Ten Years after Hurricane Katrina: Changing Hearts, Minds and Systems in New Orleans

By La June Montgomery Tabron
America’s Wire Writers Group

NEW ORLEANS – Ten years after Katrina devastated New Orleans, it’s time for midcourse corrections in the restoration efforts. The coalitions of foundations, nonprofits and government should pause to ensure that their investments will improve upon the pre-Katrina conditions in communities of color and that the racial and class inequities that existed prior to the storm are being adequately addressed.

Katrina was an awakening: the racial fault lines had been blurred in the city. Visits to Bourbon Street yielded fine food and music, but failed to paint a full picture of the city. Their communities and their challenges were tucked away from view. But with Katrina, impressions of New Orleans changed dramatically.

When the hurricane struck on August 29, 2005, more than 80 percent of the residents had evacuated, leaving behind the most vulnerable – those with neither the means nor money to flee. New Orleans was predominantly African-American (67 percent) and 27.9 percent of the city’s households were in poverty, including nearly 40 percent of the city’s children. More than 1,800 people died because of the storm, 123,600 people left the city and never returned, and the black population dropped to 60 percent.

The chaos and devastation that unfolded as the surging gulf breached levees designed to protect the city vividly demonstrated the impact of the racial, housing, education and economic disparities.  Many with access to information, transportation and funds for hotel rooms escaped; but those without resources were left behind -- some desperately seeking rescues from their rooftops -- to fend for themselves and depend upon badly flawed public services that failed them at this critical time.     

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, people had to reconcile our perception of New Orleans.  How had we missed the racial inequities for so long? It was so clear that imbalance between haves and have-nots were a major factor in where the blunt of the devastation was felt. Many communities of color were more vulnerable and thus their residents suffered far more.

This fueled the passion within the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to address the inequities.


Key Finding in Kellogg Foundation – Ebony Poll: Parental Involvement Contributes to School Success

By George White
New America Media and
America’s Wire Writers Group

The “lack of parental involvement” is the biggest issue affecting black students’ quality of education.

That is one of major findings in a new national survey of African Americans on factors in their quality of life. The survey, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) and Ebony magazine, polled 1,005 African Americans on their mood and on issues related to income, housing, health care, relationships, race and education.

Responses to education-related questions made up a large part of the summary of survey findings. When asked to identify the biggest issues in education, about a fifth of respondents said lack of parental involvement, making it the most frequently cited concern. Other concerns included “overcrowded classrooms” (17 percent), “funding differences among school districts” (17 percent), “quality of teachers” (16 percent), and “students with behavioral issues or special needs” (10 percent).

Of those respondents with school-age children or grandchildren, only 37 percent said the nation was “making progress” in efforts to provide “a quality education.” About a third said the country is “losing ground” in education and 28 percent said that there has been no appreciable change in educational quality.

Conducted in February, the survey results were released after the launch of two new Obama Administration initiatives on behalf of young people of color. In January, Pres. Obama appointed leaders in education, philanthropy and law to serve on a commission for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The president is also seeking support from foundations and businesses for “My Brother’s Keeper,” a campaign he announced on February 27 to improve the education and life prospects of young Latino and African-American males.

WKKF is one of 10 major foundations that have agreed to work with the White House to support the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. However, education has been a priority for WKKF throughout its 83-year history, said Carla Thompson, vice-president of program strategy at the foundation.


Black Girls and Women Find Healing Through Growing GirlTrek Movement

By A.K. Collier
America’s Wire Writers Group

Although it was still winter in much of the country, 20,000 Black women and girls took  to the streets, the parks and their neighborhoods to walk as a part of GirlTrek, a national movement that inspires good health through walking.  

GirlTrekkers sign a pledge to walk five days a week, but on the second weekend in March the festivities were linked to the March 10th birthday of freedom fighter and former slave, Harriet Tubman. The participants embrace a lofty goal of logging in 100 minutes of walking. But the founders of GirlTrek also see a deeper mission: helping Black girls and women reclaim their power, lives and neighborhoods.

“Harriet Tubman weekend was important, but the commitment comes day after day, week after week. We can change lives,” says Vanessa Garrison, a co-founder of the organization. “We like to say if Harriet Tubman can walk thousands of slaves to freedom, we can walk to health and healing. We know that this walking movement has caught on because the healing has been inspirational and contagious.” 

Based in Washington, DC, the two-year-old organization was founded by Garrison and Tanya Morgan Dixon.  In fact, GirlTrek started with a routine telephone call.  The two women discussed the health challenges facing their families and communities. The conversation ranged from the lack of healthy food options in poor neighborhoods to the influence of hip hop videos on the psyche of teenage girls. 

Then, the conversation took an unusual turn. “What would Harriet Tubman do?” they asked.  The women considered starting a t-shirt company; but after a long and colorful conversation, they launched GirlTrek. They wanted to dedicate their lives to addressing the root causes of inactivity in their communities. 

Black Girls Disproportionately Confined; Struggle for Dignity in Juvenile Court Schools

By Monique W. Morris
America’s Wire Writers Group

Nationwide, African American girls continue to be disproportionately over-represented among girls in confinement and court-ordered residential placements. They are also significantly over-represented among girls who experience exclusionary discipline, such as out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and other punishment. Studies have shown that Black female disengagement from school partially results from racial injustices as well as their status as girls, forming disciplinary patterns that reflect horrendously misinformed and stereotypical perceptions.  

While academic underperformance and zero tolerance policies are certainly critical components of pathways to confinement, a closer examination reveals that Black girls may also be criminalized for qualities long associated with their survival. For example, being “loud” or “defiant” are infractions potentially leading to subjective reprimanding or exclusionary discipline. But historically, these characteristics can exemplify their responses to the effects of racism, sexism, and classism.

More than 42,000 youth were educated in “juvenile court schools” located in California correctional and detention facilities in 2012, according to the California Department of Education, and a disproportionate number of them were Black girls. In the state’s 10 largest districts by enrollment, Black females experience school suspension at rates that far surpass their female counterparts of other racial and ethnic groups. Little has been shared about these girls’ educational histories and experiences inside the state’s juvenile correctional facilities or out in the community.


America's Wire Staff

Michael K. Frisby
Nadra Kareem Nittle
Staff Writer
Kimberly N. Alleyne


America's Wire

The news media in the United States have been a guardian of the public’s interest. Our nation’s history is filled with episodes during which enterprising reporting, often by the bravest of journalists, has altered the course of public policy for America, and at times, changed our society.




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