By Mitch Landrieu, Founder and President
Even without two storms churning in the Gulf, many of us along the Gulf Coast were already on edge. You see, the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is on the horizon. Without fail, the images come flashing back. Each year, anniversaries are a time for us to reflect on where we’ve been. Each year, it is a time for us to stop to mourn the souls and ways of life that we’re lost. We can never forget. New Orleans faced a tragedy that threatened our very existence.
The still-vivid images of the huddled masses at the Convention Center and Superdome are a constant in my mind. We wondered how this could happen in America. In a way that few other events have in history, Hurricane Katrina exposed a global audience to epic damage, great suffering, severe racial disparities and a breakdown in government operations without precedent in recent American history, perhaps until today’s pandemic response.
Angela Glover Blackwell, the founder of PolicyLink who also serves on our EPU National Advisory Council, has written that because of Katrina, “America was forced to recognize that, for Black America, far too little has changed since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Despite anti-poverty efforts, our nation has not addressed the fundamental factors that keep people poor. To lift people out of poverty and make good on the promise of opportunity for all, we must honestly and authentically confront our nation’s deepest fissure and most entrenched barrier to equity: race.”
Katrina taught us that we could not continue to do the same thing and expect a different outcome. Today, the city and region are much better prepared for a major hurricane, although the truth is that the underlying inequities that made us so vulnerable to start with remain present. We need not look any farther than the impact of the pandemic 15 years later.
Katrina left us battered, bruised and scarred. But with grit, determination and help, the people of this city rose out of the water, bearing the burden together that none of us could bear alone. Our resilience leads us down the winding path to resurrection. The recovery from COVID, like this long journey after Katrina, will take time. And again, applying a lesson learned from Katrina, we need to build our systems back better than before to emerge even stronger. Together, we can do it. Together, let’s honor the more than 1,800 lives lost in Hurricane Katrina by building a more equitable country today.
Founder and President