- Fiona Perkocha ’21, senior capstone project, photo from Unsplash.com
It has been 15 years since Hurricane Katrina, yet the Lower Ninth Ward is still a ghost town. During my immersion trip in New Orleans, we studied the city’s systemic racism and worked to rebuild a house in the Lower Ninth Ward. I was disgusted to learn how people of color and low-income were neglected after the wake of the storm.
First, we visited the Whitney Plantation in order to learn the history of racism in New Orleans. The plantation was devastatingly informative of the horrors enslaved people faced. We immediately followed this with a visit to St. Augustine Catholic Church—the first Black Catholic church in New Orleans. It was the most upbeat and dynamic ceremony I have ever attended. The contrast between the despair of the plantation and the energy of the church represented the true resilience of the Black people in New Orleans. This experience was just another example of the vibrant culture and necessary revival of communities like the Lower Ninth Ward.
In addition, we attended the Lower Ninth Ward Museum. This historic home, full of photos and information, provided me with unique insights into this community’s perpetual struggle with natural disasters. Because of racial discriminatory housing practices, the majority of the population in the Lower Ninth Ward is Black. This neighborhood is at a greater risk for flooding because it is below sea level and next to the Mississippi River. After the 1927 flood, the government chose to break the levee on the side of the Lower Ninth Ward as they deemed it less dangerous because it was downstream. Thus, the neighborhood was flooded, while the wealthier and whiter side of New Orleans was relatively safe. Again during Hurricane Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward was flooded, and it was the last neighborhood to be pumped dry and power returned, displacing most of that community forever.
We commenced our service work in the Lower Ninth Ward by building an affordable house for teachers. Driving through the neighborhood, I saw countless empty lots which had not been touched since the hurricane. At our lot, enormous weeds suffocated the yard. There was an immense pile of splintered wood and stray house material. As we cleared out the rubble, I felt the weight of the destruction and lives lost at the very spot I stood. It was shocking to visualize the extent of the flooding and houses moving off of their foundations. And in this moment, I truly realized the extent of the nelect to this community. It took hours of throwing away debris just to see the ground. However, I was determined to help restore this one lot. It had been 15 years since Katrina, and a myriad of lots were still covered with the same amount of rubble. We need to address the racially discriminatory housing in New Orleans and around the country to prevent more unfair suffering from natural disasters.