Posted by: Rob | August 28, 2007

Two Years After

August 29, 2007 marks the two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting land on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. As the date approaches, media coverage abounds, so I thought I would share some of what I have read and heard. Below are links to several news sources, but this is just a just small sampling, so please respond with your posts and comments listing additional reports.

New Orleans Times Picayune
Reading New Orleans’s newspaper of record is probably the best way to keep up with everything related to the post-Katrina environment, as well as all things New Orleans.

The Times-Picayune’s “Two Years Later” Blog
A collection of news reports—and readers’ reactions—relating to New Orleans two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the region.

New York Times: The Katrina Effect, Measured in Gigs
It is much more of a struggle for gigging musicians to make a living in the Crescent City. “Still, nearly two years after Katrina, there are fewer restaurants and bars offering live music, and the ones that do are paying less, musicians say. As the reality of the slow recovery has set in, fewer locals feel that they can afford cover charges or even tips, so clubs that used to have live music four or five nights a week have cut back to two or three.” (From article by Andrew Park, NYTimes, August 5, 2007)

Boston Globe: Homeless on the Rise in New Orleans
Rents on the rise, and while the N.O. population has dropped sharply, the number of homeless people has doubled.

Time magazine: A New Orleans photo essay

The Tavis Smiley Show: The Hope and Help for New Orleans
Public radio’s Tavis Smiley focused a two-hour radio show around New Orleans last week. One of his guests, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink, talked about a report her organization had just issued on the state of recovery in New Orleans. Follow the link above, but among the statements she made were these:

“There are reasons to be hopeful, but hope needs help. It needs help in the form of the federal government assisting local and state and community-based organizations and individual effort in order to create the New Orleans we can all be proud of. … if the federal government becomes a catalyst and provides leadership to live up to the promise that the president made on September 15 (2005), that we were going to create a better New Orleans.

NPR’s On the Media: Down in the Flood
Learn how New Orleans media are faring two years later.

Radio commentary from Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose
Listen to a cogent explanation of why people have stayed.

USA Today on New Orleans
This is a fairly comprehensive collection of journalism from America’s most national—and most colorful—newspaper.

Posted by: Rob | August 3, 2007

“That’s My Blood Down There”

After spending a week in New Orleans in June, I am even more convinced that our mission there was a good and important one: to do everything we can to help the city rebound. Just before I left, one friend grumbled about the potential futility of devoting resources to a place that continues to be so vulnerable to the machinations of Mother Nature. She has a point, but among the many lessons I learned during our week, one resonates the most: As hard hit as New Orleans has been, it remains, in so many ways, the wonderful city it has always been.

It is still a city whose people make open-mindedness and self-expression major priorities. It is a city where music is omnipresent. Where diversity isn’t a strategy but a fact of life. And many of New Orleans’s neighborhoods are nearly all the way back. Walk down Frenchman Street and you’ll find world-class musicians performing for free at a half-dozen venues. Go to Magazine Street for the funky shops and galleries. Eat at Jacques-Imo’s and then hear a group like the Rebirth Brass Band next door at the Maple Leaf. Everyone reports that Jazz Fest is better than ever. And there’s always the French Quarter if you like that sort of thing. The point is, lots of the people and places that have always made New Orleans one of the most popular cities on earth are still there. And now is as good a time as any to visit.

New Orleans at Night
New Orleans at Night

That said, New Orleans is also a place whose age-old problems—some experts mention classism, racism, poor education, violent crime, political corruption, and, obviously, coping with hurricanes—appear to have been exacerbated by the ravages of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And when you hear estimates that the storms destroyed about 200,000 homes and eliminated 190,000 jobs, the numbers stun you, but you don’t really get it until you see first-hand how devastated some of the neighborhoods still are. I know when I saw the Lower Ninth Ward, my mind was boggled by all that needs to be done for New Orleans. Without those neighborhoods, the city is less likely to be a place where great musicians seem to grow right out of the soil.

Helping build the Musicians’ Village is a great start. To know that we eight Berklee staffers leveled floors, nailed siding, laid roof shingles, installed ventilated soffit, painted walls, and more, is a good feeling. In the grand scheme of things, our contribution was a small one, but without a series of small contributions, there can be no large turnaround. The big question that we all seemed to be asking ourselves afterward was, “What should we do next?”

There’s still plenty of work to do in the Ninth Ward.

Beyond the possibility of another Berklee-sponsored Habitat crew making a future trip, there are many other ways the college can help. We can continue to foster strong relationships with our Crescent City alumni and help them stay connected with each other. Our mid-week alumni event was well-attended, and I was amazed to find that most attendees had never met any of their fellow New Orleans alumni. Also attending the event were two young New Orleans musicians—Joe Dyson and Max Moran—who will enter Berklee on full-tuition scholarships this fall. If the college continues to bring talented players from New Orleans to Boston, then we will be doing our bit to help make sure a great music education is available to the city’s deserving musicians.

Joe Dyson and Max Moran

From left, Joe Dyson and Max Moran, at the New Orleans alumni event

There are many other ways people at Berklee and elsewhere can help. It is possible to have a large impact by doing the sorts of work we’re already good at. I learned how to use a few power tools while I was in New Orleans, but I’m still better with pen and paper than hammer and nail. If, for example, communicators can occasionally volunteer to raise awareness about the needs of the city, then perhaps New Orleans will be a more prominent story in the national media.

As groups like ours and others go to New Orleans and work to rebuild it, of course we’re going to find ourselves musing about what kind of new New Orleans we are creating. Many people in New Orleans welcome the idea of Donald Trump’s proposed 70-story tower in the Central Business District because it will help bring money and jobs to the city. Others ask whether or not such developments permanently change the character of the city and make it less like the old New Orleans. Whatever happens, change is inevitable if New Orleans is going to bounce back. As long as that change includes an infallible levee system and a well-funded plan for restoring the wetlands, I’m all for it.


New levee is far right. Will it hold next time?

So no matter what you do, there’s probably some way you can have a positive impact on helping New Orleans recover. Even merely going there and being a tourist for a few days is contributing to the relief effort. As for Berklee, being a college that emphasizes the importance of community service, what better melding of our mission and values could there be than contributing to N.O.? Our college is “founded on jazz and popular music rooted in the African cultural diaspora,” and there is no city more intrinsically tied to those words, historically, than New Orleans. We are the world’s leading college of contemporary music, and New Orleans is the city where, we can argue, contemporary music was born.

I am blown away by the extraordinary efforts of my Berklee colleagues. Everyone displayed ceaseless dedication, high energy, and teamwork all the way through. I enjoyed every moment of working and eating (those were the two main activities, after all) with this crew. In particular, I’d like to acknowledge the leadership and inspiration provided at every moment by Roya Nassery. Not only did she come up with the idea for this trip, she coordinated every detail and held us all together at every moment. I am proud to work with her and with everyone else in our group. And I am grateful to all the Berklee departments that supported this trip.

There’s a Neville Brothers song on Yellow Moon called “My Blood” (hence the title of this post) that perfectly sums up my feelings about New Orleans. The lyrics draw a connection between all people, those suffering and those not. No matter who we are and where we are, we always have a responsibility to help each other. We all get so caught up in the day-to-day rhythms of our own lives that we easily forget this. I know I do. I also know that the best way for me to keep the needs of New Orleans in my head and heart is to get back there as soon as possible. I don’t know when that will be, but I hope I see you there.

– Rob Hochschild (August 2007)

(Thanks for the video, Jason!)

Posted by: Christopher | July 2, 2007

Not yet home

I’m back from New Orleans and have had some time to digest what we did and what we saw. After trying to come up with a way to understand and to organize my thoughts about what I experienced there, I am left with no concrete summary. I have no overarching understanding of where the city is or what it might look like a year from now, five years from now or how long it will take for New Orleans to be ‘rebuilt.’ My feeling is that New Orleans remains deeply wounded, and a year from now, much of the city will still be a mess.

Our time there was short and our contribution to the many homes being built as part of the Musicians’ Village was relatively small. Our view of the city was limited- all of us were lucky enough to get tours outside of just the French quarter where we stayed and the Upper Ninth Ward where we worked, but in one week you can only do and see so much.

But we saw so much and contributed a great deal- much more than I thought we would.

At first we worked on a row of houses that were near completion and helped prepare an area of the worksite where at least a dozen homes were starting to go up- where it seemed like a new floor was being started every other day.

Later in the week, we worked on two houses: one just springing from the earth, the other perhaps two-thirds done. We each jumped into specific projects: fixing the flooring, soffit and fascia installation, painting the trim, etc. Mostly we jumped into the middle of ongoing projects and left before they were complete. Five days is a short time in terms of home building. Regardless, each day hundreds of volunteers from all over the country and right down the street, showed up in the early morning sun and hooked up with team leaders to pick up where the work left off the day before. We worked hard and each left our mark.

Photo by Jenna Logue

Our work with Habitat was more or less what I thought it would be. I did not know the exact work we would do, but the experience was not surprising except the size of the overall project. The number of homes being built at once and how scale impacted the experience of being onsite was more intense and a little less organized than I thought it would be. What I really did not anticipate at all was how our team of eight would interact, our encounters with Berklee alumni, how raw the wounds sustained during the flood still are and the response to our journey by people we met.

It would have been tough to predict how the eight of us would interact as few of us knew each other well before we left. I was surprised by how quickly everyone opened up. I imagine some of us are generally slower to warm up to new people than any of us were on this journey. All of us are very grateful for this opportunity, and I do not know what factors exactly enabled us to connect, coordinate and keep our energy so high from the first moment to the last. Adrenaline, gratitude, good people, good luck, great organization (Roya rocks!)- there were a lot of elements that came together to make things work so well, and I want to add my voice to the chorus of thanks to each of the seven traveling builders I shared this time with and to Berklee and each of the individual advocates who initiated and funded this opportunity.

Photo by Jenna Logue

Shortly after we were selected for this experience, we were notified of an alumni dinner we were asked to attend, planned for Wednesday night. Not being a Berklee Alumnus and not working in Alumni Affairs, I was not sure what to expect. What happened was a wonderful group of Berklee students from decades ago to ‘coming this fall’ showed up. We talked about recent changes at Berklee and they shared their stories: Berklee stories, Katrina stories, New Orleans stories and musician stories all overlapping and interwoven.

The memories of the flood, told by alumni, the police officer who gave us a ride home from the work site, and other people we encountered each day, are so fresh that you almost forget that almost 2 years have passed. Driving around parts of the city and seeing entire neighborhoods standing ruined and vacant, it is hard to believe that almost 2 years have passed.

The local news reported that 60 percent of the pre-flood population has returned. They measure this by the number of addresses receiving mail. By this standard, people living at addresses with homes that are totally uninhabitable but have FEMA trailers hooked up to the property’s sewage and electricity are being included in the totals of ‘people who have returned.’ They may be back in New Orleans, or maybe they never left, but they are not yet home. I saw hundreds of examples of this and only drove around a few streets.

As the week went on and we met new people, a distinct pattern emerged. People wanted to tell their stories. The grief was still front and center in the telling. Us listening and being there, caring and wanting to hear, was deeply appreciated and when folks heard what we were doing, they were genuinely grateful. You imagine that when people hear you are volunteering to build affordable low income housing that they will say something like ‘That’s great’ or ‘Thanks for doing that’ but the response I heard time and time again was that what people heard us describing was not just building housing for people who need help affording it. They heard that we traveled a long way to help rebuild a city that needs help and is not getting enough. They heard that we worked at a place that understood that this mattered enough to make it happen. Many of the people who thanked us will not benefit personally from what we did. They did not personally know anyone who would benefit directly. Many will probably never even see the Musicians’ Village or ever travel through that particular part of the Upper Ninth Ward. But every ‘thank you’ was conveyed from someone who felt personally grateful. I think this comes in part from the rawness of the memories of the flood and loss each survivor suffered.

I think this also comes from the clear disconnect between the promises made after the disaster- promises that New Orleans would not be abandoned to what remained of her own devices- and the reality, which is that streets still lack street signs. Buses still rest on their sides. Intersections do not have traffic lights. Flotsam and jetsam is still washed up in piles, in alleys, in yards. Housing plots still hold carcasses of houses or stand void of anything save a concrete slab and tall weeds. Law enforcement is exhausted and the residents are exhausted. Spray painted warnings on shells of former homes warn that looters will be killed. A bartender we met one night described how her boyfriend was walking home the night before and had been shot at. Several musicians described how the more time passes without residents being able to recover and return in a timely manner, the more non-natives are moving into the city and booking the gigs that locals used to claim. Then, when former residents are able to return, they can’t find work.

Photo by Jenna Logue

It is my hope that more people will find or create opportunities like the one Berklee created and that fresh political energy will either see the need and act out of obligation or, at the very least, recognize that fulfilling the promise to not abandon New Orleans is work that will more than pay for itself once started in earnest.

Photo by Jenna Logue

Our hammering, painting, pouring concrete and our listening was fulfilling work that gave us as much as it gave the soon-to-be homeowners who worked in the hot sun beside us and the survivors we met as we walked awhile in the cracked but not abandoned streets of New Orleans and the Parishes.

-Christopher Jones
June 2007

Posted by: Kris | June 27, 2007

Questions & Answers

In response to some of Jenna’s questions, I’d like to share a new project I’m doing that has been inspired by this trip: I am putting together a photography exhibit, of shots I took personally, to increase awareness of NOLA’s continuing needs. Since returning, I’ve met with a photographer/mentor of mine who has looked at my portfolio and is enthusiastic about my doing this show. He has pledged his professional assistance in securing a venue and I am hoping to have the exhibit in the Fall of 2007.

Posted by: jlogue | June 21, 2007

We’re back here…now what?

Now that I have been back to my “real life” for nearly a week, I realize how deeply my experience in New Orleans touched me.   Reading Kris’s and Jason’s post-trip reflection caused me to pause and reflect, too.  I, too, want to thank Berklee for allowing us to participate in this amazing trip.  It is an honor to work for an institution that is dedicated to civic engagement enough to send 8 of its staff members to New Orleans.  Our time away from the college and money they spent are huge resources and a truly meaningful contribution to a worthy cause.  New Orleans and Berklee fit together in a way that makes our trip reasonable.  Of course Berklee staff would go to New Orleans and work on the Musicians’ Village.  Why not?

I could not have asked for a better group with which to spend my time.  The week was wonderful and each of the Berklee (+1 honorary Berklee) folks was truly inspiring.  We went about our work without complain, without pause, without hesitation.  We did what we went to do and then some, I would imagine.

And now, we’re back.

Now what?  What will come of this? How will Berklee continue to support the efforts to rebuild and revitalize the musicians of New Orleans?  How will the group of us continue to support one another?  What will come of the work we did last week?  Who will live in those houses?

Good questions and hopefully, good answers.


Posted by: Kris | June 19, 2007

Goodnight Dawlin’

It’s hard to believe it’s our last night here; it’s gone by so quickly. We’ve packed so much in! This has been the toughest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done, and I am grateful to Berklee for sending me here. I’ve laughed so hard this week – tears rolling down my eyes – met volunteers from all of the country, tasted phenominal food, grieved for the community’s losses, and marveled at its resiliance. This afternoon I considered delaying my return to Boston so I could stay longer…even thought of skipping out on my graduation from Massage Therapy school. But truth is, there’s plenty of work to do here. And it’ll be here when I return. I WILL return. Berklee sponsored or not. This trip has renewed my committment to community, to Berklee, and gifted me new friendships with eight very special people. I personally want to thank all of the areas of Berklee that supported this project. I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to fully appreciate what your support has created….and given to me personally. Thank you Roya, for spearheading this endeavor and reminding me about “the power of one”. You are a gem. Thank you Rob, for your blogging expertise and easy going nature. Thank you Chris, for sharing your knowledge of finance with me and sharing so much about yourself (we have a lot more in common than our preference of creamy vs. crunchy peanut butter). Thank you Catherine, for your stellar pirate and Irish impersonations that gave me a good ‘ole belly laugh. Thank you Matt, for your enthusiasm about absolutely everything. Thank you Jason, for your comedic timing and assistance with that stubborn piece of wood that wouldn’t stay down for our flooring project! Thank you Jenna, for your sharp wit and laid back attitude. Thank you Brian, for all of your lunch runs and sunny disposition. And lastly, thank you New Orleans. Thank you for showing me one of the best times of my life….for opening your arms and embracing me…for your stories….for your hospitality….and for showing me that although Katrina may have blown down the levees, she can’t knock down the people. Ever. I love you, NOLA. Goodnight.


Posted by: jclinks | June 19, 2007

New Orleans, Taught Me

I learned a lot on this trip, not just about me.
Learned so much about the 7 people, that came with me to see,
the devastation of Katrina and result of her work.
Making 7 new friends… I’ll just call it a perk.

We came together like so many do for this mission,
No know how, no comprehension, no vision.
Clay pieces if you will, sculpted into something worth while.
Looking to help doing anything, I’ll move them objects a mile.

As much as the media would like us to believe,
it wasn’t mother nature that did this deed.
A faulty levy and government are the villans in this plot,
So many people, 2 years later, still with no spot.

Can’t take that for an answer… pack up the gear and go.. to the disaster.
I got to do something… leave my fingerprint on history, that something is go down there and relieve the misery.

The week went by so quick, after the first day.
The sun beats you down, like the fists of.. Cassius.. Clay.
I eat those blows and scream out for more,
this physical pain I feel.. doesn’t match what others have to endure.
So give me a hammer and my 2 by 4… here is your floor.
I said give me some more. Here are your walls…and here is your door.
And last but not least here is your roof. Here is your house, I hope this is proof. Your not alone, somebody does care, it’s this guy in the Red Sox hat, with Red Sox ink, the one and only, ya boy J Clink.

And I can’t forget about the rest of my troops,
Shout outs to Kris, Chris, Matt, Roya, Rob, Catherine, and Jenna…
My Berklee group.
And I guess it would be wrong to leave out.. my boy Brian,
who can forget him sitting in the shade.. talking about how he’s dying.

One Love N.O.L.A.!!!

Posted by: ladola | June 16, 2007

Word of the Storm (background)

Hey, all, Catherine Boger here. To begin, the reason I’m down here: people need help.

It started with the storms. I learned about them through the eyes of Glenn Zeringue, friend, fellow Berklee alum, N.O. musician and true Cajun. Shortly after Katrina hit, his words began to paint of picture of the dismay and chaos the storms dragged in and dumped on their way through: the gone-forever possessions, lost work, apprehension, and simple relief came across with few words and a steady sense of humor:

9/7/05 (after Katrina)
Hello All,
Sorry about the mass mailing but I just had the eye of the biggest storm ever go over the top of my house and I’m pressed for time.

1st order of business: Christine, myself and all of the animals are ok. [T]he shell of my house is standing in Slidell. Everything on the inside and outside that wasn’t part of the house frame is TOAST! …trees, deck, shed, everything in the shed, clothes, electronics, books, important papers, Pig house, …some siding, shingles, you name it. Just look around your house; all that stuff……it’s gone.

School is done for this semester, all of my gigs are cancelled. Christine’s shop is flat, along with Slidell itself (we won the Katrina wind damage sweepstakes), my shop was flooded. …We are extremely fortunate though because I have 285 yrs’ of Zeringue family here to help us out. We are ok and extremely tired…

So I’ve had enough of the “most disastrous storm ever,” thank you very much. And since I’ve already done it; don’t y’all worry about it…

9/22/07 (During Rita)
…Here’s what we know. GOD is intent on wiping out ALL ZERINGUES from the Earth. This time it’s “Rita”. Cat 5/ bigger and stronger than Katrina. It took a turn this morning and is now making a beeline for both sets of grandparents (ages range from 75 to 85) and my mom.

I will be going west sometime today or tomorrow to collect all of the old folks and bring them to the farm depending on where this witch goes…

9/23/07 (after Rita)
…grandmother and mom are in Spurger Texas and are evacuating to the Baptist church… The 9th ward levee has been breeched again (9:20am CST) in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico is flooding the Crescent City again. We have nothing left in Slidell to destroy so I guess that’s good.

We have no gas anywhere and there are 1000’s of people still on the highways. I will be moving along super secret Cajun roads.

Very quickly, Berklee began reaching out in various ways to musicians in New Orleans. I wrote to ask Glenn what he might need. I lost my entire music library. All of my Real Books, years worth of lead sheets, teaching aids, …demos, All of my Berklee materials, books, …Degrees, …cables, mics, …students, gigs …I can’t begin to describe what I need most. Well yes I do………….. STOP STORMING ON LOUISIANA!!!!

“Rita” swiped her nasty, nasty hands over the entire Louisiana coast before turning north… The storm surge flooded ALL, that’s ALL of the levees of south Louisiana. 100 mph winds were clocked as far east as Morgan City.

If y’all are allowed to have maps of red states: basically ALL, that’s ALL of south Louisiana, south of I-10 is blown down or is under some level of water (about the area of Massachusetts). Abbeville… where I’m from, is under 5 ft. of water. Trees are on the farm house. Barn and livestock are ok.

…What wasn’t ate up by Katrina is now ate up by Rita…2 more GB band members lost houses bringing the total to 3. Entire towns …are gone. …It’s just AMAZING! Every single person in LA has been affected in some way by KatRita. I’ve tried to get bummed out about this whole experience but then you talk to someone and they’re in the same boat! It’s EVERYONE!

We’ve heard that Bush is going to secede us and sell us back to the French. We’re a “fixer upper” for sure.

Posted by: jlogue | June 15, 2007

exploration…part deux

Today Carol the volunteer from Denver drove a few of us Berklee folks around the lower 9th and St. Bernard’s Parish.  She has come to New Orleans before and worked gutting a house.  Because of this, she knows her way around and has some stories about the time she spent here in the past.

We drove over a bridge from where we were working on N. Galvez and entered a ghost town.  It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen. It reminded me of this empty military barracks that is in a state park where my family camps in the Finger Lakes. Only difference–this area was only recently abandoned and it was a neighborhood (vs. buildings abandoned 40+ years ago that the military just left to fall apart…).  As Carol drove around, a few people were outside working on their homes (or what remains of their homes) but it was strangely quiet. 

We turned down a street and came to a school.  We decided to get out and explore. I was surprised that the area was not blocked off because what we saw was just shocking. Were I ever in a war zone, it is what I imagine it would look like.  If I ever figure out how to load pictures into this site, I will put some of mine up. Though, I am sure one of my fellow tourists will post a few.  The images are, truly, haunting.

Two years later…If you think about it, it’s really not that long.  I have a new realization of the true nature of the destruction.  Horrible.

Posted by: Christopher | June 15, 2007

Strange to think

My local paper ran a story about this trip! I am quoted as saying that “”I know what a big hot Southern city on the Mississippi is like.” My family has lived in Memphis for a couple of decades, but as much as I might be familiar with heat like we worked in this week, or southern cooking or living next to the Mississippi, I know very little about New Orleans or about a city as wounded as this one, as I learn more and more each day.

Here is a ‘house’ directly across the street from the homes we were working on earlier in the week:

The same news article quotes Aleis Tusa, a Habitat for Humanity spokesperson: “A lot of neighborhoods are still devastated. It’s strange to think two years later we have people living in FEMA trailers.”

Strange to think, but true:

Older Posts »