by Hannah Hochberg-Miller
Participant, Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2013
Two years ago when I visited the Lower 9th Ward Village community center, the spirit of the people of the Lower 9th Ward filled its walls. Friendly competition between neighbors playing basketball and the chattering of gossiping girls filled the main area of the Lower 9th Ward Village. But this time, as we enter that very same hall, there are no kids. There is no chatter, nor is there a friend playing basketball. The space is empty. All that remains is a partially developed skate park and freshly painted walls.
Without this center, I can only wonder where the youth are congregating and what they are doing with their spare time; they need the Lower 9th Ward Village almost as much as they need a home and education. Mack (the founder of the Lower 9th Ward Village) and his community center give young people, along with the elderly, a safe place to be influenced from positive individuals. Unfortunately, the facility, arguably the most important organization in the Lower 9th Ward, has been temporarily shut down, out of operation. This realization saddened me immensely and I hope that Mack can get the help he needs to reopen it in the near future.
As volunteers we worked in the garden and weeding the front lawn. The reasoning behind this was that even though the center is closed, if it looks well kept it will provide hope for the community members that it will be open soon. I felt honored to help bring hope to such a strong and vibrant community that was struck with such an unfortunate disaster.
To me, the most meaningful moments were the ones when I spoke to a community member by the name of Melvin. As it goes with most tragedies, people become so fixated on the statistics and the numbers rather than the individuals affected
by the disaster. Meeting Melvin gave me the opportunity to focus on the individual tragedies that resulted from Hurricane Katrina rather than the communal ones. I heard how he was personally affected by Katrina along with the life he led prior to the hurricane and after it. For ten minutes, I became immersed in the lifestyle and culture of a true Lower 9th Wardian.
Driving away from the Lower 9th Ward Village, I made an effort to take mental pictures of the sites I saw and to zoom in on the faces of those living there because they are what matter the most. Their stories matter, and their names matter. I now understand what Mack means when he says, “it is about people.”