Susan's Musings

Just Thinking Out Loud

New Orleans – Do Whatcha Wanna

If you’re a real jazz enthusiast you will probably know that New Orleans and Jazz are synonymous as New Orleans is the birth place of Jazz. That being the case, even if you’ve never paid a visit during the Annual Jazz Festival or indeed at any other time of the year, you will probably think of New Orleans from the perspective of it’s music – even if this image is now somewhat marred by the images of Katrina.

The images of Katrina may conjure up thoughts of poverty, social injustice or what have you in your mind.

If you are an American Football fan you may probably think of New Orleans and think – “Who Dat” following New Orleans Saints win of the 2009 League Championship with national support and Saints fans shouting or chanting – “Who Dat say they gonna beat the Saints”

If on the other hand your knowledge is based on travel documentaries there is a possibility that you think of the likes of Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. Although this is a very narrow window, this may lead you to think of New Orleans from the perspective of the Four Ds – Dance, Dining, Drink and Debauchery

For a place know for its music (not just jazz); festivals and parades it’s no surprise that New Orleans is known for Dance.

New Orleans is a place with a very rich mixed culture with influences from across many different parts of the world. Previously a Spanish territory and then French – enhanced culturally by the fact that New Orleans is a major Port city.   A people that take great pride in hospitality – it’s no surprise that New Orleans is known for Dinning and drink is a natural follow on.

I haven’t done any research on debauchery (or the other Ds) it’s all based on my basic logic and observations from my visits. What I will, however, say about the debauchery is that whilst I’m not going to call the people of New Orleans  ‘innocent’: the bad behaviour that I see in New Orleans is largely from people that have come from outside that seem to take the lyrics of the popular New Orleans song, “Do Watcha Wanna” literally.

Do Whatcha Wanna – Rebirth Brass Band

Copyright 2011. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

New Orleans – The Working Poor

You may remember in the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina – a lot of questions were raised as to why people did not leave New Orleans before the hurricane set in.

Different reasons were given for people not leaving; such as people not wanting to leave their pets behind; the lateness of the evacuation notice; evacuating in the past only for nothing to happen; and not having cars.  Above and beyond everything else was the issue of poverty that inhibited people from acting.

Sadly there are those that concluded that the people were poor for the simple fact that they were lazy and refused to work.  The reality that I have since discovered is that although there will be people that fit this definition.  The vast majority are, however, what is classified as the working poor i.e. people who work (possibly even multiple jobs) whose income does not, however, cover their costs of living.

The fact that New Orleans economy is primarily based on Services Industry with a lot of low-income jobs makes the presence of the working poor more prevalent in New Orleans.

I could try and explain the implications of poverty in a developed country such as America, but I’ve come across a report from the Center for American Progress entitled, “What You Need When You’re Poor” which does a much better job that I could do.


Copyright 2011. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

New Orleans – Making a Difference

I’ve always felt a connection to New Orleans as my all time favourite group – Maze featuring Frankie Beverley, recorded their popular album “live in New Orleans there.

Subsequently, when I sat glued to the television watching the events that followed Hurricane Katrina unfold, I felt the need to do something – the need to physically go their and to help to make a difference.

It took me a couple of years to make my first visit, but I clearly remember that when I mentioned my plans to friends who lived in Houston they told me that it wasn’t a good time to visit New Orleans as the place had not yet recovered from Katrina. I was, however, convinced that this was the exact reason why it was an important to visit.

You see when any place faces a disaster – our natural inclination is to stay away. However, whilst donations in cash and kind unquestionably go a long way to make a difference – the presence of people coming back to visit the area really. Lets the local people know that we care. I’m not talking about immediately after the disaster as this could be in the way if we do not have a specific role to play in the clean up process. (For this reason it is best to check first before visiting immediately after a disaster)

However, visiting after the immediate clean up process not only says that you care, but it helps the economy of the area to come back as regardless of what they have been through, the shops, the hotels, the entertainment centres and tourist activities need our custom more so than ever before.

It’s even better if you have the opportunity to volunteer. For a long time I had the impression that in order to volunteer to work on a house-rebuilding programme you had to be available for weeks or months on end – frustratingly, this is not a practical option for me.

Over recent years, I’ve got into the habit of going to New Orleans for the annual Jazz and Heritage festival, which spreads over two weekends. This leaves me with a few days in between the weekends to do tourist things and catch up with friends.

I was therefore delighted when I came across an advert from a volunteers’ organisation named Project 195 earlier this year. They were looking for people to help with reconstruction over the Jazzfest period for anything from a day upwards. They also made it clear that no prior experience was required. I therefore signed up and spent three of days in between the Jazzfest weekend laying floor boards, fitting and painting doors and skirting boards for the house of an extremely grateful and excited man who was going to be able to finally move back to his home after over five years.

During this process I learnt that while it is common for people to volunteer for weeks or months, there is also a place for people who can only help for a day or two or even half a day. During this process I also learnt about the diversity of people that volunteer, from school children, to numerous young adults; to professionals inclusive of a group that had come to play golf in the morning and then volunteered in the afternoon. I was also told about a group of nuns that came in their habits to work for a day. Of further fascination was the number of young American who decide to permanently relocate to New Orleans following on from a volunteering experience.

I’ve also had the opportunity to become an advisor for a small non-profit organisation and with modern technology I don’t have to physically be there to be of help. Ultimately, what I have learnt from my visits to New Orleans is that there is always a way to help even from a distance or whilst having fun.

Copyright 2011. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

New Orleans – Recovery?

As Hurricane Irene impacts the West Coast of America, I can’t help but think of New Orleans.  It is now the six years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans as other places along the Mississippi.

I have visited New Orleans four times since then and each time I’ve returned to England people have always ask me to the same questions.  How is New Orleans now? Has it recovered yet?

During my first visit back in November 2007 I spent most of my time in the Tourist area of the French Quarters – one of the least affected areas. If not for a brief visit to the 9th Ward which was one of the worst affected areas, I would have left thinking that New Orleans was well on the way to recovery.  In the 9th Ward however, I saw damaged homes, boarded up homes and overgrown patches of grass in places where there used to be homes – with a few reconstructed homes. I saw a school that had been damaged and was now relocated to another area leaving me wondering what would happen to the education of the children that used to go to that school. I saw the levy that had been breached and was amazed that this was what was to protect a city from major floods.

All in all, I came to a clear realisation that there was so much that needs to be done, so many lives disrupted if not completed devastated. I cried feeling hopeless, not knowing what to do, but knowing that I had to do something.

In my subsequent visits between 2008 and 2011, I went on bus tours, which show the damage, how it came about and the gradual recovery. I spent time speaking to people from different backgrounds about the recovery. I listened to local musicians speak about what has helped and what has got in the way of the recovery and in 2011 I even did a little bit of rebuilding work myself. (In between I’ve also listened to the news, to podcast and read books) On each visit, I left with mixed feelings – happy to see progress in some areas, but sad to see that some areas looked very much like I left them safe for the redevelopment of a few houses here and there; and the major redevelopment work of organisations such as Habitat for Humanity and Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Housing Initiative.

Although the Hurricane Katrina television coverage focused on the poorer neighbourhoods, other areas were damaged as well, though not typical as bad. The poorer neighbourhoods are typically at lower levels and as a result they are more susceptible to flooding.

At the same time recovery in the poorer neighbourhoods is unsurprisingly much slower.  Look at it this way, if you come from a more affluent background – referred to in England as middle class, but in the States as working class – the following will likely apply in case of a disaster:

  • You are likely to have proper insurance cover on your home
  • You are likely to be able to argue your case or get a friend with the knowledge and the background to advise your or do so on your behalf if your insurance claim is disputed
  • You are likely to be able to fill out all the paperwork required for compensation from Government and provide the supporting documentation for proof of ownership of your home
  • You are likely to have some savings that you can use to rebuild and even if not you are likely to be able to go to a bank and obtain a loan
  • You are likely to have friends and/or family outside of the area who can provide you with financial support or support of some other kind.

I could go on, but the ultimate point is that you are likely to have a support structure in place to enable your recovery.  If on the other hand you come from a poorer background, a lot of these things may not be in place for you:

  • You may not have insurance cover or at least not the right type and even if you do – if your claim is disputed you’re less likely to be able to argue your case; you’re also less likely to know someone who can do so on your behalf.
  • There is strong possibility that you inherited your home through generations of family members and that you do not have the full paperwork to proof ownership
  • There is a strong possibility that you are of the demographic classified as working poor i.e. you work possibly even two jobs, but your income barely covers your living costs, talk less of providing you with funds to save.
  • You might not even have a bank account talk less of an overdraft facility and there is no way in which a bank will give you a loan.
  • Most of your friends and family members live in the same area as you and are facing the same circumstances.  They are therefore in no position to support you.

As a result my answer to the question about New Orleans recovery is yes New Orleans is recovering and has in fact recovered in some areas, but there are other places in which the evidence indicates that the recovery is going to take a very, very long time.


Copyright 2011. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

About The Author

Susan Popoola

Susan is a Human Resources Capital Optimisation Specialist specialising in areas inclusive of Talent Management with additional interest in a number of other areas inclusive of Education, Community and Social Justice.

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