05 March 2008
Louisiana – Where Two Worlds Collide
Upon our arrival to New Orleans Malena and I went directly into the famed French Quarter. Most hotels were located there, so it seemed the logical choice for us. As I’m sure happens to most people, we were swept away by the personality, charm and energy of the historic downtown region. From three-story rot-iron balconies ornately decorated with fleur-de-lis’ to sipping café au lait and eating beignets at Café du Monde while listening to street-side jazz, it felt like we had been transported back in time, our worries drifting away.
On our second day, however, we took a short 5-mile drive east over the draw bridge and into the ninth Ward, the part of New Orleans that was hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina nearly two and a half years ago. What we found could not have been more shocking. House after house was marked with a large “X,” indicating that it remained condemned, unsafe and possibly toxic. FEMA trailers were scattered everywhere, some residing in what appeared to be driveways that once led to these condemned homes. Lot after lot sat completely void of actual homes, replaced instead by piles of trash, broken glass and additional remnants of what loosely resembled a home. There were no sidewalks. No streetlamps. No businesses. No fences. No yards. Some homes had been rebuilt, their high-peeked roofs creating a sort-of alternate reality skyline in a sea of chaos.
I couldn’t help but wonder how – nearly three years later – this community could still look like it had just been hit by catastrophe. Where was the failure? Was it the government? Was it a lack of commitment from locals? Did people simply not want to rebuild, or were resources being held up somewhere? While I am still searching for answers there is one person that gives me hope.
Her name is Madeline Peters. At 20 years old she has already claimed her stake in this global movement, committed to not only creating her own social change, but inspiring and encouraging others to do the same. A Pensacola, Florida native, Madeline chose to attend LSU because she felt that more than anywhere else, she could have a significant positive impact on the community. She and I met at a conference in New Hampshire and she became immediately interested in what Youth Venture does.
When I mentioned we were coming through Louisiana, she jumped at the opportunity to help us connect with youth in the area and did an incredible job, forming a committee to set up meetings at high schools, community centers and Universities in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, allowing us to meet with tons of youth from across the socio-economic spectrum.
We’re talking about a region of the country that is in so much need, and what better way to change the future there than engage those people who are going to be a central part of it? Youth like Madeline are tomorrow, but they’re already taking action today. With so much heartache and suffering, that, more than anything, should give us hope, especially in light of tragedies like Katrina. It seems clear that the government can use as much help as they can get.