Thursday, January 29, 2009

Day 15: Sunday, January 25, 2009

Today was an AMAZING day for the whole group. As we woke up and got ready in our finest clothing, we got picked up at 11:00am to attend church. We made our way to Saint John’s #5 Faith Church located in the 7th ward, with the service given by Pastor Bruce Davenport. Speaking for everyone this was the most memorable, soulful, appreciative and welcoming church most of us have ever attended.

During the service Pastor Bruce asked Cynthia to stand and say a little bit of what were doing here in New Orleans. She told him how we were taking a class called Race, Class and Gender in Post-Katrina New Orleans and all of us were from Saint Mary’s College. He asked all of us to stand so that we could say our names and anything else we wanted to express about ourselves. The one rule they told us is that once we were introduced we would always be a part of St. John’s Church. We were not the only ones who had to do this so it kind of took the pressure off!

While Pastor Bruce continued on with his service he spoke on how if you do the right thing, the right thing will follow. To make in impact in New Orleans we must help be advocates and set long-term goals because this won’t be fixed with a band-aid. We have to realize that we must look from in the inside out, and don’t judge on skin color but that we ALL have the same heart. God touches people all over the world, and according to Pastor Bruce, He sent a message to all of us from SMC in order to be there today!

After the service we were given hugs all around from many of the members of the church and they said thank you for coming and joining. We appreciate them all so much for welcoming us with open arms and having us today. While most members went home after the service, we stayed after to talk with Pastor Bruce and his wife, Deborah Davenport.

The two talked about the key issues that are going on in the 7th ward and how people like us could help. They told us how they stayed in the church until they were forced to leave during Hurricane Katrina and how they were the first church back up and running in New Orleans as soon as they could get back into the neighborhood. St. John’s church opened so quickly after the hurricane because they needed to help those who went there for situations such as teen pregnancy, gang violence, drugs, STDs, and other serious issues. Cynthia asked the question, "What would you ask of our new president in terms of resources for the 7th Ward?" Their main concern was affordable housing for those who used to live in the 7th Ward St. Bernard Parish public housing projects. Many people who used to live in the property across the street from the church moved to Texas and were give section 8 vouchers in order to have affordable homes.  However, now these same people are told they cannot use those vouchers if they are to come back to their homes in New Orleans. The new homes will now be too expensive for them to come back to and the problems are still there. Further, while the St. Bernard Parish public housing project buildings were completely intact after Katrina, they were recently demolished, displacing thousands of additional New Orleanians.

When asked what he wanted us to tell people when we came back home, he asked for us to let people know that New Orleans is a long way from being restored and to volunteer to work for smaller grassroots organizations. Not that organizations like the Red Cross aren’t helping, but smaller ones are the ones that are actually connected with the people and since they talk with the people who are in need, they know what they really want. "New Orleans will tell you what it needs; you can’t prescribe it with your own medicine," he told us.

After church some of us went off to go shopping while Cynthia, Melissa, Stephanie, and Dora met up with a woman named Ms. Barbara Jacques who they all met last Tuesday on Obama’s Inauguration Day. Ms. Barabara, who is 63 years old, shared her childhood experiences with them and told them how she lived in an orphanage until she was 8 years old. She shared her thoughts about New Orleans in its present state and how she believes the new President will initiate a change not only for the city, but for the entire country. She recalled her thoughts before Hurricane Katrina and how she was hesitant to leave New Orleans. Luckily she evacuated before the storm and drove off with her son to Atlanta, Georgia. After the storm she described living in a FEMA trailer where she got extremely ill due to the formaldehyde. As a result of the conditions, she now stays with her daughter who also lives in New Orleans. Despite the hardships she’s faced and is still going through, Ms. Barbara continues her life with a positive attitude, reassuring us that everything will be okay despite the fact that she is still displaced from her home 3 1/2 years after Hurricane Katrina.

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