Five Years Later: Promise in New Orleans

When I touched down in New Orleans in the early weeks after the levees failed, devastation and loss hung thick in the air. As PolicyLink has worked with our community partners over the past five years trying to forge an equitable recovery, we can still feel that sting against our faces many days.

“Stop calling it an oil spill” from PolicyLink on Vimeo.

Today, much still remains to be done. But the residents (new and old) of this most distinctive city are charting their own path – bold, resilient, and distinctly New Orleans.

Dozens of new and historic organizations, networks, and coalitions have grown – from neighborhood associations to multi-issue advocacy teams. Innovations have blossomed — driven by the urgency and depth of need here.

These organizations have grown from a strong soil of love – for their city, their neighbors – and their still-present need to reweave the social fabric decimated by the scattering of their families and neighbors.

The population of New Orleans fell from 455,188 before Katrina (July 2005) to 208,548 a year later — a loss of over half of the city’s population. Slowly, though, people have rebuilt and returned. Now, nearly 80 percent of the city’s population has come back.

READ OUR NEW STUDY, “Community Action: Bringing People Home to Stronger Neighborhoods”

You will hear many hopeful, uplifting stories this weekend of this city rising from floods. These gains are wonderful and hard-fought – but only part of the story. The recovery has been uneven, with more than 88,000 African American residents unreturned to the city, and the BP oil spill marring progress.

And while this city and her people are resilient, we must do more to address the legacy of race, poverty, and structural exclusion from opportunity that still hampers both New Orleans – and America.

Want to help? Join with us and our allies to support the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, which would bring jobs and infrastructure to a region that needs both.

Five years later, the recovery continues. We must continue to invest in the Gulf’s people and make their recovery whole.

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