Saturday, November 17, 2007


Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
National League of Cities Conference
November 14, 2007
New Orleans, La.

Dear Volunteers,

The free-filled days of the average Southeast Louisianan are gone. So, when we write this letter or shake your hands, thanking you for your time, it’s sincere. Because we know what your time is worth. Many of you may have lived in the Cities represented this week at the 84th Annual Congress of Cities. The mayors, city council people and other officials from Sandusky to Seattle are here.They want to know about what it means to live in New Orleans. They want to know what it’s like to operate in a post-disaster environment. They’ll get information from the local leaders of the Southeastern Louisiana parishes. But, you, the citizens have the stories they need to hear as well. Your duties this week are to greet and disseminate information, distribute bags and take tickets. But at the end of the day, we ask you also to tell your stories of life in a post-disaster environment. Tell the Mayor of whateverville your story. If they return to their City remembering only the conversation with you--call it a success.

The mayors flew in from the east, the west, leaving their towns full of grain mills or expansive office parks. They came to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the Congress of Cities, an annual convention of locally-elected officials. The Convention Center, over 1,000,000 square feet feels more like an international airport concourse than a meeting place when you first walk in.

The students who came to the Convention Center this week to greet the mayors were honor students and homecoming queens, athletes and class presidents. Both teachers from Cox and McDonough 35 spoke proudly about their students.

"People stay in New Orleans," Helen Cox teacher LaToya Bailey says. "It's just how it is down here."

But Bailey says many of her students are on their way to colleges around the region and country. Many will stay here in New Orleans and attend historically black colleges Xavier University and Dillard University. Xavier, McDonough 35 teacher Dan McLean says, produces more African-American med students than any other school in the country.

Helen Cox junior Greg Monroe came to greet the mayors. Monroe is attending Georgetown University once he graduates from Helen Cox in 2008. He's 6' 10 and the top-ranked high school basketball player in the country for the junior class.

When the Helen Cox students formed a gauntlet at the entrance of the escalator, Monroe manned the last spot. "Welcome to New Orleans," the students sung and yelled.

This was the only time I've ever seen middle-aged, middle-American, slightly uncoordinated men and women dancing--feeling like rock stars.

Over 300 volunteers helped welcome the locally elected officials. The Council of United Way agencies donated over 500 hours. Trinity Christian Community, based out of Hollygrove, donated 200. They did it because so many in the non-profit and relief effort down here believe that visitors aren't getting the whole story. This was a way to tell the leaders of other communities what's happening here.

Boisterous volunteers with a little gumption went up to people and began conversations. Most of the Mayors told me when they left that New Orleans wasn't what they had initially thought.

I have a theory about this.

This, whatever this is down here, has too many layers and niches, nuances and details to be condensed into a news story by a national syndicate. What you get in your living rooms or on your coffee tables is the stuff that is digestible.

It takes a trip here to see the progress and the struggle. Five-thousand mayors and city council people had the opportunity this week. Twenty-thousand ophthalmologists did the week before.

Somewhere in blank-ville, a mayor has stashed a folded "I love N.O." shirt in her closet.



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