Tour of the 9th Ward

Monday, March 1, 2010 12:28 PM by Point Park Student Activities
Today was our first full day in Louisiana. Most of us woke up around 7 a.m., which is much earlier than any of us would want to get up on a normal day let alone on spring break. As we slowly brought ourselves to life this morning we ate some breakfast, consisting of cereal, fruit, and bagels, and we had a short orientation from Habitat for Humanity. After the 10 minute orientation we were designated to do some quick volunteer work, consisting of setting up tables in the 'dining' area and creating a room out of partitions for other people to sleep in. We had originally planned that we would do a Winn Dixie tour of New Orleans, but a few people in the group had concerns about the length and price of the tour, especially in addition to the boat tour we will (hopefully) be doing on Saturday. After doing an informal debate, pointing out the pros and cons of either doing the boat tour or the Winn Dixie tour, we held a Survivor-style voting session and ultimately the Winn Dixie tour was asked to leave the island. The down side of this decision, however, was that the Winn Dixie tour would bring us through the lower 9th ward, the area of New Orleans that was damaged the most by Hurricane Katrina, and this was not something we wanted to miss out on. Fortunately Mack and Smitty came to our rescue. JW was given Mack and Smitty's information in a welcome packet advertising that they give tours of the 9th ward. So we called Mack, who referred us to Smitty, saying that he would give us a real good tour. But Smitty was not available to give a tour today, he had to stay at his house all day to wait for the electric company. Mack agreed to give us a tour and told us to meet him in 'the village' around noon. Not knowing what he meant by 'the village,' we headed out to the ninth ward, most of us not knowing what to expect. As soon as we entered the ninth ward our van grew silent as we drove through this neighborhood full of houses, some new, but most still suffering the impact of Hurricane Katrina. A lot of the houses are still empty, with numbers spray painted on the walls of how many people were found dead there and other notes indicating if anything else, such as pets were found in these houses. After driving through this area for about 15 minutes we found Mack and The Village, which we found out is a community center that Mack started a few years after Katrina. He originally wanted this property to keep his antique cars but he saw a need for a community center so he filled that void. To learn more about what Mack is doing and what The Village is all about go to .

Within the first five minutes of Mack's tour, much to our surprise, we ran into Smitty, this old man with a huge spirit. Smitty was kind enough to show us the inside of his house, which is currently being rebuilt by volunteers such as us. After meeting Smitty we understood why Mack initially referred us to him. He told us how he was affected by the hurricane and just talked with us for a little while. After we left Smitty, Mack took us to a small museum, The House of Dance and Feather, owned by a man named Ronald Lewis. Lewis invited us into his museum and told us about his life and his journey through rebuilding his life after Katrina. As Lewis finished his story we looked around his museum, then we took a group picture with him and moved on with Mack's tour.

One big thing that stood out to me was when Mack pointed out a hole in the roof of a couple of houses. He told us that when the hurricane came people had no way of getting out of their houses except for creating a hole in the ceiling and crawling out. The whole tour was shocking to me, and I think to other people too. Although a lot of progress has been made in this area, the amount of empty, destroyed homes was truly shocking and heart-breaking. As we drove through the neighborhoods Mack pointed out all the empty fields to us, saying that's where homes used to be. We passed a huge open field, which was where the high school used to be and the government wont let them build a new one, forcing many students to suffer through a 2-3 hour commute just to get to and from school. This tour warmed and broke my heart all at the same time. We were exposed to the kindness of people like Mack and Smitty who are trying to build this broken community back together, while at the same time seeing all the damage that the hurricane caused.

-karen bullock

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