Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

New Orleans Rocks Through the Hardtimes

Friday, September 1, 2006

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about New Orleans, other than the proper rice-liquid ratio in gumbo, it is that music is what really makes the place such a culturally vital city. This is one of many reasons why Hoyas should care deeply about the Katrina recovery. Everyone I saw when I was home this summer after my second year at Loyola University New Orleans – friends who go to schools all over the country, including Georgetown – has asked me the same question: “How is it down there?” After Katrina – ominously called “The Thing” down in the Big Easy now – I’ve struggled to answer this question myself. One year after, I think I finally have an answer that summarizes the complicated state of the city right now, and fittingly, it can be summarized through two very different songs which I saw performed in the same week in late April: “Do Watcha Wanna” and “We Shall Overcome.” Let me tell you about both of them. On a Tuesday during finals week, I, along with hundreds of other New Orleanians packed into the Maple Leaf to hear Rebirth Brass Band. On this night, they closed with their most well loved song: “Do Watcha Wanna.” Everyone in the crowd forgot all problems – the holes in the roof, the increasing crime, the barely-populated neighborhoods – for a few jovial, brass-filled minutes. When the chorus hit, I might as well have been dancing down Jackson Avenue in the Zulu Parade on Fat Tuesday morning. “Do Watcha Wanna” isn’t just a catchy, rowdy song. It represents the potential of the rebuilding process. We want to reach that level of carefree, Big Easy happiness again. The song shows the promise of the rebirth of the Crescent City. But as the song ended and we piled 10 undergrads into a Dodge Stratus, reality took us over again. It’s pretty hard to ignore the poor black beggar wandering amidst the blocks of abandoned houses surrounding the bar. Five days later, Bruce Springsteen and his new Seeger Sessions Band closed the first weekend of New Orleans’ Jazzfest with a show of folk covers that ran the gamut from joyful (“We’re climbing Jacob’s Ladder”) to angry anti-Bush tirades (How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?”). If Katrina hadn’t torn the roof off of the fairgrounds, the Boss would have done it. The most moving song of the show for me was his version of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” The deceptively simple lines of the song – “We’ll walk hand in hand,”We shall live in peace” and “We are not afraid” – reflected the focused determination of the residents of New Orleans. This performance of the song, at this precise moment in the history of the city, described the reality of the situation better than any words could. Residents of destroyed areas like the Lower Ninth, Lakeview and Central City returned from places as far as Washington, D.C. and California for the tradition of Jazzfest. Even those who have adopted the city as their hometown, like me and my fellow university students, are determined to better the city. We know that the attention span of the country is short, and that much of the country is tired of hearing about levees and flooding and FEMA. We know that the task ahead – first, surviving this hurricane season and then rebuilding and repopulating – is a huge one. “We are not afraid,” sang Bruce. New Orleans will overcome. It will be a painful process, and it might take forever – especially without the help and support of the rest of the country. But we shall overcome, someday. Here’s where you guys come in. College kids from all around the country have played a huge part in the volunteer and activism effort in rebuilding. If you Hoyas want to help out your neighbors in need down South, below are two concrete things you can do. First, stay up on the news. The Times-Picayune reporters have been heroic in their efforts to help out the residents of the city. In terms of national media, The New York Times, Anderson Cooper of CNN and Brian Williams of NBC all dedicate time to the Big Easy. Read and watch them. Bring up the issue with your friends and in your classes. There are myriad worthwhile charities and agencies to which you can donate money or time. Habitat for Humanity, ACORN and the Catholic Charities New Orleans are all rebuilding flooded housing. Any money will go to a very good cause. More importantly, you should consider volunteering in New Orleans. If you love great music, even better food, and volunteering to help those most in need, and you’re willing to put a few days of hard work in, you should think about coming down for a few days. Any healthy person in adequate shape can volunteer to gut houses with any of those three organizations. Every single minute of labor will help a displaced resident of the city come back to his or her home was taken away from them. And hey, you can even come see Rebirth Brass Band on Tuesday night. New Orleans is coming back, ever so slowly. We shall overcome the adversity. If you want to help us out, you now have the options. It’s up to you Hoyas to take action. Do Watcha Wanna. Bob Payne is a junior at Loyola University New Orleans.

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