The overall problem that this project is trying to address is a severe lack of community based infrastructure in both the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, an the 19133-1642 zip code, also known as Farihill, North Philadelphia. To be more specific, we are attempting to address the issues of 1) food injustice, 2) unemployment, 3) vacant land, 4) failing educational systems, and 5) a severe lack of youth or community involvement in the majority of efforts to address these issues.
Despite the fact that we are approaching the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, many of New Orleans' historically impoverished, and predominantly African-American neighborhoods remain devastated, overwhelmingly unoccupied, and frighteningly undeveloped. Rebuilding efforts in neighborhoods such as the Lower 9th Ward lag far behind the rest of the city and there is currently no functioning infrastructure in the community to support those who have come home. However, It is important to note that this lack of community infrastructure is not a new phenomenon, but rather a situation that plagued the L9W's residents for decades and has only been made more dire since the storm. And since the storm, nearly all of the recovery efforts in the L9W have been geared towards home rebuilding, with little recognition of the deeper and more systemic problems facing the community. Thousands of volunteers have ventured down to New Orleans to help re-build homes over the past 5 ½ years. As important as this is, I have come to understand that simply 'rebuilding' is only "putting a bandage on an open wound." It's like "cutting down a weed instead of pulling it up by its roots so that it won't grow back". It's not addressing the historically underlying problems that have faced the Lower 9th Ward for decades. And according to many 9th Ward residents that I have spoken to--both residents who have returned and residents who remain displaced in NYC--until those issues are addressed, the Lower 9th ward won't be a place worth rebuilding and its people will never be free of the fear of storms, poverty, illiteracy, dependency, drugs, poor health, crime, unemployment, sub-standard education, governmental disorganization and corruption, or complacency.
What is also extremely important to understand is that these issues are in no way exclusive to the 9th Ward. Residents of impoverished inner-city communities across this nation face similar obstacles that impede their ability to lead healthy, safe, sustainable lives, and hinder the possibility for "upward mobility." Therefore, it is imperative that we begin to view the L9W as an extreme example of the problems that exist in far to many neighborhoods throughout the country, so that our work and commitment to social and environmental justice does not end when we leave New Orleans, but begins once we return home.
Fairhill North Philadelphia, in particular, is facing a strikingly similar set of social and environmental obstacles. 39% land vacancy, 41% obesity rates, 70% high school drop out rate, 46% unemployment, rampant crime and drug use, and virtually no community organization.
That is why the objectives of this project are twofold. For one, I am dedicated to organizing as many young people as possible to go to New Orleans and support the initiatives of L9W residents they strive towards not only re build their homes, but creating a more equitable and sustainable community for themselves and their neighbors. But, as a Philadelphia based project, it is just as important that these students learn from these initiatives, so that we can begin to address these same issues at home. And the same goes for the numerous branches of similarly focussed youth-led groups that are now being sparked all across the nation.