Saturday, March 17, 2007

New Orleans, Revisited

In July, I got to spend a week in New Orleans gutting houses and trying to play a part in the rebuilding process in the wake of Katrina. It was an amazing experience, albeit very physically and emotionally challenging.

Fast forward 8 months into the future, where I find myself back in New Orleans, but this time doing different things with different people. The first time around, we worked with the organization called Acorn and spent the entire week gutting homes. This time, I got to experience a different side of what it means to rebuild the city.

I went along with my friends at Vox Veniae in Austin, Texas, where not only did we get to clean and gut a house, we got to do all sorts of other things like pick up trash, clean up a neighborhood park, clean up a city park, sort and label books for a school library that's planning on re-opening in the fall.

At first, I though this trip was going to be quite similar to my first trip in July. I had psyched myself out for another week of intense physical labor full of swinging hammers and crowbars. But as the first few days unfolded, I realized that it wouldn't be the same, which led me to feel a bit disappointed. Of course, after a bit of reflection and a big dose of humility, I realized that my disappointment was rooted in the desire to do what I wanted, instead of what needed to be done for the good of the city.

For some reason, I thought that the epitome of what it meant to help rebuild New Orleans was to gut someone's house. Granted, being able to gut a house gives the gutter some sense of accomplishment because we see the fruits of our labor. But what if we simply walked around a neighborhood and picked up garbage, and at the end of the day, things still looked trashed. Would it feel like the week was well spent? Initially, my heart was telling me 'no'. But getting the chance to walk the neighborhood, as well as help clean a city park by trimming away overgrown brush, collecting fallen trees and twigs, and being human weed whackers to uncover hiking paths, I realized that rebuilding the city is more than gutting houses. This trip has taught me that:

* The city is bigger than the place where people lay their heads.

* The city includes the streets these houses are on.

* The city includes the little community park in the heart of the neighborhood.

* The city includes the park that residents used to frequent, but have abandoned because it was flooded over.

* The city includes the schools that have more people on the waiting list than spots in classrooms.

Although cleaning and gutting was a small portion of this trip, I'm glad that we got to experience the bigger picture of loving this city. It's helped me see that the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans requires more than just a one trick pony with tools and wheelbarrows.

Thanks Vox for letting me join y'all on this New Orleans experience, and mad props and much love to the Big Easy for staying strong.


At 10:58 AM, Blogger Miranda said...

That sounds amazing Kevin!

Reading yours and others' blogs from the trip paints an incredable picture and gives inspiration and hope!

I can't wait to go back and see the potential to rebuild in the graeter sense of the city.


Glad you could go - and i want to hear MORE about it!

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Nicole said...

As both a resident of New Orleans and an employee of ACORN, I'd like to personally thank you, Kev, for playing a part in helping to rebuild the city. I'm very proud to say that thousands have extended themselves selflessly to help in the effort. You can track the updates to rebuilding regularly at www.chieforganizer.org. Can't wait to see you there.


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