Commemorating Katrina, Celebrating the Gulf South: An Update from Katrina Warriors
It's been five years since the Gulf Region was ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Much has been said about the impact both had on the Gulf South community - homelessness, unemployment, health problems, environmental catastrophe, trauma, sexual violence. Today, in spite of the transformational work of community activists, there is still a strong current of despair, and the recent BP spill has added yet another layer to an already deep burden for the people of the Gulf South to bear.
We celebrate our V-Day activists who have worked hard to help our sisters in the Gulf South - Katrina Warriors. We were honored and proud to host V-Day's tenth anniversary, our largest event to date, in the city of New Orleans. The event brought international attention to the issues facing women and girls in post-Katrina New Orleans, and we were able to leave over $1 million in the region. With money raised from the event, V-Day established the V TO THE TENTH SPOTLIGHT fund to award one-time grants to groups and individuals working to ensure an end to the physical, economic and environmental violence against women and girls in New Orleans and the Gulf South.
On this, the fifth anniversary of Katrina, let's remember the good news - the many beautiful and amazing ways in which people showed up for each other and gave back.
We asked some of our V TO THE TENTH awards recipients, Katrina Warriors, to update us about their work over the last five years, and we hope that V-Day activists will support their efforts:
Kathy Randels and ArtSpot
Kathy Randels, Artistic Director of ArtSpot Productions, has been on tour this summer with a site-specific performance piece she directed and began working on before Katrina about the cultural extinction faced by Southeast Louisianans due to the loss of precious wetlands. Loup Garou, a collaboration between ArtSpot and another New Orleans company Mondo Bizarro, tells the tale of a Cajun werewolf whose genetically inherited condition has been exacerbated by Louisiana's unhealthy relationship to the oil industry. The piece began as a character in 2006's Beneath the Strata/Disappearing; it premiered as a solo performance in October 2009; and this summer was brought to Serbia, the Catskills, Western Massachusetts and Tennessee. A tour throughout Southeast Louisiana, where our people are hurting the most, is planned for Spring 2011.
Earlier this spring, ArtSpot premiered a new performance entitled Go Ye Therefore... This collaboration with Ashé Cultural Arts Center examines among other things the missionary native dynamic that has heightened in post-Katrina New Orleans, and seeks to promote racial healing through the personal stories of Randels and fellow performer Rebecca Mwase. Other work over the last five years includes the ongoing Drama Club at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for women, founded in 1996, and the iROC (Individuals Relating and Overcoming Conflict) program at McMain High School. iROC is a program that grew out of a project presented with 13 young women at V-Day's Red Tent in the Superdome during the 2008 V-Day ten-year anniversary V TO THE TENTH. The students were deeply awakened by the V-Day experience and the legacy of their work has continued and grown over the last three years. To support and find out more about Kathy and ArtSpot's work, please visit www.artspotproductions.org.
Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes
In the five years since Katrina, I have concentrated my efforts on family, friends, and neighbors. Before the flood, I spent most of my time organizing among artists, educators and other activists. With the flood, I realized that those people were already the empowered one. The already had resources and avenues to achieve resources. But many of the people closest to me, saw one of their few, if not only options for obtaining resources in me. This is great for when a girl needs to feel needed, but can imaginably grow weary--especially when you know the true capacity of the folks you're surrounded by.
So, while I'm still working with artists, educators, and activists--I produced an art & activism festival in 2006, teach classes on spoken word & social justice at Tulane University, Chair the Youth Committee of the Historic Treme Cultural Alliance, directed Emotional Creature and A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant & a Prayer at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, am producing the Tremé Bi-centennial Festival for the N. O. Museum of African American Art, and am publishing my first book of poetry this month--I work even longer and harder at making sure my mom and brothers are working at getting better, at making sure Ms. Marion and Mama Rukiya are getting along, at making sure Papa Lloyd takes his medicine and sees his daughter and that Baba Jerome at least listens to those who may disagree with him. I make sure my kids eat right, read enough, write well, and serve others. I make sure my house is neat (something I never used to do!) and that my husband and I use our love for the greater benefit of everyone else that we love.
Women With a Vision, Inc.
Women With a Vision, Inc. is currently working on our newest project NO Justice which is an organizing and advocacy initiative. The goal of NO Justice is to end the criminalization of sex work under Louisiana Statute 14:89, Solicitation of Crime Against Nature (SCAN). Those charged with and prosecuted under this law are disproportionately poor women of color who have been even more marginalized in post-Katrina New Orleans. Most of these women are struggling with homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, decreased access to healthcare and cycling in and out of the criminal justice system.
Moving Forward: Our Plan
- Raise awareness of the daily struggles, injustices, humiliation, and economic hardships, women with felony convictions of SCAN experience.
- Reduce women's vulnerability to violence, HIV infection, and substance abuse with comprehensive prevention services and support of self-care.
- Document the experiences and stories of women who have been convicted under this statue, and those who are currently at risk for entering into the criminal justice system.
- Mobilize our communities to transform the criminal justice system from one that focuses on incarceration and punishment of street-based sex workers to one that fosters healing, self-care, harm reduction, and self-sufficiency.
- Work with our legal team to explore the feasibility of a constitutional challenge to the statute.
All of the services we provide are free of charge. If you would like to support the work and mission of Women With A Vision Inc. please visit our website and make a donation www.wwav-no.org. We are located at 215 North Jeff Davis Parkway, New Orleans, LA 70119.
Mos Chukma Arts As Healing Institute, New Orleans
At this 5th year anniversary Mos Chukma Arts As Healing Institute has completed our 4-year core program at the Dr. King Charter School, still the only school open in the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans. The work we have done with students pre-K through 10th grade has been transformative and successful, as attested to by the students themselves, their teachers and parents. Our program is non-traditional and addresses the mental health needs of our students, most of whom are survivors of Katrina. The development of this program has evolved over many years in my work as an educator of at risk youth and my work as a crisis and trauma specialist on Indian reservations. Here in New Orleans I took the essential components of my trauma work and, along with training my staff, designed classes using the arts (drawing, painting, ceramics, dance, theater) for the healing of trauma (anxiety, disassociation, distrust, insomnia, nightmares, depression, inability to focus and concentrate, violence and self-destructive behavior).
Having completed our 4-year core program, we are now ready to train others in this work, interning them here and at other schools and communities. We have more than ten thousand people diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in LA. , and no large-scale response for recovery. This training will work in two ways: first, the high school students and young adults will become engaged with the arts as healing as they learn to implement this program, thus experiencing their own recovery. This training will bring skills in conflict resolution, communication, mind/body/spirit integration and the arts for expression and re-patterning. The second component for recovery is the economy derived from paying myself, my staff and the interns, which supports their commitment and completion for the 2-year certification.
An art Center here is needed for this big work. A friend has designed a blown concrete geodesic dome on a floating platform (the pumps down here have yet to be made right) Principal, Dr. Doris Hicks, has agreed to let us erect this dome in the back field of our school. The erection of the dome will be part of our math and science classes, and erected by students. The budget for the Art Center is about $20,000.
Thank you for this opportunity to express our deep gratitude to be a part of the recovery of this amazing community and the children. We appreciate the opportunity to tell about our program and to ask for help and support from like-minded artists, visionaries and healers.
Welfare Rights Organization (WRO)
After hurricane Katrina of 2005, the Welfare Rights Organization was destroyed and all members were scattered throughout many states. WRO returned to New Orleans in 2006 to pick up the pieces of the community destroyed. People were displaced which created a serious hardship. Families were struggling to return home to no avail. There was nothing to connect to in the community. WRO in its rebuilding efforts were able to seek funding to start a Twenty Four Hour Crisis Line to relocate with displaced families.
For this crisis line we developed a questionnaire survey. This survey was to collect information on the needs of our displaced families. Due to those needs we organized an Emergency Assistance Program to help families to cope with the horrific devastation of hurricane Katrina. Evaluation of that program determined the need assessment of families returning home. Therefore, WRO organized and secured a grant for Emergency Assistance to help families who were struggling with high utility bills and back utility payments. The evaluation of that program determined the need to continue the Emergency Assistance Program and couple it with an Organizing Training component to provide them tools to not to live for one day, but live for the rest of their life.
At present we are also doing dialogue training on Race, Class, and Katrina with the Unitaria Universalist Church members. Our Emergency Assistance / Training Program is a continuing daily operation of WRO. We also provide a REALITY CHECK TV show that deals with community issues and concerns, such as hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill disaster.
And Still I Rise,
Viola F. Washington