NEW ORLEANS—As a native of New Orleans, I found all the recent attention foisted upon my hometown for the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina both a blessing and a curse. While I’ve welcomed some of the best reporting and most thoughtful conversations I’ve ever seen about my city, I worry that the attention will dissipate just when the city needs it the most.
My feelings about where New Orleans is today oscillate between the “Katrina 10” narrative, pushed by officials who believe the city is better than ever, and the “Katrina Truth” narrative, pushed by advocacy groups who say the recovery effort has left out the city’s black residents.
I was a 17-year-old high-school senior living in the Treme neighborhood when the levees failed, flooding half the neighborhood but leaving my home untouched. My uptown high school suffered only wind damage, so my family was back in the city just two months later.
Nine months later, I was off to college hundreds of miles away from my still-reeling hometown. I felt guilty leaving a city to where so many other black residents, including neighbors and family members, could not return. Ten years later, many are still left out of the post-Katrina economic boom. Just over 50 percent of black children in the city live in poverty, up from 44 percent before Katrina. And a widely cited recent study found that more than half of the black men in New Orleans were unemployed.
The much heralded, school-choice-driven overhaul of the city’s education system has had mixed results, too. While test scores and graduation rates are up, a study released earlier this year by Tulane University’s Cowen Institute found that 18 percent of young adults in the New Orleans metropolitan area—many of them educated in the city’s new charter-school landscape—are neither employed nor enrolled in school. The city has the third-highest rate of “disconnected” young adults in the country. And the number of suspensions remain high—46,625 were issued during the 2013-14 school year, which was more than the number of students enrolled in the city’s public schools.