A Presser and a Meeting
The Bring Back New Orleans Commission plan calls for neighborhoods to prove they're viable, by having at least half of the residents return to an area in order to be rebuilt. Not much has happened toward that end in the 9th ward. This press conference appeared to be a beginning to address that. It will be a long precarious road ahead though. Here is video of part of the press conference but below the screen is more as I met someone.....
I had also hoped to make a contact in the 9th ward by attending this presser. It was attended by those speaking and the press and that was it. But there was one woman sitting in the gallery of the City Council chambers and so afterwards I decided to go over and talk to her.
I asked if she lived in the 9th ward and she said no. I waited to see if she would elaborate a bit and then she said, "That's my daughter." This was Mary Willard the mother of Councilwoman Cynthia Willard Lewis. She told me that the Councilwoman was the oldest of her 12 children. With pride she said, "She's fighting for her people." Mary told me how Cynthia had stayed here the whole time during Katrina initially staying at City Hall. Mrs. Willard had evacuated to Dallas where 2 of her children live.
Mary Willard had a striking, elegant face and though soft spoken one could sense her strength, confidence and pride in her family and herself. She teaches 9th-12th grade having started teaching in 1957. She talked of an after school program she use to do so the young people would stay out of trouble. There were once 102 public schools in NOLA pre-Katrina, she related, but now there are only 3 public and 21 charter schools. She is concerned that the charter schools will be a "dis-service" to black children. "I told Governor Blanco, " she said. As an aside she went on to speak of having given Blanco a rosary before her election...."but I knew she'd win.I'd like to see her win again. She's a beautiful woman." Then back to the schools..."there are not alot of blacks here now because of the school situation...in the summer they'll be back."
I asked about her other children...6 men and 6 women. All have attended college. She neither brags nor is pretentious but because I pressed she named and told me of each. I won't write of each but there is a son who is a lawyer in NOLA , a pharmicist in Atlanta, a daughter who teaches in NOLA, and her "baby boy...he's a judge in New Orleans." She spoke with pride of her oldest son..."you saw how they placed children on mattresses in the flood waters to get them out during Katrina? That's what he did." He did so for days and then evacuated to the Carolinas. She pointed out her husband who was at the presser and told me he had been in education....the first black principal at St. Augustine's. He's now retired from the DA's Office.
We had a nice talk and when almost everyone had left I realized I would not be getting a 9th ward contact here today. But I had met an incredible woman. She asked..."did you get what you needed?" I said oh yes and thought to myself and then some. She looked at her daughter and then back to me and said..."now you know where she gets her grit." Yes I do, Yes I do.