Conference: Struggle for Equity Intensifies in Post-Katrina New Orleans

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By Nikolas Zelinski

 

It has been 10 years since Katrina hit New Orleans, leaving a lasting impact and growing disparities in the hurricane’s wake.

 

To shine a spotlight on conditions for Black people in the city and the ongoing struggles of Black people, national and New Orleans-based civil rights groups held an online town hall meeting recently to discuss Black Resistance after Hurricane Katrina, resistance to the privatization of schools and the expansion of the cradle-to-prison pipeline, the exclusion of Black workers from quality jobs, and resistance to the expansion of white power in post Katrina New Orleans.

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The online town hall, held on Sept 24, provides an opportunity to connect with front-line organizers to better understand the current struggles in the efforts to dismantle the plantation economy, end white supremacy, and build a world that respects Black lives in school, at work, and in communities.

 

Alongside a decrease in general population, the city has lost a large portion of its African American inhabitants between 2005 and 2013.

 

Moderating the discussion was Van Jones, president, Dream Corps and Co-founder, ColorOfChange. The host was Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change.

 

According to organizers, nearly 100,000 people have moved out the city, and median housing prices have shot up.

 

While parts of the city are rebounding, conditions of African Americans are stark, with.52 percent of African American males are unemployed; 50 percent of African American children live in poverty; and African American families earn 50 percent less than white families.

 

The conference focused on connections between Hurricane Katrina, lack of employment opportunities for Blacks, youth poverty and incarceration, and white supremacist symbols and attitudes in the city.

 

“We watched the city turn into the largest construction zone in the country. We watched how Black people were excluded from the construction, while immigrant workers were exploited,” said Saket Soni, executive director for the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice.

 

African Americans make up four percent of the construction workforce in the city, according to the conference press release.

 

Another topic was the criminalization of youth. Gina Womack, Executive Director of Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), explained that her organization launched a program called Let Kids be Kids.

 

“Children’s youthful behavior should not be criminalized,” she said. “Our children should have the opportunity for positive moderation and conflict management.”

 

Womack hopes to reduce the number of security guards at school, because “our kids are allowed to be detained for minor infractions, or subjective behavior called willful disobedience.”

 

Quess, a two-time national slam poetry champion, pointed out that New Orleans has the highest rate of imprisonment per capita in the world.

 

Quess, co-founder of the Black Youth Project 100, has organized to demand protest the removal of confederate monuments and street names in New Orleans, such as the Robert E. Lee statue.

 

“We live in a state that venerates war criminals,” Quess said.

 

Twenty-one schools around the city bear the name of confederates, Quess continued. “We hope to send the message that systematic racism and symbolic white supremacy work together.

 

ColorofChange, which hosted the online conference, was co-founded by Rashad Robinson, James Rucker, and Van Jones 10 years ago in the wake of the hurricane. Robinson saw the need for African Americans and their allies to have an organization that could hold governmental bodies accountable for disaster relief.

 

“We started the process of building ColorofChange in a living room in Oakland,” said Robinson.

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