Samantha Greenspun, a Gettysburg alum, was able to meet up with the group to lead a tour around New Orleans. Sam, who graduated from Gettysburg College in 2005, came to New Orleans to work with a nonprofit organization that works with the Latino community in the area. She currently is attending Tulane to receive her PhD studying social justice in the Latino community. We first visited the new Louisiana Public Heath building that was under construction. It was massive and took up multiple city blocks. She then brought us to Charity Hospital that was closed after the hurricane, due to flooding and vandalism. The hospital shut down for financial reasons in spite of an effort to keep the hospital open as a community landmark. It is the birthplace of the lower income residents surrounding the area as well as celebrities from the city. It is also the staple of healthcare for the uninsured. It was strange to see a developing construction site across the street from the abandoned old buildings. There seemed to be a gap in the middle of the city.
She also discussed the culture of New Orleans with us. We learned about the similarities to Haitian culture, including shotgun homes and serving red beans and rice on Mondays. We also learned about the vast network of plantations that still stand today and the mausoleums that are necessary to prevent sinking remains. The importance of the neighborhood affiliation and community for many residents and their own identity made the flooding in certain areas even more devastating.
We went to the Lower Ninth Ward, which was one of the hardest hit neighborhoods within New Orleans. To discuss the effects of Katrina, we parked within the neighborhood and then walked to the top of a grassy hill. It came to many of the group as a surprise that we were standing on top of a levee. Many expected a giant cement wall, but instead it was a grassy mound. On the levee, we learned about the division within the neighborhood and the distrust between the seventh, eighth, and ninth ward and the rest of the city. We drove around the neighborhood and saw the gaps in neighborhood and many overgrown areas. We discussed some challenges associated with trying to rebuild, including failed community gardens and the Make It Right Organization. We visited a park with information about the Make it Right Organization, founded by Brad Pitt and a few of the foundations that used to exist in the area. Among the group we discussed our surprise about the similarities of poverty to Gettysburg and our own hometowns. It became clear that the issues of poverty were not created by Katrina but merely highlighted.