Brad Pitt Helping to Make It Right for Katrina SurvivorsBy Hwaa Irfan
For quite a few Americans, Hurricane Katrina will remain an indelible stain on their hearts and minds becuase that was when they learnt what the rest of America thought of them, questioning their whole right to exist in this world. Referred to as the black nation’s 9/11
“The magnitude of the destruction and human suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina to the people and communities of the Gulf Coast region, while not the result of an act of “terror,” is directly the result of a profit-driven system of capitalist exploitation reinforced by the national oppression of African American people in the U.S. South, a region where the majority of Black people live and where the conditions of oppression, poverty and underdevelopment are most concentrated.” – Saladin Muhammad
The ‘event’ is photographed, researched in terms of climatology, meteorology, geology, building cost, photographed, after affects, natural disaster preparedness etc, but as public attention waned so too did help. As Stan Tiner of the Sun-Herald noted
“people of the (Mississippi) Gulf Coast have receded into the hazy status of non-people whose story is untold.”
Katrina began in the Bahamas on 23 August 2005 as a tropical storm, and by the time it hit Florida on the 25th , it had become a category 1 (windspeeds of 75mph+), a category by the time it hit the Gulf Coast on 29th with a windspeed of 140+ mph. At that time, the second strongest hurricane recorded to hit the U.S has been dwarfed in recent years across the U.S.
As 64% of the U.S. falls prey to as serious drought, the ‘Old Man River’ the Mississipi dies too, but with a reputation for havoc,back then had levees built as protection against a category 3 – Katrina was a categoy 4. With storms 20 feet high, 15 millione lives were affects with 80% of New Orleans underwater.
More than 70 countries pledged donations and/or assistance. Kuwait made the largest single pledge of U.S$500mn, but Qatar, India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh made very large donations as well. However many willing donors complained on the bureaucratic irresolve, the blockage of shipment (one German aid plane was turned back), and refusal in some cases, sounding very much like the strategy applied with the Haiti earthquake. So was the Bush Adminstrations response to Katrina, leaving it days later before the National Guard and FEMA was sent in, contracts handed out for reconstruction to contractore close to Bush, e.g. Halliburton (once headed by then vice-president Dick Cheney), All of this along with the ‘rioting blacks’ mentality which informed Bush’s orders to shoot to kill if looting. Bush ignored warnings in previous months from government officials and experts that a breach of the levees was likely. All reports at the time were counter to what was happening on the ground as observed by news photojournalist Tony Zumbado for MSNBC:
I can’t put it into words the amount of destruction that is in this city and how these people are coping. They are just left behind. There is nothing offered to them. No water, no ice, no C-rations, nothing, for the last four days. They were told to go to the convention center. They did, they’ve been behaving. It’s unbelievable how organized they are, how supportive they are of each other. They have not started any melees, any riots. They just want food and support. And what I saw there I’ve never seen in this country. We need to really look at this situation at the convention center. It’s getting very, very crazy in there and very dangerous. Somebody needs to come down with a lot of food and a lot of water.”
That report was a live report on September 1 2012!
But for Jesmyn Ward, Katrina was a memorable traumatic experience that was helped by two things to prevent a complete breakdown:
“Breathe,” she told herself. “You can breathe through anything.”
… and to write about the experience, that gave birth to Salvage the Bones, her second novel which won her the National Book Award in 2011.
Then, Jesmyn’s town was completely destroyed, and her family managed to get to their truck and drive to a neighboring white family. Speaking to Emma Brockes of the Guardian, Jesmyn recalled:
“And there we are,” says Ward, trembling slightly at the memory.
“Me, my mom, my mom’s husband, my elderly grandmother, my grandfather and my pregnant sister, who at eight months was very big. We’re soaking wet because we’ve had to scramble out of the house and swim part of the way. And they open up the door. And the wind is rocking the car and they’re yelling at us and we’re yelling back at them because it’s the only way we can be heard, and trees are flying through the air. They shout: ‘Are y’all all right?’ And we’re like: ‘Are you serious? We’re sitting outside in a category-five hurricane. Do we look O-OK?'” She stutters. “And they said: ‘Well, y’all can sit outside in this field, until the water goes down, but we don’t have room for you in the house. We can’t let you in.’ And I thought: this is some bullshit.”
For Jesmyn and many others that was when the real trauma began, the point at which one is regarded as worthless!
Then there were the false reports, of ‘black lawlessness’ casting yet another excuse to let ‘those’ people ‘drown’. It was not until April 2012 – 7 years later, that 5 policemen (of 20) were convicted for those false claims made to coverup their killing of as many ‘blacks’ as they could.
The result, there has been a -29.1% drop in population in New Orleans, whereas in Louisianna, which was also affected the state has grown by over 64,000 during the last ten years according to a 2010 U.S. Census – its one way of ‘culling’ the population!
“The city is more affluent, more Latin and a little whiter than it was before Katrina,” Jacques Morial commented to Bloomberg, a community organizer whose father and brother were its first and third black mayors.
For those who died or just simply left the pain behind, the Federal investment of U.S$45bn beneifted them not at all! By 2007, those who did/could not leave (evacuees), still ‘lived’ outside of the city in FEMA trailers waiting for the promise that has never arrived.
Making It Right Foundation
The Arts, is an expression of the human creative potential, that can take the intangible and make it it tangible helping both the artiste and the observer to rise above the mundane to make greater sense of the world we live in. However, that essential ethic of the Arts does not sit on the front seat of the Hollywood today. There are of course exceptions, and now again they shine in the backdrop of mainstream/alternative media. This is reflected in the way that Brad has deliberately chosen to lead his life outside and occasionally inside that medium maintaining contact with real life and the lives of others.
A glowing example of that is Pitt’s Making It Right Foundation. Two years after Katrina, Pitt visited the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans where 4,000 homes were destroyed. The area was still devastated, nothing was done. Pitt promised that he would help make it right.
The Make it Right Foundation began with the goal of building 150 affordable green homes that are storm resistant, and suitable for families to live in.
On their website it states:
“Make It Right is part of the broader rebuilding effort in New Orleans. We’re working with the City of New Orleans, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and other nonprofits to build the affordable housing, infrastructure and amenities key to bringing families home. Right now, acclaimed architect Frank Gehry who developed a duplex design for Make It Right, is working on another affordable housing project in New Orleans.”
The efficient eco-friendly homes include:
- Elevations 8 feet above the ground
- Emrgency escape hatch in the roof
- Energy Star-rated windows and appliances
- Formaldehyde free paint
- Formaldehyde free cabinets
- Affordable at U.S standards costing about U.S$150,000
Make It Right is also helping to rebuild a community using:
- Native landscaping
- Rain gardens
- Building new streets
- Gardens for the Martin Luther King school, the Tekrema Community Center and the Village
Pitt enlisted expert help from architect Frank Gehry and 20 other architects all who contribute their talent and skill to Make It Right allowing residents to pay what they can afford within reason.
Alot of expert help is involved, like that of the University of New Orleans Engineering Division which have engineered wall sections that uses 30% less materials than traditional wall, yet are 5 times stronger. The project has also been wroking on strengthening porous concrete.
New skills learned are passed on through internships, which has increased for instance Louisianna certified contractors skilled in pervious concrete from 0 – 20.
This effort was not born of one man, but began with one man who convened a meeting in December 2006 with a group of experts in New Orleans to brainstorm the idea. Pitt spent time with community leaders and the displaced people themselves to forge a way forward. The next step involved a architecture competition that was organized by Global Green to generate ideas on how to build sustainably.
Discussions continued exploring a large scale development of eco-friendly, but affordable housing that was innovative and could be replicated. Pitt’s intention has born fruit, and that is that the initiative would pave the way to recovery, and redevelopment across New Orleans.
What is that proverbial saying “ anything is possible when done by the willing…” it is just that far too many are not willing to make it right. Pitt’s art has given him the ability to do this, and for some people on this earth to believe again. Pitt believes in comunity, having lived in New Orleans he knows what community really means, and that community which felt that their world had been pulled away from under its feet, with all its traditions, is what energizes Pitt because it is all about being apart of the process, not a distant donator to real life!
Brokes, E. “Jesmyn Ward: ‘I wanted to write about the people of the south’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/dec/01/jesmyn-ward-national-book-award
McCulley, R. “Healing Katrina’s Racial Wounds.” http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1656660,00.html
McGreal, C. “Five New Orleans Police Officers Sentenced in Hurricane Katrina Killings.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/04/new-orleans-police-officers-katrina
Schulman, J, and Schweber-Koren,R . “Eight Big Lies About Katrina” http://www.alternet.org/story/25227/eight_big_lies_about_katrina?paging=off
Sedghi, A. “New Orleans population drops by nearly 30% – full Louisiana population data.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/feb/09/louisiana-population-us-census-new-orleans