It’s all taken a turn, you see. I thought I was coming to New Orleans to volunteer and hang out and see live music and eat good food for a month or so and that would be it. I thought I would finally get to dig into this place and learn lessons, and use them in my next destination, next chapter.
Now I just don’t know.
They say you don’t choose New Orleans, she chooses you. They say once she get you in her sights, it’s hard to break free. They say that even if you do leave, once you’re gone all you can think about is New Orleans and she has this magical power to draw and pull you back.
They say all of this.
And yet they also say that New Orleans is broken, sloppy, politically corrupt, atrocious public education and access to public health and that she will never be what she was…before Katrina.
But they love her. They love her and they revere her and they talk about her ALL THE TIME. Where she’s been, where’s she is now, where she is going. They talk about the emergence of charter schools and revitalization of neighborhoods, economic development and killer tax credits for film, digital media and angel investments. The strong pull of community that is priceless here. A place where you know every neighbor on your street, and probably the second street over and maybe even the third. The kind of place that is visibly struggling in front of us every day but a place that no one is willing to give up on.
The most provincial city in America. A boutique American city. The most European city in America. A place where culture steams up from the sidewalks and around every corner is the possibility of seeing something for the first time.
They say all of this.
They say there is crime and that’s it’s bad. They say there is a threat of a major hurricane every year though the last major one before Katrina was Betsy in 1965. I mean who would want to start a business in a place where they could potentially have to shut down for two weeks every year? Who would want that?
And yet they say that is exactly what people are doing here. Planting roots. Starting businesses. Investing in infrastructure and focusing on “quality of life.”
Who are these magical “they’s?” They is YOU.
I’ve listened and asked questions and given into this “cultural immersion” that I am under. I unknowingly created a high level graduate course for myself called “New Orleans: Past, Present and Future.” In this class, I tour around the City and meet with City officials and high-level changemakers, real estate developers, architects, volunteer coordinators, economic development gurus, ad guys, marketing gals, tech geeks, nonprofiteers, lifelong New Orleanians, those “grandfathered” in by being here before the storm and then coming back after and the others who have come in droves since the storm. I’ve sat and talked with a lot of you and been, quite simply, overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed with emotion and constructive thoughts and questions with no answers and excellent theories unable to put into practice. I asked all the questions that I could also read in a book, or hear in a podcast, or look up online, but instead I came to you and asked in person. And listened.
You said you were so grateful that I was here and so willing to give of myself and ask nothing in return of New Orleans. I, in turn, can’t believe you would open (your very often times) incredibly busy schedule to meet with me, just me, no agenda other than to have a conversation about a City we both love.
I have something to tell you. I might not have been asking for anything back, but I have gotten my investment back and more. I might be looking at ways to help put you back together, but honestly, you are putting me back together too. You’re stirring emotion and activism and awaking parts of my brain and my heart that were dormant.
For that, I love you all the more.
We have one more week together, this time around that is. And yes, as you might have heard, I’ve been having some very active conversations about coming back full-time in the fall. But we’ll get into that more later.
I just wanted to say from the very bottom of my heart, thank you.