10 Years Post-Katrina: Urban League is Pushing for a Better, More Equitable City

by Deonna Anderson

Ten years ago, the people of New Orleans, Louisiana experienced tragedy. Hurricane Katrina hit, destroying homes, taking lives and changing the city forever. While many were pushed out of the city, some Orleneans stayed post-Katrina and are continuing to work toward building New Orleans back up, and making it even better than it was before the hurricane. “I want us to work on where we want to be. Our primary focus is to ensure that we have an equitable city, that includes all segments of our community,” said Erika McConduit-Diggs, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans (ULGNO).

“We can’t believe that 10 years has passed,” McConduit-Diggs added. “They said it would at least be 20 years before the city would be able to rebuild/recover. It’s the halfway point and it’s time to take a snapshot to see what areas need some improvement.”

For over 100 years, the Urban League has been present in communities of color around the United States, to ensure Black people and other communities of color "secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights."

Today, the Greater NOLA chapter is asking the question, “How have our families fared in the recovery?” The organization is also answering that question at their at their commemorative RISE: Katrina 10 conference on August 26–28, 2015. The conference is multifaceted. “We have to honor the lives that were lost,” McConduit-Diggs said. According to LiveScience.com, an estimated 1,836 people died in the hurricane. “So often people skip over the fact that there was a very solemn part of Katrina. I want people to remember them first.”

Included in the solemnity of Katrina were all of the sectors and infrastructure that was damaged in the storm. ULGNO has compiled research about topics including economics, workforce, health, housing, education, criminal justice, the environment and civic engagement, which will be released at the conference in the form of a report called “State of Black New Orleans: 10 Years Post Katrina,” which will also be available online shortly after.
Snapshot of Information from the “State of Black New Orleans: 10 Years Post Katrina” Report 

In all of the content areas, they created working groups made up of community members, researchers, and government entities. “We brought together the people who are experts,” McConduit-Diggs said. “The goal is to create a list of recommendations for how to move forward and continue to rebuild in an ethical and sustainable way.”

Among their recommendations are making sure that people have quality housing. “We have a challenge with our level of affordable housing. 80% of our city was underwater. A lot of families were not able to return and there are numerous reasons why this happened,” McConduit-Diggs said. With the storm came a loss in job opportunities and some families had inadequate home insurance. In a 2011 History.com article, it was reported that before the storm, the city’s population was mostly black—about 67 percent—and nearly 30 percent of its people lived in poverty. “What happened with Katrina was not just the loss of the infrastructure, but also the systems,” McConduit-Diggs said.

She also noted that access to mental healthcare has changed drastically. “This is unfortunate because [Hurricane Katrina] really traumatic for some people.” Primary care has also been challenging but ULGNO is working with various groups on building a community-based healthcare system, which will allow for physicians to meet families where they are and provide more community clinics throughout the city.

NOLA’s education system was hit even harder and the ULGNO is continuing to work on education reform throughout the city. “We took a failing system and are actively turning around,” McConduit-Diggs said. “We have moved from a traditional educational system to a charter district.” Managing this system has had mixed results that the city is still trying to work through.

“For us, the work is not done. We are a work in progress,” said McConduit-Diggs. “We are tackling all of these challenges. As horrible and challenging as [Hurricane Katrina] was, it forced us to take a look at where we can improve.”

If you’re interested in attending conference, you can register online now. For those unable to attend the conference, ULGNO is planning to stream as much of the event online as possible. Stay tuned to ULGNO's Twitter account for more information. To learn more about the work Urban League of Greater New Orleans is doing, visit their website.

Photo: Courtesy of Urban League of Greater New Orleans

Deonna Anderson is Junior Editor at For Harriet. Follow her on Twitter @iamDEONNA.

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