th Ward area of the city.” [AP]

Morning-Michael Brown (then FEMA administrator) warns Bush about the potential devastation of Katrina: In a briefing Brown warned Bush “This is, to put it mildly, is the big one, I think.” He also voiced concerns that the government might not have the capacity to “respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe” and that the super dome was ill-equipped to be a refuge of last resort. [AP]

Morning-Max Mayfield warns Bush about the topping of the levees: In the same briefing Max Mayfield of National Hurricane Center Director, warns, “This is a category 5 hurricane, very similar to hurricane Andrew in the maximum intensity, but there’s a big, big difference. This hurricane is much larger than Andrew ever was. I also want to make absolutely clear to every one that the greatest potential for large lost of lives is still in the coastal areas from the storm surge.” …”I don’t think anyone can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but there’s obviously a very, very grave concern.” [AP]

Morning-Bush calls Secretary Michael Chertoff to discuss immigration: “I spoke to Mike Chertoff today. He’s the head of the department of Homeland Security. I know people want me to discuss this issue [immigration], so we got us an airplane – a telephone on Air Force One, so I called him. I said, are you working with the governor? He said you bet we are.” [White House]

Morning – Bush shares birthday cake photo-op with Sen. John Mcain. [White House]

11 a.m. CDT- Michael Brown finally requests that Department Health Services dispatch 1,000 employees to region; gives them two days to arrive:

“Michael Brown’s memos to Chertoff described Katrina as ‘this near catastrophic event’ but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, ‘Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities.’” [AP]

Late morning-levee breached:
“A large section of the vital 17th Street Canal levee, where it connects to the brand new hurricane proof’ old Hammond Highway bridge, gave way late Monday morning in Buck town, after Katrina’s fiercest winds were well north.” [Times-Picayune]

11 a.m. CDT- Bush visits Arizona resort to promote Medicare drug benefit: “This new bill I signed says , if you’re a senior, and you like the way things are today, you’re in good shape, don’t change. But by the way, there’s a lot of different options for you. And we’re here to talk about what that means to our seniors.”

4:30 p.m. CDT- Bush travels to a California senior center to discuss Medicare drug benefit: “We’ve got some folks up here, who are concerned about there social security or Medicare. Joan Geist is with us. … I could tell. She was looking at me, when I first walked in the room to meet her. She was wondering whether or not old George W. is going to take away her social security check.” [White House]

8 p.m. CDT-Donald Rumsifield attends San Diego Padres baseball game:

8 p.m. CDT- Gov. Kathleen Blanco again requests assistance from Bush: “Mr. President, we need your help’ we need every thing you’ve got.” [Newsweek]

Late p.m.- President Bush goes to bed without acting on Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s request. [Newsweek]