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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Katrina, two years on ...

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(Photo by David Lee Simmons)

A year ago this time, CL presented coverage of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, in which I contributed an essay about my move to Atlanta after spending six months in New Orleans after the storm. I also supplied some names of other folks who had moved here, mainly evacuees who stayed, including some friends of mine.

The status of my friends might be microcosmic of New Orleanians as a whole. Three of us have decided to stay in Atlanta, impressed by professional opportunities here. Three decided to return home, while another capitalized on a professional opportunity here to move onward to New York City. And yet another one is still torn between both New Orleans and Atlanta.

In some ways, we all have been, over the past two years, torn between remaining in the city to stay and fight the good fight, others knowing they need to move on with their lives or that living in New Orleans is just too tough an existence. I remember a phone conversation the other night with an old friend in New Orleans, one of those die-hard types who, like me, was gung-ho in coming back from the evacuation, ready to rebuild. His voice on the phone was shaky now. “I just don’t know if I can take it much longer,” he sighed. “The crime, the lack of progress … it’s just so frustrating.” And this from a guy who really was making a difference.

I told him what I’ve told others, maybe even myself: “Do what you really, truly feel is right. But remember: You don’t owe anybody anything. You’ve put in your time.”

Make no mistake; it’s hard living down there, no matter your intentions. It was hard for my friend Helen Hill, an experimental filmmaker who was murdered in her home during a home invasion in January — after convincing her husband to bring their family back from the evacuation and help the poor. It was hard on Mark Krasnoff, a brilliant actor who committed suicide last September, just weeks after the first anniversary. It was hard on Nia Robertson, a New Orleans native and Clark Atlanta grad whom I recall hanging out at a neighborhood bar — the same place where she was stabbed to death a couple weeks ago, by a worker who’d moved there to get construction work, in a random act of violence.

We make our decisions. Some of us stay. Some move on, some move back. The only thing that is certain is the uncertainty that remains, two years on, today, Aug. 29, 2007. To get just an inkling of how badly the recovery is going, check out coverage from the Nation, Time, Yahoo, and today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune.

As we make our decisions, all we ask is that everyone -- especially those who took us in in Atlanta, Houston and around the country -- remember how this man-made, not natural, disaster continues to exact its toll. And that maybe next time, we'll put people in charge who won't continue to fuck over our beloved city over and over again.

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