(Click on Photo to enlarge)
Ashe Cultural Arts Center
September 30, 2007
New Orleans, La
Dear Family and Friends,
I cringed when she said it. "I want to change the world."
I met her the other night. Her socially conscious mantra got her here, I'm sure. New Orleans is experiencing a surge of America's well-educated and upwardly mobile 20 and 3o somethings.
Some call us vanguards. Others YURPs (young urban rebuilding professionals). We reflect America's portrait of higher education. We--Americans--all seem to be represented, but the new New Orleanians are dominantly white.
The program I'm in reflects the transplant trend. There are 17 people under 3o in my AmeriCorps program. Fifteen are from outside New Orleans. Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Texas, Nebraska, Ohio, Arkansas and Maryland are represented.
Twelve of us are white.
The upwardly mobile transplants must remember that New Orleans is different from New York, Seattle, San Francisco or Chicago.
It was her first night in town.
She had the attitude that a good New Orleans first night will give to anyone--the I love it here attitude. She didn't say "I want to change the world" in a very serious manner. It was more of a "why'd you choose here questions and a because I wanted to change the world" answers.
If you think about this place post-storm, any new person somehow has that idea inside them somewhere. I do believe we're all optimists. The Cubs are going to win the series and I'm going to save New Orleans kind of deep down thoughts.
But, I cringe, not because of the thoughts. I have them too, sometimes. But, because in a City that was 70 percent black before the storm, that romance and heritage and whatever adjective you want to put in that made it worth saving in many ways was built by African-Americans.
In comparison to the birth of New Orleans, renaissance-driven YURPS or Vanguards will be important but not world beaters--role players, not stars.
So, yes, I cringe when I hear "I'm going to change the world in New Orleans."
Whatever we do, vanguards must remember that money for deposits and travel, dishware and furniture is a luxury few have. Over 100,000 New Orleanians are still displaced. Many homeowners are still paying mortgages on destroyed houses or played roulette with minimal insurance on homes they owned outright. A couple hundred bucks a month means more to some than others.
Many say the new New Orleanian is what this City needs to survive. I say, the City--its displaced and returned--have done more for us than we've done for them. That fragile balance, between new and old, must be thought and spoken about as New Orleans recovers.