Zara Green was working for the administration of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin when Hurricane Katrina hit and subsequently, the levees protecting the city failed, causing one of the largest and most costly disasters in American history. A native New Orleanian, Green lost all of her possessions in the disaster, and did not know the location of her father and brother for nearly two weeks. (Both survived.) She would go on to join then Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Nagin in the 2006 mayoral race, and was on the campaign team that helped Landrieu gain the mayor’s office earlier this year. Today, five years later, Green continues to rebuild her life and has relocated to the New York metro area to continue her career as a personal development expert and seminar leader. Here, in her own words, she shares her emotions about her home town, and her hopes for its future:
The view from inside Nagin’s Administration: My time in the Nagin administration wasn’t long, but the effects of that experience are lasting. I’d been director of public relations for the administration just over a year when Katrina struck. Before Katrina, my baptism by fire was as mandatory staff during Hurricane Ivan, which barely missed New Orleans the year before. Left to run much of the communications office, I learned just how unprepared we were should the big one hit us and because of that, I had a very different experience while watching the multitudes stranded in the aftermath of Katrina.
While there’s enough blame to go around and the federal government is ultimately responsible, make no mistake: the devastation following Hurricane Katrina was no natural disaster. The levees did fail, but the plan to get the people out in the event of a breech in the levees (a different evacuation plan than the one for a hurricane) was the responsibility of the city; it’s a local responsibility and it should be a local charge. The number of residents who didn’t have the means to leave New Orleans was no secret, and neither was it a secret which facilities could or could not accommodate them and why.
If I dress up in a pilot’s uniform it doesn’t mean I have the knowledge, technical skills or emotional competence to fly a plane. In my opinion, while Nagin looked the part and was elected mayor, he was no more capable of managing the politics; applying the know how, savvy and influence; and certainly did not have the ability to navigate a natural disaster, than I have the skills and abilities to fly a plane. This is why I jumped ship to support the current Mayor Mitch Landrieu in 2006 and still believed he was the best man for the job and went back to campaign for him earlier this year.
Life as a New Orleanian: Admittedly, I’m not a die-hard New Orleanian. Not long after graduating Xavier University I moved away and have spent most of my adult life living in Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles. I didn’t really learn to appreciate the jewel New Orleans is until hearing about other people’s love affair with my hometown. By the time I’d moved back, just two years before Katrina, I’d embraced everything there is to love about New Orleans, yet was still very aware of all the reasons I’d left.
I’m the only member of my family who’s ever left, so over the past 20 years I went home often to see my parents and other family members. So while I’m not a die-hard, I do understand why so many are, and I believe that every effort ought to be made to make New Orleans the best it can be. I’m careful not to use the words ‘restore’ or ‘rebuild’ because, as the world now knows, what New Orleans needs is a revamping and renewal–keeping its fabric, its culture, and its people, which are its heart and soul. In my opinion, the new New Orleans needs new life, new ideas, new champions and that can only happen by welcoming new people who have captured its spirit and are willing to work along with progressive natives.
The Recovery is S-L-O-W: Ridiculously slow. The people responsible for the progress we do see in New Orleans are the resilient citizens.
For example, my father, Sam Green Sr., a hard working barber who also rehabilitated old houses to rent, had done well providing for his family, but still has yet to fully recover from Katrina. He went back after the storm with a vengeance to rehab again (see his story as told by USA Today just after the storm) and the challenges he’s faced have been heartbreaking, but he’s the strongest man I know and I applaud him and the countless citizens like him.
The courage of New Orleans’ citizens is unmatched and their compassion for one another is the sweetest of love stories. Yes, New Orleans has its issues, no doubt–it always has; outsiders just didn’t know how deep and broad they were–but the people who worked to get what they’ve got have fought the good fight and it’s time for the promises that were made to them to be kept. They deserve it.
Alfred Edmond Jr. is the editor-in-chief of BlackEnterprise.com