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Howard Students Return Again to Help in Ninth Ward

By Ciara Smith
Print Journalism Major
Howard University News Service

NEW ORLEANS – Seventy-five percent of the population of some sections of New Orleans have not returned since Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Ward McClendon is working hard to change that.

McClendon, 55, whose dream was his own antique car shop, has made it his goal to resurrect the lower Ninth Ward, the area in New Orleans hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Volunteers from Howard University worked with McClendon and Historic Green, a community center and organization that he has developed to try to turn things around in the Ninth Ward.

“The government tells us that you aren’t anything unless you have things,” McClendon told the students. “I spent an entire fifty-four years of my life focusing on what I thought was important. That was all washed away when Katrina hit.”

So, McClendon is rebuilding with Historic Green. It is designed to be a community center so young people will have something better to do than hang out in the streets.

He dreams that the center will include a state-of-the art recording studio, a game room, a computer lab, a weight room, kitchen, volunteer guest rooms, a community room and possibly a dance studio.

With McClendon’s words still echoing in their ears, the students grabbed their rakes, shovels and rain boots to pitch in not only at the center, but also at other nearby sites around the community.

While some the students focused on making the grounds kid-friendly by searching for toxins in the gardens, another group chose assisted with the preparations to re-paint houses that were affected by the hurricane.

Others turned over soil to renovate a church from the outside in.

Nasira Spells, a freshman from Detroit majoring in Biology, was a little skeptical about her work at first.

“I didn’t really see how I was making an impact on the church, since I wasn’t on the inside,” Spells said. “It almost felt as if I was just doing the lawn work for the man that lived in the house next door. Yet, the more I dug my rake into the grass, the way I was helping didn’t seem to matter anymore. I saw a resident that could use some help, and I was more than willing to be of service.”

Travan Hurst, a sophomore also from Detroit but majoring in Health Management, felt he too was making a difference.

“People are slowly coming back, but to what?” Hurst said. “I hope that we can help build New Orleans back up. I feel like we’re a crucial part of the system that it needs to rebuild.”

Chasity Jackson, a sophomore majoring in International Business, was excited about her effort.

“I love what we’re doing here,” Jackson said. “But I’ve come to notice that almost everyone who was trying to improve something was white. It’s not necessarily about race. I’m glad to see anyone helping out, but I think it’s really important that the children of the community see people who look like them trying to help them out as well. It’s vital that they see that we care about them too.”

McClendon was thankful for the help.

“There was a point that I’d almost lost hope in people,” he said. “Sometimes it just felt like nobody cared. You and the other volunteers that are here, you all have restored my faith in the human race. I humbly say thank you.”

Howard Students Tour Musicians Village Built in Wake of Katrina

By Stacy-Ann Ellis
Print Journalism Major
Howard University News Service

Few things are as symbolic of New Orleans as its music.

Howard University got a lesson in the music’s importance Wednesday evening as they took a tour of Musicians’ Village, 72 brightly colored, single-family homes built for the city’s musicians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Students eagerly switched their cell phones to silent and their cameras to record mode as they walked through the village as they were told of its development and its significance.

Ansel Augustine, a youth minister at Xavier University, stressed the importance of musicians to the spirit and culture of New Orleans.

“They are the prophets of the city,” he said.

The Upper Ninth Ward neighborhood was conceived by Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis and was built by New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. The idea behind Musicians’ Village was to establish a community for the city’s several generations of musicians and other families, many of whom had lived in inadequate housing prior to the catastrophe and remain displaced in its aftermath.

Augustine explained that even before Musicians’ Village, Congo Square launched New Orleans’ musical culture. During Louisiana’s French and Spanish colonial era of the 18th century, slaves were given Sundays off. They were allowed to congregate in a space that became known as Congo Square, where they would set up a market, sing, dance and play music.

“The history of the city and our people began in Congo Square,” Augustine said.

That history now includes musicians like Liese Dettmer, a singer, songwriter, guitarist and recording artist known as the ambassador of the Musicians’ Village.

She sat on the porch of her fuchsia house Wednesday with her guitar in her lap.

She welcomed the students with an original song and talked about living in the village.

“This might be the most positive rebuilding in the city,” Dettmer said.

Devin Boucree, a pianist and resident of the village, was one of the students’ guides. He explained his ties to music and that it is the heartbeat of his hometown.

“Ever since I came out my mother’s womb, I heard the beat of the city,” Boucree said.

Students said they enjoyed the tour and were appreciative of the neighborhood’s cultural contributions. Kaisha Benjamin, a freshman chemical engineering major from Antigua and Barbuda, was particularly impressed.

“The fact that they’re trying to keep their history alive through music is just priceless,” Benjamin said.

Scores of Howard Students Work on Environment in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- Since Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans Aug 20, 2005 and left billions of dollars in damage, scores of Howard University students have been going to New Orleans to help the city’s restoration.

In previous years, they painted and repaired damaged homes and buildings or hauled away trash. This year, the 80 undergraduate students going to New Orleans will tackle environmental restoration.

“This year, I made it a priority to address issues related to the environment,” said Monique Rochon, 20, the student site coordinator for New Orleans this year. “Yes, building and repairing homes is important, but the environment will be long after we’re gone. So, it’s important to preserve it.”

Another 40 students from the School of Law will be teaching local students about constitution rights.

Including the work in New Orleans, nearly 300 Howard students will be working on youth development in Atlanta and Washington, on gun violence in Chicago and on literacy in Detroit.

The students raised $25,350 Sunday, March 7, during a 12-hour radiothon with WHUR 96.3 to help fund their efforts.

The students have five projects in New Orleans.

Along the coast, they will be cleaning, bundling and planting 1,500 donated trees along the coast to help protect the wetlands and create tidal marsh as part of a coastal restoration project.

They will be planting 1,000 Cast-Iron plants in the New Orleans City Park and mulching an area in the park’s Couturie Forest and Arboretum, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The students return to the Lower 9th Ward, where they will help build basketball and volleyball courts, design a new computer lab, paint the facility and prepare meals for the community.

Howard law students will be teaching constitutional law to 6th, 7th and 8th grader as part of the Marshall Brennan Project Constitutional Literacy Project. The program is designed to encourage high school students to be lifelong participants in the democratic process by teaching them about their constitutional rights and the Supreme Court cases that affect students.

At St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls school, the students will talk with 9th and 10th graders about higher education, the importance of having a mentor and how to always carry yourself like a “lady.”

They will also be visiting historic Congo Square and the newly-created Musicians Village to learn more about the city’s past and future.

ASB New Orleans Kicks Off with Coastal Restoration Projects

By Stacy-Ann Ellis
Print Journalism Major
Howard University News Service

NEW ORLEANS -- Howard University students spent the first part of their Alternative Spring Break here Monday getting down and dirty doing coastal restoration.

As part of the coastal restoration group, students worked together on two initiatives. One was the Wetlands Project. Dressed in rubber waders that stretched to their chests and canvas gloves, the students planted spartina alterna flora, or smooth grass, in 3-feet deep water along the New Orleans shoreline.

According to Jennifer Roberts, the watershed coordinator for the Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge, the work served as a shoreline stabilization demonstration project.

Though marsh rats, officially named nutria, will chew down the plants, as long as they can root, they will grow back, Roberts said.

“The Wetlands Project is to boost the ecosystem here,” said Monique A. Rochon, a senior administration of justice major from Bloomfield, Conn., and the site coordinator for New Orleans. “We’re planting tidal marsh, which is going to prevent hurricanes from wiping off the land and housing that’s going to be built back here.”

Rochon had been to New Orleans before. This year, she said, she wanted to add the environment to the agenda.

“Last year, I worked on policy writing and I was in a room my entire week,” she said. “I thought, what better way to give back to the community than to physically touch something and plant it, especially something that’s going to help preserve the economy.” The other environmental effort for ASB is the Christmas Tree Project.

“The state gives parishes money to restore their coastal areas and a portion goes to the Christmas tree project,” said Wynecta Fisher, the director of Environmental Affairs for the city. “We collect old Christmas trees from our residents. Then we bundle them up and the National Guard flies them over to place them in the marsh.”

At the Christmas Tree Project site, about 20 students took pulled the trees from 6-feet piles and stripped them of their old decorations in preparation for putting them in the marsh. Most were still covered with lights, tinsel and old ornaments. Some even had the stands attached.

After the students stripped the trees, they were placed in bundles so they could be placed in the marsh.

The students were passionate about their efforts.

“I chose here because we’re in the fields,” said Alexis James, a sophomore English major from Virginia Beach,Va. “We’re in the dirt. We’re putting out the sweat and tears and getting it done.”

Seppreana Brown, a junior accounting major from Bronx, N.Y., agreed.

“In a couple of years, we’ll be able to see the results of our work,” Brown said.

There were a few setbacks.

For Crystal Neal, a sophomore nursing major working on the Wetlands Project, the day got rather sticky at times.

“I put on my suit and I went out there and I got stuck in the mud for about 10 minutes,” Neal said. “People started coming to help me. Eventually, the guy suggested that I turn around and crawl out. I lost so much energy, but it was fun and I’m excited that I got a chance to experience this.

“It was awesome.”

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Photos by Zelena Williams, Photo Intern, Office of University Communications

 

Photos by Zelena Williams, Photo Intern, Office of University Communications

 

Photos by Zelena Williams, Photo Intern, Office of University Communications

 

Photos by Zelena Williams, Photo Intern, Office of University Communications

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