Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Presser and a Meeting

I went to a press conference at City Hall at which District E Councilwoman Cynthia Willard Lewis announced a major "breakthrough" in the effort to provide electricity, water and FEMA trailers to the Lower 9th Ward.The obstacles to re-populating the ward have been water, electricity, places to live and debris.

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 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.


Blogger Vicki said...

Scout, I've read this report at least three times, and watched the podcast twice.

Very moving.

Thank you.

1:16 AM  
Anonymous QuentinCompson said...

Nice to read this - thanks.

And remember, you're in the Muffaletta Zone.

2:23 AM  
Anonymous robinhood said...

Good job Scout.

you know about this, right?

BREAKING | Video: Bush, Chertoff Warned before Katrina
Newly released video footage shows how, in dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his Homeland Security Chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers. Bush did not ask a single question during this final briefing before Katrina struck. Four days later Bush declared "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly floodwaters into New Orleans.

7:15 AM  
Blogger lb0313 said...

Muffaletta Zone

Great idea - we'll get her one!

8:48 AM  
Anonymous tena said...

Oh Scout, these are the kinds of stories I'd hoped you'd hear and post. Thank you so much - again.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scout, now I know why I was so adamant that you just had to visit NOLA. Great story, great reporting. I will be reading here every day you are there.

12:13 PM  

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