NNPA–New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, declaring "the tragedy is still not over",has called on Black newspaper publishers to use the Hurricane Katrina disasterto expose racial motives in the slow progress in New Orleans and all of urbanAmerica.
"Keep the message going. Tell the story about what's really happening.Relate it back to what's going on in your community and let's collectivelycome together and build a national agenda of what we need to do about urbancities," Nagin said. "The tragedy is still not over. Katrina wasone thing, but 1,700 people lost their lives. And now, in the city of New Orleans,because of the stress and the weight of broken promises, people are dying everyday."
Nagin was speaking as the "NewsMaker of the Year" award winner duringthe 2007 Black Press Week celebration of the National Newspaper PublishersAssociation, a federation of 200 Black-owned newspapers.
NNPA Foundation Chairwoman Dorothy Leavell says Nagin was chosen as this year'stop award winner, in part, because of the need for the Black Press, in its180th year, to focus attention on social and economic injustices still prevalentin New Orleans and in cities across the nation.
The suffering is great and the needs among Blacks are particularly vast, saysNagin. He largely focused on the so-called "Road Home Program", afederal grant of up to $150,000, earmarked for homeowners to rebuild.
"People who should have gotten grants to rebuild their lives and theirhomes, particularly senior citizens, are still waiting on their checks," hesays. "Twelve thousand people are eligible and 3,000 have gotten theirchecks."
Nagin was broadly criticized last year when he said God wants the pre-Katrina67 percent Black and 28 percent White New Orleans to return to being "achocolate city". Louisiana Recovery Authority estimates the city is nowabout 47 percent Black and 43 percent White with only half its former population.
Though Nagin apologized for the "chocolate city" statement, he maintainedlast week that he believes racist attitudes are currently controlling the monetarydistribution into the city.
"They can't hold this money back much longer, 'cause it's starting tohurt other folk. Y'all know what I'm talking about," he hinted to thenodding audience. "So, they've got to let it loose."
The racial disparities extend past the rebuilding fund, Nagin says.
"There's a health care crisis in the city of New Orleans because theyclosed down Charity Hospital, so poor people and Black people can't get healthcare where they need to," he says. "Our public education system wastaken over by the state and earlier this year, they had children on waitinglists trying to get into public education. They had over a million dollarsworth of obligations that they owe the city of New Orleans to rebuild our watersystems and our sewer systems. The fight is not over."
Nagin is not fighting alone.
After the new Democratic Congress–in its first 100 days agenda–and PresidentBush, in his State of the Union Address–both failed to mention Hurricane Katrina,U. S. Rep. Maxine Waters, chair of the House Committee on Financial Services'Sub Committee on Housing and Community Opportunity, took up the fight.
"I've worked out an arrangement with HUD (Housing and Urban Development)to repair 3,000 of the public housing units right away, so the people can comeback from Dallas and places where they're living," says Waters. HUD hadplanned to demolish the units and take up to five years to rebuild them. Thepublic housing units had been almost totally occupied by African-Americans.
Waters says she is also helping to remove the bottleneck holding up the "RoadHome" funds. "I'm going in to find obstructions to and impedimentsto moving that money that we had already given," complications that sheattributes to conflicting policies between the federal, state and city governments.
Up to 200,000 city residents still live outside New Orleans as managers ofthe Unified New Orleans Plan last week estimated a total $14 billion wouldbe needed to restore the city, nearly doubling the Road Home plan, just forrebuilding homes.
But, the news isn't all bad.
Among independent donors, from the beginning, the New Orleans tragedy drewdonations of money, goods and talents that far surpassed the giving withinthe first 10 days after Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Dec. 26 Tsunamiput together. The monetary donations to official relief agencies had surpassed$500 million within a month after the hurricane.
Volunteerism is still rampant as even students from across the country, includingthose from Howard University, again participate in an "Alternative SpringBreak" to help clean up and construction and major Black organizationsand churches are holding conventions in the city.
Nagin also announced the return of the July 4th weekend Essence Festival,which relocated to Houston after Katrina.
Harry Alford, founding president and chief executive officer of the NationalBlack Chamber of Commerce, who introduced Nagin as "the greatest Mayorin the United States," is among Black organizational supporters of NewOrleans who has remained committed to the city. Having sat on the prestigious "KingZulu Float" during this year's Mardi Gras Festival, the NNPA Foundationboard member, pledged unwavering support to New Orleans and lamented "decadesand decades of malfeasance and cutting corners" by the Army Core of Engineers.
Help from communities around the nation, public and private, is what has sustainedhope for New Orleans citizens, Nagin says.
"I thank the many cities and states across America for treating our peoplewith respect and taking care of our people," says Nagin. "This isour moment to take a tragedy and turn it into something special for growthand opportunity, not only among the gulf coast, but throughout America."