Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 08/29/15
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning my question, ten years
after Katrina, have we learned anything?
Trymaine Lee`s one of a kind report that was a decade in the making.
And, the only grocery store in the Lower Nine.
But, first, the aftermath of Katrina is not a part of our past, it remains
in our present.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And it`s August 29, 2015. And
today in New Orleans, Louisiana, the forecast is for partly cloudy and high
of 88 degrees. But ten years ago on August 29, 2005, these were the images
being broadcast from New Orleans. As a series of federal levees gave way
in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain
emptied into the city. The catastrophe in New Orleans, and the massive
failure of every level of government to respond adequately to the human
crisis it wrought led to this September 10 cover of “The Economist.” “The
Shaming of America.” No other black American woman`s face appears on the
cover of “The Economist” magazine in the decade before or after this image.
And yet this unnamed African-American woman apparently distraught, wearing
the name of her home emblazoned on her shirt manages to shame the entire
In a country that still demands that women and children be saved first,
this abandonment of women and children was shameful because it undermined
our assertions that we are uniquely prosperous, just and fair, steeped in
relative equality and uncompromised liberty, the televised deaths and
suffering of thousands in America`s most distinctive city did not fit the
story we like to tell about who we are.
Perhaps that lingering shame is why so many elected officials have used the
tenth anniversary of Katrina to trumpet an uncomplicated image of success,
resiliency and a good old-fashioned American comeback in the crescent city.
Here`s a Katrina Ten website launched by city officials. It celebrates,
quote, “New Orleans progress and creating a vision for its future.” It`s
the kind of uncomplicated vision of this resilient city. Meanwhile,
Katrinatruth.org launched by community-based organizations paints a very
different picture of the post storm city defining it as resistant, not
resilient, and demanding that all, quote, remember New Orleans dispossessed
because progress without equity is injustice.
This tension was even apparent during President Obama`s address in New
Orleans on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Your efforts
inspire me and no matter how hard it`s been and how hard and how long the
road ahead might seem, you`re working and building and striving for a
better tomorrow. I see evidence of it all across this city. And, by the
way, along the way, the people of New Orleans didn`t just inspire me, you
inspired all of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. Sure. But it`s also not that simple. You see more
than 1,800 people died in the aftermath of Katrina, more than half a
million were permanently displaced, entire communities were at least for a
time wiped away, decades of family memories were lost. Katrina left a
legacy of blight and economic devastation and personal suffering in its
wake which is perhaps why this happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Certainly we know violence still scars the lives of too many youth
in this city. As hard as rebuilding levees are, as hard as …
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mental Health. Our children need mental health.
OBAMA: I agree with that. But I`ll get to that. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: What you heard there was a New Orleans resident interrupting
the president to say mental health. Our children need mental health. Data
from a recent report by the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies in New
Orleans shows that New Orleans youth have rates of current and lifetime
posttraumatic stress disorder more than three times higher than national
averages. And while the continuing effects of Hurricane Katrina are
implicated in this disparity, so, too, are the ongoing experiences of
In post-Katrina, New Orleans` triumph, renewal and resistance - resilience
live in constant tension with continuing economic and racial inequality,
displacement, poverty and violence. We cannot tell one story without the
other. Take this moment in the president`s address on Thursday when he
tells an inspiring story about a young man named Victor Carter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Victor grew up in the 8TH Ward, gifted art student, loved math. He
was 13 when Katrina hit and he remembers waking up to what looked like
something out of a disaster movie. He and his family waded across the city
towing his younger brother in a trash can to keep him afloat. They were
eventually evacuated to Texas. Six months later they returned and the city
was almost unrecognizable. Victor saw his peers struggling to cope. Many
of them still traumatized, their lives still disordered. So, he joined an
organization called Rethink to help young people get more involved in
rebuilding New Orleans. And recently he finished a coding boot camp at
Operation Spark. Today he`s studying to earn a high-tech job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It is a triumphant story, but it`s also incomplete because
less than a year ago on October 21st, Victor`s younger brother, George, the
one that he helped rescue from the Katrina floodwaters, was found shot dead
on a Tuesday morning in the Desire neighborhood. We profiled George`s
death on this show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This week we lost George Carter. He was shot. His body
found in the middle of a street in New Orleans on Tuesday at 7:00 a.m.
George was 15 years old, but he had already changed his community. He was
grappling with big ideas about how to make our world safer and healthier
and more just.
GEORGE CARTER: I believe that the solution`s in us, the youth. We are the
ones that can change our school. We are the ones that go to the school
every day. We are the experts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So we should tell Victor`s story, but we must also tell
George`s because both are the stories of post-Katrina, New Orleans. New
Orleans cries out to be understood, through the literary, the poetic, the
musical, even the magical, but we must not reduce Katrina or New Orleans to
a metaphor or a trope. Ten years later we cannot edit the story to soothe
our own shame.
Joining me now, James Perry, raised in New Orleans and a community advocate
and, of course, my husband. Laura Flanders, host and founder of
grittv.org. She`s just produced a new documentary, focusing on race, class
and gender outlines in the reconstruction of New Orleans. Also with us,
Jelani Cobb, associate professor at the University of Connecticut and staff
writer at “The New Yorker.” And from New Orleans, Dr. Denese Shervington,
president and CEO of the Institute of Women Ethnic Studies, a community
based public health institute that offered the report on mental health of
young people in the city. Nice to have you, Dr. Shervington.
DENESE SHERVINGTON, PRES. AND CEO, THE INSTITUTE OF WOMEN & ETHNIC STUDIES:
It`s good to be here, Melissa. Thank you so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Can you talk to me a little bit about your findings, that I
was - findings around young people and emotional trauma there in New
SHERVINGTON: Yes. Our organization decided that given the slow response
of the public mental health system here in New Orleans, the lack of plans
to respond to the post-disaster traumatic stress needs of young people that
we were going to and in the programs that we did with the youth we were
going to have some ability to screen them for signs and symptoms of
depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and their exposure to violence
and their worries.
And what we have been finding is quite alarming and I think actually quite
shaming. The young people that we interact with are endorsing symptoms of
posttraumatic stress disorder that are three to four times the national
average. Their levels of depression are high. Their suicidal ideation and
their constant worry, they worry about the basic needs, housing, being
cared for, and perhaps, most sad, they worry about being loved.
HARRIS-PERRY: I have to just point out that this report, part of what I
found so stunning, was the continuing experiences of violence that these
young people were having, 37.9 percent of them witnessing domestic
violence, almost 40 percent having witnessed a shooting, stabbing, or
beating. As many as 18 percent having witnessed a murder or experienced
more than half having experienced the murder of someone close to them.
What should that – how should that information be informing how we are
talking about New Orleans ten years after Katrina?
SHERVINGTON: It`s really telling us that we need to do a lot of work to
address trauma in our children, especially those who are vulnerable because
we do know that early experiences of violence in the home or in the
community, but in particular in the home of the domestic violence
statistics is really, really concerning because we know that there`s a
correlation between young people who have early exposures to violence, who
themselves are victims of violence, that they can later on in their lives
become perpetrators or victims of violence.
And so we need to be doing much more in our mental health system to be able
to provide the levels of care, the levels of posttraumatic care needed to
be able to help to mitigate and minimize the young people`s ongoing fear
stimuls that put them at risk later on in their lives.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on one second, Dr. Shervington. James, as I was
reading this report and then, of course, being reminded of in the years
that I was living in New Orleans, the extent to which mental health care
services were actually leaving the city, that beds – there were fewer beds
available for both youth and for adults.
JAMES PERRY, COMMUNITY ADVOCATE: It`s so frustrating. We saw it happening
and it was really clear that Governor Bobby Jindal did have a mental health
plan. His mental health plan was called OPP, Orleans Parish Prison, right?
PERRY: If you have a mental health problem, the way that it will be
treated is that you will be arrested, you will be imprisoned. You won`t be
treated. You won`t be seen by someone who can actually help you with your
problems. And what we know is that if you`re uprooted, you will experience
root shock. A doctor Mendy (ph) comes to New Orleans and tells us about
how being rooted in a community gives you a certain experience. And when
you lose those roots, you lose part of who you are. And it`s very
difficult to overcome those problems. And so those children are now
becoming adults. And New Orleans is going to have to really deal with
HARRIS-PERRY: Dr. Shervington, let me come back to you for just one final
thought on that. James points out the connection between the criminal
justice system and the lack of available, accessible mental health care.
Is that something you`re also seeing there?
SHERVINGTON: Yes, absolutely. We need to be able to provide mental health
care for young people in the schools. That`s where they`re spending a lot
of their time. We need to have the proper kind of care and the good news
is that for traumatic stress disorders, there is good treatment and there`s
no need for young people to be put in the criminal justice system even if
they, themselves, have been perpetrators of crime. We do have an
opportunity, their brains are not that fixed yet. We do have an
opportunity to go in there and I guarantee that when you work with young
people who are perpetrators, they, themselves, have been victims of early
forms of neglect and abuse. And I also just want to underscore …
HARRIS-PERRY: I just wanted to say thank you to Dr. Denese Shervington in
New Orleans. Thank you for your continued work there on the ground. I
also want to bring our viewers an update on a breaking news story that
we`ve been following this morning here on MSNBC. A sheriff`s deputy in
Harris County, Texas, was shot and killed last night outside a gas station
in what investigators say was an unprovoked execution style attack.
Deputies say that Darren Goforth was shot multiple times in the back while
walking from the convenience store back to his patrol car. A person of
interest was voluntarily taken in for questioning. The FBI, Texas rangers
and U.S. Marshals are assisting in the investigation.
And up next, the woman who was with President Obama every step of the way
during his New Orleans visit this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And the storm lay bear a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for
decades. Because we came to understand that New Orleans, like so many
cities and communities across the country, had for too long been plagued by
structural inequalities that left too many people, especially poor people,
especially people of color, without good jobs, or affordable health care or
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama speaking Thursday during a visit to
New Orleans marking the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Earlier in
the day, the president met with some of the people who were hardest hit by
the storm during a tour of New Orleans neighborhoods, including Treme, one
of the country`s oldest African-American neighborhoods and the birthplace
of many legendary jazz musicians. Yesterday, I spoke with White House
senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who was with President Obama every step of
the way during the visit and I started by asking her about this photo that
she took of President Obama stopping to talk to a young boy in Treme and
the reactions of people in the community having the opportunity to get up
close and personal with their president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VALERIE JARRETT, SR. ADVISOR TO PRES. BARACK OBAMA: There was one little
boy on the other side of the street standing with his mom, and so the
president walked over and crouched down to talk to him and he was just
unbelievable. He was darling. And his mother was just so thrilled that
the president would take the time to recognize her son and to have a
conversation with everybody in the community. So it just felt great. And
I think it was an indication of rebirth, a celebration but at the same
time, Melissa, there was a somber note yesterday recognizing the many
people who had perished in what had been a devastating experience. And so
it was bittersweet, it was a celebration and a remembrance. It was a
rebirth and a recognition that there`s still a lot of hard work that lies
HARRIS-PERRY: Would you say the president is satisfied with the level of
recovery in the city?
JARRETT: I don`t think he`s ever satisfied, not until the graduation made
is 100 percent. It is going up substantially up in high school and in
college, but it needs to go up further. So, now the president isn`t
satisfied. Is he proud of the herculean effort that his team led by Craig
Fugate, but involving over 14 different federal agencies who have all
worked together, a whole of government approach to be a partner and not an
obstacle to remove red tape, to streamline the process? Have we done a
really, really good job? Yes. But he was also quick to hasten to add that
we still have a lot of very important work left to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the things that president talked about was the
difficulty of showing up as president. He talked about being there as a
senator. He talked about, you know, some day maybe being able to go and
hear of rebirth on a Tuesday night, but I`m wondering if there were things
that he potentially shared, that the president potentially shared with you
or with others during the travels about the experiences that he was having
emotionally or politically in the context of post-Katrina New Orleans?
JARRETT: Well, as you would know, Melissa, he traveled to Houston about a
week after Katrina, and he made a commitment to the people who were
temporarily displaced there that he would never forget and he would care
about them and honor them. And then he went back and had hearings when he
was a senator there in New Orleans and talked about what needed to happen
to restore not just the bricks and mortar, but the lives of the people who
had been displaced and devastated in many cases. And so this is very
personal to him, and his message yesterday was I never forgot you. My
administration never forgot you. We were here on the ground. There are
cabinet members who have been there throughout this week who have been
there multiple times over the last six and a half years. So, this is not
something that he delegated down to the people who are working in New
Orleans. This is something that every cabinet member felt a personal
responsibility to fulfill at the direction of the president.
HARRIS-PERRY: Valerie Jarrett, thank you so much for joining us and for
taking the time to chat with us about ten years since Hurricane Katrina.
JARRETT: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: And up next, if not for the Bush administration`s bungled
response to the emergency, could an Obama presidency ever have even
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH: All of us who are old enough to remember will never forget
the images of our fellow Americans amid a sea of misery and ruin. We`ll
always remember the lives lost across the Gulf Coast. Their memories are
in our hearts. And hope and pray for their families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was almost unbelievably President George W. Bush marking
the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a speech at the Warren
Easton Charter High School in New Orleans. Joining me and my panel now was
Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League and a
former mayor of the city of New Orleans. Mark, how are you this morning?
MARC MORIAL: Good morning, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it was a lot for me to hear that George W. Bush saying
those words. How did you respond to that, Marc?
MORIAL: Well, you know, I, for me, this is personal. This is my hometown.
The neighborhoods that I grew up in with devastated, my friends, my
neighbors, my family members were displaced. So, you know, on a very, very
deep and personal level this has been very difficult for so many people.
But what we tried to do this week as the Urban League is focus on where
things are ten years later and the best way to characterize it is at its
And at halftime if you assess the work yet to be done, there are
disparities in education, in employment, in housing, still many
neighborhoods that have a distance to go. And my encouragement and hope is
that equity and inclusion for those neighborhoods is going to be the focus
of the second half of this recovery.
HARRIS-PERRY: Marc, stay with us. Laura, I want to come to you. Because
you were just in New Orleans pulling together a documentary thinking
through kind of this ten years that Marc has given us this language
potentially of being halftime. What were people telling you particularly
about the political structures there?
LAURA FLANDERS, HOST & FOUNDER GRITTV.ORG: I just have to say something
about Bush talking about - Because that`s how he remembers them, from 1,000
feet, right, looking down from an airplane. People talked about recovery
or removal. Are we seeing a recovery of a place? In certain parts, yes.
But are we seeing a recovery of a people? Without question, we are not
seeing a recovery of all the people. We had on the show this week Oliver
Thomas, former city council president and now a talk show host. And I
asked him, who do you remember? Who are you thinking about? And he talked
about Tony Ledet (ph), a 300-pound autistic guy, black guy, stranded with
his mother, who they could not get into a rescue boat and a lot of boats
passed by. And he couldn`t be got into a boat to save himself until they
saved his mother, until he was sure that his mother was safe. And it`s
that that I think people say, it`s like how could you not understand that
for the nation to survive, New Orleans needs to survive? What`s all this
talk about we remember you? This was us. This was our shame. And I think
that we finally as a nation were shamed to see people losing their lives,
losing their loved ones, but people are still losing their lives, and
losing their loved ones. And where`s the shame? Now, it`s a flood of
gentrification. We don`t even call it storm. We called it market forces.
We could have had a community driven recovery. Those community
conversations that Valerie Jarrett says people are so grateful for, they
could have been happening this whole time. Instead, we had a commerce
driven recovery and we`re going to end up with I think I`m afraid, a very
Disney-fied New Orleans.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Marc, let me come to you on that. Because I think, you
know, obviously New Orleans has always been a complicated city, it remains
a complicated city. But I do want to talk to you a little bit about what
doesn`t seem to be in conversation, which is the politics which have
shifted dramatically racially in the city and there was a time when New
Orleans was one of the Southern cities that was really a center of African-
American electoral political strengths. It is increasingly not that kind
of city. We`ve seen major shifts in the demographics of the city as well
as in the demographics of the elected officials and, you know, there`s many
ways in which President Obama`s own presidency rests on the shame, the
anger that so many Americans felt watching the Bush administration fail
there, it`s part of how Democrats kind of get a shot the next time. And I
just wonder is there some responsibility here for the political power in
MORIAL: Well, it`s important to reflect that the post-Katrina city council
had five white members and two African-American members, but the current
New Orleans City Council has five African-American members and two white
members which was really the composition of the council in the late 1990s.
What has happened is that the power of the city, vis-a-vis the rest of the
state and the state legislature, has diminished because of the loss of
population. And now you have members of the state senate, for example, who
not only represent the city, but also represent parts of the suburbs which
sometimes makes the politics and their advocacy a much more complicated so
there`s been a political change. The third thing, and this is really
important, is that voter participation levels amongst all people in this
city post-Katrina have declined. In the 2010 election, in the 2014
municipal elections, you probably had the lowest voter turnout in a
municipal election that the city`s experienced in some 50 years.
I interpret that as meaning that the voters don`t have the same historic
passion that elected officials are going to, if you will, bring the
results, that they`re going to bring home the bacon that they`re going to
do the work that people expect them to do. And we`ve got to revive, and in
this community, revive that civic participation, that sense that the
elected officials, if we elect them and we vote in large numbers, will get
the representatives of our choice and we`ll also get the agenda of our
choice. So, I think it`s important that these changes have occurred, but
it`s been on multiple levels.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Marc Morial in New Orleans. And I know this is
a deeply personal day for you. Take care of yourself and your family in
MORIAL: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: We come back. Trymaine Lee is an MSNBC national reporter
you`ve seen on this program many times. We might not know that Trymaine
won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Hurricane Katrina. News at the
“Times-Picayune” ten years ago. And now, a decade later, he revisits the
woman at the center of his award winning story and brings you the latest on
her story next.
HARRIS-PERRY: When the levees broke ten years ago today, tens of thousands
of people were trapped in their homes as water rose around them. MSNBC
national reporter Trymaine Lee, then a reporter for “The New Orleans Times
Picayune” waded through those flooded streets to tell the story of the
people who could not make it out. One of them Lucrece Phillips met - first
met Trymaine just after her family was rescued from their submerged ninth
ward home. Trymaine`s telling of her harrowing story won a Pulitzer Prize.
This summer, just before the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,
Trymaine reunited with her, visited the place where her home once stood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of the stuff that`s mangled there now is how my
life became, just mangled. Just destroyed.
TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC REPORTER: On the drive back to the old neighborhood,
Lucrece Philips remembers the night she could have died.
PHILLIPS: Trains were floating – boxcars were floating over here. This
is the foundation.
LEE: This was your house?
PHILLIPS: Of where my house used to be.
LEE: Just weeks out of back surgery, Lucrece thought she was too weak to
travel so she and several members of her family along with a friend decided
to ride out the storm on the second floor of her home in New Orleans lower
PHILLIPS: We were so silly in thinking that we could make it.
LEE: At first the mood was festive.
PHILLIPS: It`s a hurricane party. My daughter, my niece and I, we had all
of our junk food and everything that we thought we would need.
LEE (on camera): No idea that …
PHILLIPS: No idea.
LEE: The next day –
PHILLIPS: No idea. No idea. That our lives would change forever.
LEE: It happened overnight, the first sign that the levees protecting New
Orleans from the surrounding water wouldn`t hold. By morning most of the
city was under water including Lucrece`s neighborhood.
PHILLIPS: Water came so fast. Within 20 minutes, it was the tire of the
car and 20 minutes later it was inside the second floor of my house. My
daughter started writing now names on the wall and I erased it, no, no,
we`re going to make it. We`re going to be OK.
LEE: For Lucrece Phillips, surviving Katrina was a matter of willpower.
PHILLIPS: I didn`t have time for pain. I didn`t have time. I had to make
sure everybody with me made it. I had to show them that we`re going to –
we`re going to be all right.
LEE: More than 1,800 people died as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
Lucrece`s family like so many others finally made it out plucked from the
attic of their flooded home. They went to the Superdome where more than
20,000 people were seeking shelter and guards insisted on searching
everyone, even children. She`d also heard rumors about the filth and the
PHILLIPS: When we got there it was like another kind of death.
LEE: So she and her daughter trudged through thigh high water to the Hyatt
hotel where we first met. There was one moment that actually got me that
you said you had to push through bodies. It makes me emotional because I
remember the way you said it. It was like the baby was so perfect and
pure, you had to push through the bodies.
PHILLIPS: This baby was - This was here. This was right here. This baby
was so beautiful, looked like her hair was freshly combed and she had
barretts being stuck in her hair. And as we got onto the boat, I begged
the guy that was rescuing us, I said, can I get that baby out of the water?
She belongs to somebody on the bridge. And he said, no. No, ma`am, we`re
worried about the living not the dead.
LEE: Lucrece eventually made it to Texas where she found solid ground, a
new husband and a stepson. But the pull of home was too much. After eight
years she and her new family moved back to New Orleans to be closer to her
father and grandchildren. Outside her new home we talked about what her
life is like now and the lessons learned from Katrina.
(on camera): Have you found a way to make it better at all?
PHILLIPS: I deal with the children. I deal with the children. And I
figure if I can start with them, you know, something bright and something
hopeful as family, you know, so I try to keep my focus on mine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And joining us now from New Orleans is MSNBC national
reporter Trymaine Lee. Trymaine, Lucrece, you talked there about the pull
of home. I think a lot of people don`t understand that after surviving all
of that, people still want to come home.
LEE: That`s right. You know, you talk to any native New Orleanean, and
that pull was so strong, there is nothing like what you get in this
community. And I wish I could say ten years later that having - my heart,
was - by the progress. But so can the people like Lucrece talking about
people who were torn about coming back or whether to go and stay away where
everything seems to work. This city, as you know, Melissa, is so flawed in
so many ways, but it`s so beautiful in so many ways and that`s what keeps
people anchored to this community and that was - what was sort of
devastating to so many people. The very real idea that New Orleans may
never return, that was the feeling then. And to so many people in this
community, New Orleans hasn`t returned. So people like Lucrece came back
and they are wrestling with what they found, this new New Orleans,
gentrification, higher rents, the inequity in income is wide as ever, the
murder rate is still high as ever. 30 percent over of poverty. 40 percent
child poverty. This is a community still struggling. So, for those that
are carrying that weight of those days on their backs, it`s still a tough
time. But they`re back and they`re trying to make it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to MSNBC`s Trymaine Lee in New Orleans. It means
so much to be reminded that this isn`t just a story. This is people living
right now in this moment with the continuing effects of this disaster.
We`re going to check back with you in our next hour.
And up next, even ten years later, fresh news just this week on housing
recovery after the storm.
HARRIS-PERRY: The new building effort on the Gulf Coast, especially New
Orleans, is not in the past. It`s not even over. 79 percent of homes that
were destroyed in New Orleans and neighboring St. Bernard parish, have been
rebuilt. Another 2 percent are in the rebuilding process. But 15 percent
are empty lots, another four percent are still standing, but gutted or
blighted. Although the city as a whole is back to 89 percent of its pre-
Katrina population in the lower Ninth Ward, only 37 percent of the
population has returned. Partly because the prohibitive costs of
rebuilding. And just this week we learned the government is still
adjusting its rebuilding programs. On Monday, the Federal Department of
Housing and Urban Development announced changes to the nearly $10 billion
road home program, the largest housing recovery program in U.S. history.
The changes relax certain rules, and allow thousands of homeowners to
access more funding to rebuild or elevate their homes. The program has
long been troubled. My guest and husband, James Perry, when director of
the Greater New Orleans for Housing Actions Center in 2011, won a $62
million lawsuit against the federal government over claims that the program
discriminated against African-American homeowners by offering them much
lower grants than white homeowners.
So, James, help us to understand, what was that kind of inherent flaw in
the road home formula?
PERRY: Well, just as a point of clarification. We didn`t win,
unfortunately, but we did end up settling for about $62 million. Had we
won, it would have been in the billions of dollars which would have been
wonderful for residents of the city of New Orleans.
HARRIS-PERRY: And worth pointing out you`re a nonprofit lawyer. So it`s
not like any of that.
PERRY: Right. Our lives would have been very different had I been a for
profit lawyer. But so, look, here`s the bottom line, is that - the way
that the formula was set up, when people applied for funding, people got
money based on the value of their home on the day that the storm hit.
Instead of the cost to rebuild their home, and so, you know, if you live in
a historic African-American neighborhood, it doesn`t matter what it costs
to rebuild your home, usually African-American neighborhoods have homes
that are worth less than homes in white neighborhoods.
And so this issue, this disparity in the value of homes in minority
neighborhoods, means that people who lived in black neighborhoods, got less
money from the road home program than people who lived in white
neighborhoods. We said, well, that`s not fair. We want everyone to travel
this road home, then we have to make sure that everyone gets enough money
to rebuild their home. And so, we said, hey, fix this program, governor,
and the governor said, nope, we`re not going to fix the program. And so,
after a lot of back and forth, we sued. And the end result was that we got
this money for people to rebuild their homes. It`s worth noting that the
suit was filed under Governor Bush – I`m sorry, President Bush. We
couldn`t get it done under President Bush and so finally it was resolved
after years and years of litigation under President Obama.
HARRIS-PERRY: So at this point about kind of the lingering effects of this
segregated housing patterns and how it then ends up creating a situation
where fewer African-Americans can come home to black neighborhoods, which
means more blighted homes, more empty lots in those neighborhoods. Jelani,
we have sat at this table so many times and talked about kind of how a
neighborhood impacts health, impacts schooling, impacts economic access.
JELANI COBB: Right. And so what happened with Katrina is that we got a
spotlight on all of these dynamics that happened in New Orleans. And so I
remember going after the storm hit to visit people who I knew there and I
was in a community that was really devastated and someone said, well,
actually, no, the storm didn`t hit here. So, we had many problems in this
community even before this happened. And so we`re talking about this in
the context of New Orleans. We could talk about it in the context of
Ferguson, we could talk about it in the context of Chicago, of Baltimore,
Detroit, where people are dealing with access – lack of access to even
COBB: And so what Katrina has done, we`d be better off if this was an
isolated problem here. But this has shown us exactly the condition of
American cities in the 21st century.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, this point that in part New Orleans was the
spotlight, was the kind of emblematic reality of these inequalities, that
said, James, I had sort of a moment following the White House Twitter feed
the other day while the president was speaking. The White House tweeted
that 98 percent of families displaced by Katrina are back in their homes.
As you know, my sense it was like this can`t possibly be true. And it
turns out that it`s about like HUD assisted apartment buildings across the
Gulf Coast, but like are people really back? Can we just back-check that a
PERRY: Yes, so I think one of the most frustrating parts of this entire
process for a lot of New Orleaneans is the victory lap. You see President
Bush running a victory lap, you see President Obama, you see every elected
official running this victory lap and, look, there are a lot of successes,
but there are also a lot of failures. And it`s OK to say, here is what we
did well, what we have got to acknowledge what hasn`t gone well and the
fact is that there`s a lot that`s been done on housing, but there`s still a
lot to be done. And the reason that the president releases all of this new
additional money and opportunity about a week before the storm is because
there`s still a lot to be done, right? And so, you know, advocates have
been pushing the president for years saying, look, there`s still people who
are not back in their homes and still need more home assistance, and so
finally, a week before a ten-year anniversary, he says here is some more
FLANDERS: And let`s talk about how some of the good stuff that has
happened has happened, I mean you have Morial talked about lack of civic
engagement - that may be a matter of voting, but when you talk about civic
HARRIS-PERRY: You can`t find more civic engagement.
FLANDERS: No, I mean how did you get people employed? There was a refusal
to even hire local people in the demolition of their own houses, as ironic
as it is. When you took about the coup of public housing, and to get them
hired to do the rebuilding that`s all being trumpeted, required action by
grassroots groups like Stand, like Congresso. Congresso had to organize
around this question of the collaboration of immigration and the prison,
and won a victory there that you have of, you know, seven state prisons
that is not collaborating with immigration. There`s been unbelievable
amounts of organizing, which we also talked about in our film and I think
that`s important. That there have been victories, but it`s not just like
policymakers woke up. They had people rapping at their doors.
HARRIS-PERRY: And pushing.
FLANDERS: And never stopping. Refusing to go away. People like James
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and I think that point is that key one, that it
doesn`t happen because all the storm hits and all the good policymakers
make good policy. There is activism on the ground. Much more to come this
morning including the connection between Hurricane Katrina from ten years
ago and the Black Lives Matter movement today, again, pushing. You`ve got
HARRIS-PERRY: Also flooded following Katrina was the New Orleans
neighborhood known as the Village of the East, it`s the home of the
Vietnamese immigrant community that formed there after the fall of Saigon.
Most 27,000 Vietnamese people live in Louisiana. It`s the large
concentration tucked away in east New Orleans. Where (INAUDIBLE) is
offered the Vietnamese cowboy, and where the married queen of Vietnam
church held mass just two months after Katrina. Post-Katrina many
evacuated and then returned and soon helped to elect Joseph Cao, the first
Vietnamese American to serve in Congress. That catastrophe - the community
again in 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion filled millions
of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Joining me now from New Orleans is Cindy Nguyen, who is the executive
director of Vietnamese initiatives and economic training. Nice to have you
this morning, Cindy.
CINDY NGUYEN, VIETNAMESE INITIATIVE AND ECONOMIC TRAINING: Good morning,
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me a little bit about how the issues that are facing
Vietnamese New Orleaneans are distinct or different than what we may be
hearing at this kind of tenth anniversary moment?
NGUYEN: I think what I wanted to take you back was that for the Vietnamese
community when Katrina hit, 30 years prior to that we had - that happened,
so we left Vietnam and had to migrate to New Orleans and rebuild our lives.
So when Katrina hit, it was kind of like back into the lower rebuilding.
So, culturally we were embedded to make sure that we rebuilt our lives.
Issues in the Vietnamese community is very similar to the other
neighborhoods. We want to have access to quality of life improving, the
quality of life for our children in our community, but one of the things
that we did do as the community, is that we turned on the lights in the
city of New Orleans. We make sure that we - that this is our home.
Because 30 years prior to that, as I stated, we were flashed out of Vietnam
to come over to America. At that time I was five years old. So, little
did I know, but thank God my mom had to remind me of my rebuilding effort
and that I needed to contribute to rebuild the city of New Orleans.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, the east is an area I think that often folks don`t
talk about. And it can feel far-flung from what folks think of as kind of
the center of New Orleans. How have Vietnamese-American communities
combined with other communities out there in the east to sort of do work
collaboratively together in a post-Katrina moment?
NGUYEN: We`re mainstreaming together, we are integrating together. I
think we recognize the fact that issues in our communities are still very
vivid and valid in other communities. And one of the things that we
believe in is engagement, civic engagement is really the key component of
rebuilding our lives. And so we`re sharing our culture with other
communities, letting them know, hey, what happens in our community, we
understand because we know - we know it`s happening to your community, and
we recognize that we have got to work together. I think one of the things
that I believe in is really working together. And I think when we work
together, we get more positive gains out of it for everybody in our
HARRIS-PERRY: I know the Vietnamese community in New Orleans was also
particularly impacted by the BP oil disaster, the Deepwater disaster. Has
BP done enough?
NGUYEN: Well, I mean - I mean you can look at different perspectives. I
think the share of support and to get the fishing business back, but one of
the things that I also want to echo and give kudos is to the men and women
that are in the business still trying to restore the fishing business and
make sure that they`re not going to let devastation to take away their
livelihood. And so while BP continued to make that effort working through
the legal system, through the damage claims process. But I think one of
the things that I want to focus on is the people that are being affected
that their resiliency, rebuilding their business is really the key factor
HARRIS-PERRY: Cyndi Nguyen in New Orleans, thank you so much for your
continued advocacy there in the city.
NGUYEN: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: My panel will return in the next hour. And coming up next,
one of the key figures in the aftermath of Katrina, General Honore, joins
me live to talk about New Orleans and now. There is, of course, more
Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
And this morning, commemorative events are under way in New Orleans ten
years since the levees broke in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Earlier, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other leaders laid wreaths at
the Hurricane Katrina memorial site where the remains of nearly 100
unclaimed or unidentified people are interred. And another remembrance
event in the Lower Ninth Ward is getting started. There will be speakers
and interfaith prayer and, of course, the second lives.
As we watch these moments with somber reflection, the underlying question
10 years later remains, is New Orleans any better prepared for another
Joining me now from New Orleans, MSNBC national reporter Trymaine Lee.
Trymaine, even though the levees have been rebuilt, what are people saying
about whether or not the city`s actually any safer from a disaster of this
TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC NATIONAL REPORTER: That`s exactly, Melissa, what we
came down here to find out. As many people know, it was a combination of a
natural disaster but also a manmade disaster with the levee system kind of
in shambles and mismanaged. But also, there`s an issue about our coastal
erosion. The Gulf Coast is losing acres and acres and acres by the minute,
which will prevent any kind of buffer between the next big storm hitting
And so, we spent sometime talking to a bunch of folks, and here`s what they
have to say about whether the city is more prepared than they were 10 years
JOHN TAYLOR, NEW ORLEANS NATIVE: (INAUDIBLE) autos and stuff and, it was,
you know, sort of good.
LEE: Self-described swamp man John Taylor grew up along New Orleans when
this swamp was full of trees, marsh and wildlife.
TAYLOR: We used to just grab the stumps and pull ourselves through.
LEE: Now, it`s all open water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost the football field of land coming from the Gulf
of Mexico every 45 minutes.
LEE: Nothing but trees in this –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing but trees in here, with big canopies over them
and just full of life.
LEE: Jonathan Henderson is an environmental activist with the Gulf
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For every three to five miles of wetlands that we lose,
that`s another foot of storm surge that we can`t stop from inundating
places like New Orleans, places like Houma, places like Thibodaux.
LEE: He says even though New Orleans` levees have been rebuilt, the city
is still vulnerable because the natural barrier protecting it from storm
surge is eroding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether we can withstand another type of Katrina is
really not the question. It`s when we get hit by that category 5 storm
that`s a direct hit on the city of New Orleans that scares me.
LEE: He says the erosion is mostly a manmade problem.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The oil and gas station has done a great thing for the
state of Louisiana and for the U.S. economy, and there`s no question about
that. But they`ve also done a lot of damage, a significant amount of
damage by slicing and dicing Louisiana`s weapons.
You know, we`ve got literally tens of thousands of miles of oil and gas in
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET), CMTE OF JOINT TAKS FORCE KATRINA COMMANDER:
Those canals were never closed so they overexposed the gulf to salt water
which is deteriorating the gulf.
LEE: Lieutenant General Russel Honore helped rescue New Orleans a decade
ago, arriving just after the storm to organize the evacuation of the city.
Now retired, he leads the Green Army focused on saving New Orleans
HONORE: Look, I came here in a car that gets 15 miles a gallon. I want
the energy companies to do what they have to do until we form another type
of energy. It does not give them the right to leave a mess where they go
LEE: We surveyed the problem from the air, those straight lines are
abandoned oil canals. The canals let salt water from the ocean seep into
the swamps, which destroys plant life leading to the erosion of soil. The
state has a plan to refurbish the wetlands but it comes with a hefty price
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $50 billion.
LEE: And progress has been stalled because of fight over who is
responsible and who should pay.
When you look at now and remember how it used to be, how does it make you
TAYLOR: I feel like the `60s and `70s commercial when the Native Americans
were riding horses and you looked at his land and tears ran down the side
of his face. That`s how I feel every time I look at this.
LEE: There has been so much progress made in the city, but an idea there`s
a sense of safety here is still elusive for many people. When you talk to
environmental activists, they say until we find out a way to reverse all
the damage done to the coastline, New Orleans may remain as vulnerable as
ever – Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to MSNBC`s Trymaine Lee in New Orleans.
Still with me at the table in New York, James Perry, raised in New Orleans,
community advocate and, of course, my husband. Laura Flanders, host and
founder of grittv.org, and Jelani Cobb, associate professor at the
University of Connecticut, staff writer at “The New Yorker”.
First, I want to bring in a man featured in Trymaine`s story, three-star
lieutenant general, General Honore arrived as flooding swallowed the city.
As the committee of joint task force commander, he was tasked with getting
thousands of stranded people out of the devastation. Ten years later, he`s
now retired from the U.S. Army and he joins me from New Orleans.
Good morning, sir.
HONORE: Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, sir, what I remember in part distinctly is when you
arrived in New Orleans, one of the things you asked soldiers there to do
was to lower their guns and think of this as a rescue effort not a military
When you look at the challenges facing the city right now, what kind of
rescue effort is necessary in New Orleans?
HONORE: I think we have a national security issue of the highest kind for
one of our oldest cities, 300 years old in 2018. And at the mouth of the
Mississippi River, which is the life and blood of our economy, you know 43
percent of the things we sell to the rest of the world go through the
Mississippi River. And that river and the Gulf of Mexico are at risk
because of a manmade disaster that hasn`t been fixed. We have a plan for
it but it`s not resourced.
So we`ve got an ongoing problem that, as was stated earlier, if we don`t
fix it, hurricanes will come in stronger and cause more damage to our Gulf
Coast, citizens and our homes where we work and where we live.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, sir, talk to me a bit about what it would take to
resource this kind of effort.
HONORE: Melissa, we have a plan called a master plan for restoring the
coast. It was done a few years ago with the best of intent, with some
skilled people. I think this needs to become a national plan. Right now,
it`s a Louisiana plan. This needs to be a congressional plan.
You know we have 31 states that water runs off and gets into the
Mississippi River. We have an 800-square-mile dead zone right at the mouth
of the Mississippi River that threatens the ecosystem of the entire gulf.
And we`re still recovering from the British Petroleum oil spill that
happened in the Gulf a few years ago.
So, we`ve continued to abuse our wetlands and our coastline, and that is
coming home to roost now because we`re having communities like
Pontchartrain, home to native people, being put under water because of the
loss of the wetlands. We have a real national security issue here, and
it`s all of America`s problem.
You know, for the last half century, Louisiana has been one of the life
bloods of this economy, giving up natural resources and getting very little
back in terms of the fact that we`re the second poorest state in America.
So we need the American people as they`ve done with Katrina to look at the
resources of the wetlands and the mouth of the Mississippi River as a
national asset. It`s not just a Louisiana problem. It`s a national
HARRIS-PERRY: Sir, hold for me for just one second. I want to bring in
one of my other guests.
Jelani, I want to come to you on this because I think we think of
environmental issues as kind of out there, some kind of separate concern,
but when we see it in the context of a post-Katrina New Orleans, and when
we hear General Honore say this is about national security, I feel it
changes about what we think an environmental issue is.
JELANI COBB, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: It absolutely is. And it`s
national security, all of these things that have an interrelated nature.
And so, we talk about this point of simply a disaster. We think of a
disaster as something that just happens and has no impact and kind of
socioeconomics don`t factor in this and all of these other things. That`s
absolutely not true.
As I pointed out in my piece, the earthquake that hit Haiti was .01 of the
strength of the earthquake that hit off the coast of Japan, but killed 15
times more people. It has everything to do with where resources are
allocated. And so, what happens in 2005 is a replay of what happened in
1965, there`s a replay of what happened with the Great Flood of 1927. With
those same sorts of vulnerable populations, the same sorts questions about
the levees, the same sorts of people who wind up being disproportionately
displaced and impacted. And what`s even most disturbing is the same degree
of bureaucratic ineptitude and racism in high places that allows this to
continue and be exaggerated.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lieutenant General Honore, I want to come back to you for
one moment here, sir. You mentioned Congress to me when we were talking
just now and the action that might need to happen there. Let me just say,
I know there was some conversation about you possibly making a run for the
U.S. Senate, and then you came back and said, no, that isn`t what you want
But have you at all in the work you`re doing now reconsidered that
possibility of actually seeking public office?
HONORE: I think about that every now and then, have a good sleep overnight
and it goes away.
HONORE: I`m quite comfortable in the space I`m in. After all, who would
want to argue with Donald Trump?
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, man, Lieutenant General Honore, thank you for all that
you did and continue to do in New Orleans. You are a hero, sir.
HONORE: And on this day, may we thank the volunteers and thank our men and
women in uniform who gave so willingly to come here and help.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, sir, absolutely.
And when we come back, one New Orleans, two very different recoveries.
HARRIS-PERRY: Always a city of contradictions post-Katrina recovery in New
Orleans has been a single story. It`s been many stories of unequal and
uneven capacity to return and rebuild.
When New Orleans residents were asked recently about whether their state
has mostly recovered from the storm and its aftermath, only 37 percent of
African-Americans say it has mostly recovered and 59 percent say it is not
mostly recovered. White residents see it almost entirely the opposite way,
78 percent of white residents say Louisiana has mostly recovered with only
16 percent saying it mostly hasn`t.
In the spirit is just as pronounced on the neighborhood level. Asked to
judge the quality of life in their community, just 17 percent of African-
Americans say it`s better than it was before the storm, 29 percent say
about the same. And nearly half say it`s worse.
White residents have a much more positive view, a full 50 percent believe
their quality of life is better than before Katrina, 29 percent say about
the same and only 13 percent saying it`s worse.
Joining me now with more on this tale of two recoveries is Tracie
Washington, co-director of the Louisiana Justice Institute.
Tracie, what do these disparities that we`re seeing in the public opinion
research – what does it tell but what you know from the ground?
TRACIE WASHINGTON, LOUISIANA JUSTICE INSTITUTE: Well, good morning and
good morning to your panel. Thank you, Melissa.
What it`s saying is that this is the reality. This is the reality that
white folks are living in New Orleans and the reality black folks are
And what it`s telling this country, and particularly the presidents who
came here to commemorate this ten-year anniversary, it`s saying that the
mission hasn`t been accomplished, the job hasn`t been completed. You
haven`t fulfilled the promises that were made ten years ago in front of
Jackson Square where you said we would have an equitable recovery.
It`s not an equitable recovery, Melissa, when in 2013 nearly 50,000 New
Orleans public school students were suspended out of school. We had less
than 50 percent students in school.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tracie, you mentioned the moment in front of Jackson Square,
I think is a moment burned into the minds of many people who are New
HARRIS-PERRY: Just to remind folks, let`s take a listen to President Bush
standing there on September 15th and what he said, the promise that he made
at that time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: There`s also some deep, persistent
poverty in this region as well. That poverty has roots in the history of
racial discrimination which cut off generations from the opportunity of
America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So,
let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday and let us rise
above the legacy of inequality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, President Bush was back in New Orleans yesterday
literally dancing apparently because what he remembers as all good things
having happened ten years ago and I was sent a picture from a friend of
mine still there in the city of some posters that had been up around the
city that have your name on the bottom of them, and they say, “Stop calling
me resilient” and pointing out that every time we use that resilient thing,
we actually seem to make room for people to do wrong because then you get
to show how resilient you are.
WASHINGTON: Yes. Yes. I don`t like it and I don`t like politicians to
use it because, to me, it represents an unnatural state. We weren`t born
to be resilient. We`re conditioned to be resilient, and I won`t accept
that. I don`t want my people to accept it here or any place.
We should condition the government to ensure our environment – our
environment is healthy enough so that I can make a good living, I can send
my child to a good school, that I have great health care, and those are all
the things President Bush promised. They weren`t guaranteed but the
promise to us and it hasn`t been delivered to the black folk here.
I`m not hating white folk. I`m glad they`re making their money.
WASHINGTON: But I want some.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on for a second. Laura, I want to bring you in, and I
promise not just because you`re white folk –
LAURA FLANDERS, HOST & FOUNDER, GRITTV.ORG: It`s OK. Tracie and I go
HARRIS-PERRY: Exactly. You guys go back, and this question of these two
recoveries and sort of what that means then ultimately.
FLANDERS: I get frustrated with the whole two cities thing and I`m
completely with Tracie on the resilient stuff. Resilient means we don`t
have to give them anything and, look, they survive. That doesn`t mean they
should be given nothing and expected to be happy about it.
You know, we have two different cities, blah, blah, blah. The fact is we
don`t have New Orleans. You know, this is the city of gumbo. You can`t
have the gumbo without the grandmothers. You can`t have the jazz if you`re
forcing everyone into go to court dancing school or get arrested and get
put in prison. This isn`t the same city.
So I guess I`m being picky here. This whole two city thing makes it sound
like, well, one survived. It didn`t. New Orleans with its spice, with its
flavor, with what it represents, I always called it the bellwether on the
bayou, this shows us the vulnerable under belly of our society.
How many cities now have we seen these floodwaters of gentrification,
people clinging to their community? And what have we learned? We have
learned over and over again and you ask the U.N., they know it`s true, what
saves lives is community connection, knowing who your neighbors are,
knowing their names. We think we can have places without people and that`s
just not going to see us through.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to let James back in. We`ll take a quick commercial
break. But I want to say thank you to Tracie Washington in New Orleans.
WASHINGTON: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: We miss you a lot. It`s always – we miss you. No one can
WASHINGTON: We miss you guys, you know. There are other schools here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tracie, not on air. Not on air.
Now, you cannot possibly talk about the aftermath of Katrina without
talking about what happened then and still happening today to the schools
of New Orleans and that story is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Before the storm, the New Orleans public school system was
devastated by neglect, mismanagement, corruption. So, in 2003, the state
of Louisiana launched the RSD, or the Recovery School District, to take
over and improve local public schools that were considered failures.
Then, Katrina. With only 16 of the 128 school buildings left unscathed,
the city and state were forced to re-invent a system, the Louisiana
legislature turned over most of the city`s schools to charter school
operators kicking off the largest scale experiment in charter education in
Today, nearly 100 percent of public schools are charters. It has been
called one of, quote, “the most radical education overhauls in the
Joining me now is Sarah Carr, who`s author of “Hope Against Hope”, which
tells the story of New Orleans schools.
And from New Orleans is John White, superintendent of education for the
state of Louisiana.
Superintendent White, a lot of folks who have been visiting the city over
the past few days have been focused in on the schools as kind of the emblem
of success, but I hear from other people that that is actually not an
appropriate way to be thinking about what`s going on in the schools.
JOHN WHITE, SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION, STATE OF LOUISIANA: Well, I don`t
think you have to have it one way or the other. Melissa, you can tell the
story about pride and what`s happened to date and humility about how much
further there is to go.
I think President Obama said it very we`ll this week when he said there`s
been real progress in the schools and he talked about our graduation rate,
how many more kids are going to college.
But at the same time, he said there is so much more to do. And we can`t
accept a graduation rate of just three-quarters. We can`t accept that only
two-thirds of our kids go on to college. Those are much better figures
than existed 10 years ago, but we have so much more left to accomplish.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, John, I mean, when you look at other facts, ACT scores
in Louisiana, the composite ACT score in 2004 before the storm was 19.8.
In 2014, composite ACT 19.2. It both cases, ranking 48 in the nation.
So, that doesn`t look like progress to me. That looks like stagnation.
WHITE: We`ve got to put these in context. You had a system in 2004 across
our state that`s selected only the top kids to take the ACT. Today, every
student in Louisiana takes the ACT. This year, Louisiana was the top
progress state in the nation on the ACT.
In fact, New Orleans has made a full two points growth over pre-Katrina ACT
levels in spite of the fact that we moved from selecting the top kids to
every kid taking the test. That is un – totally progress-oriented. We`re
moving in the right direction.
At the same time, you know, we have to do better. We`re not yet at the
national average. The national average is 21. We`re still at 19 1/2.
We`ve got so much more left to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: John, hold on for me for a second.
Sarah, I wanted to come to you. One of the other pieces of data we see
what happened with the teacher corps. Young teachers, not teachers of
color, and in charter schools frequently not unionized teachers.
SARAH CARR, AUTHOR, “HOPE AGAINST HOPE”: Yes, there`s been big demographic
shifts. Overall, it`s more white. After Katrina they fired all of the
teachers en masse and New Orleans had one of the highest percentages of –
that turned black educators in the country and so, there`s been a big
influx of teachers coming through programs like Teach for America.
And, you know, there are terrific veteran teachers and awful veteran
teachers and educators. But, overall, I think there`s a lot of legitimate
concerns about some schools that have staffed primarily with young Teach
for America educators who are near to the city and about the cultural
connection and experience that`s lost when that happens.
HARRIS-PERRY: The other thing I know that`s been a bit of a concern, on
the road to progress, and I think John is making important points about
real progress and it`s discernible that we can see, but also, there`s been
a lack of consistency and we were talking early in the show about
posttraumatic stress, about the sense of loss. One of the big losses is
schools will close after a few years when they don`t demonstrate success.
CARR: Yes, no, I`m sympathetic to the argument that schools that
persistently fail kids, there has to be some kind of change. But I think
there`s too much change in New Orleans and continue to see that.
And as one example, there was a high school where I spent a lot of time at,
that over the course of getting its first cohort of students from freshman
year to graduation lost all of their teachers, their initial corps of
teachers. So that by the time those students graduated, there wasn`t a
single teacher on staff that started with them, and that`s just too much.
We need to kind of balance the need to overhaul schools that aren`t making
it work with the need to build institutions that families can come to trust
and know and understand.
HARRIS-PERRY: John, speaking on that point, Superintendent White,
obviously you know the New Orleans culture. The first thing you ask
somebody when you meet them is, what school did you go to? And that`s not
a question about college, it`s about what high school did you go to. It`s
always been a way of framing who you are, who are your people, what
community are you from?
Is the current sort of chartering of the system allowing for that deep-
rooted cultural connection to the schools?
WHITE: Yes, you`re right. I`m always asked, Melissa, where did you
finish, you know? And, of course, the answer to that I finished at John
Mack, I finished at Landry, I finished at Cohen. And there`s so much pride
in the high schools of the city of New Orleans.
But I`ve not experienced a pride in the fact prior to Katrina, the high
school graduation rate in the city was 54 percent. That was
disproportionately impacting low income graduates, disproportionately
impacting students of color. And no one says they have any pride in that
So, it`s a recovery. We`re rebuilding. We now have a graduation rate of
73 percent. Before, one-third of our kids went to college. Now, two-
thirds go to college.
And as part of that recovery, we`re building back the identity of those
high schools. We need to take pride in the high school name. We need to
take pride in the high school mascot, in the band marching on Mardi Gras
day. You can have both of those things. You can have graduates. You can
go to college and you can have pride in the local high school.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to John White in New Orleans.
And here in New York, thank you to Sarah Carr.
The rest of my panel sticking around.
Up next, Hurricane Katrina and Black Lives Matter.
HARRIS-PERRY: The public insistence that black lives matter began with
Katrina. The death and displacement of thousands of New Orleanians focused
the gaze on black vulnerability in America. And even though we watched as
the catastrophe played out, it took days for the federal government to
And just as in Ferguson and Baltimore, the eventual response to the crisis
included a military presence, like the protesters in Ferguson and
Baltimore, who expressed grief and anger but were met with media shaming,
so, too, did many news outlets portray dangerous gangs of looters, even
though many were actually organizing to aid survivors.
So, James, you and I wrote about this for “The Nation”, this idea for us it
was a decade ago people were first saying black lives matter in the context
JAMES PERRY, COMMUNITY ADVOCATE: Absolutely. You know, one of the
frustrating issues that comes up here is that no one is looking. No one is
paying attention, then people forget. And so over and over again, you have
to trumpet this issue, you have to continue to protest, you have to say
over and over again. And so if you`re not standing on a rooftop in the
Lower Ninth Ward, if someone hasn`t been shot and isn`t laying on the
ground dying, then people forget that black lives matter.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think this point about people looking, for me, Laura,
that`s part of the challenge is we`ve been seeing in the context of black
lives matter, all of these videos of death and destruction, but we know
from this experience ten years ago that video alone, doesn`t necessarily
justice. And, you know, it feels new in the context of police violence but
it isn`t new. It`s at least this old.
FLANDERS: I mean, we`ve interviewed – I interviewed Alicia Garza, one of
the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, you know, a year ago and she said it
wasn`t Mike Brown. It was New Orleans, seeing those images that got her
started. Yes, we can have this kind of fetishization of the body itself,
particularly black bodies in American culture, and there`s this idea of –
well, there`s life and there`s death.
Well, what about making whole, making people whole and a whole part of our
society? What would that do for our society as an American nation as a
whole? That`s the part I think the challenge of New Orleans. Is it about
the numbers? Is it about the statistics, the graduation rates or is it
about the heart of the city?
My girlfriend said to me this morning, she said, have they come up with a
school system that can measure heart? Test for heart? Because, you know,
let`s face it – how is our country thriving and growing? It`s with
culture that`s not lock step culture. It`s with creative thinking.
That`s what New Orleans brought us was the kind of – my producer Jordan
Flaherty in “The Nation” with your article talks about the glorious chaos
and the organizing genius of the kids who make changes in the schools. I
mean, I could just go on. Go watch the show, Laura Flanders show.
But, mostly, I just want to thank you for focusing on this today and all of
us for taking a moment from this victory lap. It`s about a tragedy that we
HARRIS-PERRY: And that the media, from my perspective, was complicit in.
I will never forget just how difficult those images were of New Orleanians
literally wrapped in American flags or waving American flags and being
labeled not as Americans needing rescue but being labeled as refugees.
And it`s not that there`s anything wrong with – I mean, there`s moments
refugee status would have actually led – would have been helpful, right,
in terms of the one-way tickets and that kind of thing.
But, James, I keep trying to remind people every time we talk about this,
why do you think people would have had flags on the roofs of their homes in
the context of trying to escape a storm? Those are often the flags that
laid over the caskets of veterans. They`re literally showing, displaying
their sacrifice as citizens and we still couldn`t see them as Americans.
PERRY: And so, you know, here is the next step. When people forget these
are people, that these are Americans, then that`s how you end up having
experiments, right? And so that`s why the public school system is an
experiment, that housing is an experiment.
The reason that`s troublesome black Americans have always been an
experiment, right? You have the Tuskegee experiment where black men were
given syphilis to experiment – you know, to see how syphilis will impact
the human body. Black people who were given all types of diseases and
experimented on and slavery – so many different problems and experiences
because the black body was an experiment because black people were not
people. Their lives didn`t matter, right?
And so, that`s why it was so important to relied at that moment, black
lives did matter. They do matter. They mattered then and they matter now.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m reminded, Jelani, of the madness and many of us felt
about the images of looting and finding. In part this idea about – so
people are people who need food and water and electricity and clothes in
the context of a disaster. And so, if you remember the images from 2005,
the idea often images of white families were labeled with finding and
images of black families labeled with looting.
COBB: With looters, they were refugees. It wasn`t the idea of people
being called refugees. The problem was that it was an honest depiction of
what people`s status actually was, you know, because if you are a citizen,
is there any question someone should shoot you in the back like with Walter
Scott? If you are a citizen, a true citizen, a human being, who is any
question whether you should be shot if you`re going into the store for
Skittles and iced tea?
If we`re looking at this with Renisha McBride, Rekia Boyd, we can go
through the litany of names that belong in the same place as Katrina.
And the other idea about this is like the image. You mentioned the media
of it. We have consistently had to deploy new forms of media to try to
establish our humanity. Looking at the anniversary of Emmett Till`s death.
(INAUDIBLE) showed that image to show this is what a desecrated black body
looks like. A decade later, Martin Luther King is using television to say,
this is what the reality of southern segregation and racism looks like.
In 1992 with Rodney King in Los Angeles, you thought we were lying. Well,
look, this is what the police do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Emmett Till –
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, we go from Emmett Till to Bloody Sunday, we have
Katrina. We have in this moment now, Michael Brown. These images and
still the search for justice.
Up next, we`re going to back to the ground on New Orleans to bring in one
of the key voices in this issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: Women with a vision is a New Orleans-based, community-based
organization that addresses the social conditions, that inequality that
marginalizes many women and their families and communities in the city.
The organization expanded after Hurricane Katrina to continue to meet the
The executive director of Women with a Vision is Deon Haywood. She joins
us now from New Orleans.
Nice to see you, Deon.
DEON HAYWOOD, WOMEN WITH A VISION: Hi. How are you?
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m just fine. I was following you and your responses to
the president`s speech on Thursday and I know that you felt, in part, that
the president – and not just the president but that others in thinking
about this recovery haven`t maybe talked about the experiences of girls and
women in particular and the inequities they continue to face in the city.
HAYWOOD: Yes, I thought for the most part the president`s speech was
pretty good but I was amazed that he talked about NOLA for Life, he talked
about the amazing lunch he had with the young men and what NOLA for Life
and My Brothers Keeper will do for young men. And then with no mention of
women, no mention of girls.
An event on yesterday, again, no one brought up gender. And I`ve just been
amazed how we can talk about recovery in a city where 99 percent of the
children are involved in criminal justice system, 39 percent of African-
American children are living in poverty. I`m just going to go out on a
limb and say their mothers are African-American.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Well, in fact, if we go back to the beginning of the
show and the report that came out from the Institute of Women in Ethnic
Studies, they actually show among the mental health disparities that girls
show higher levels of current PTSD, depression, suicidality, and worry or
concern about not being loved. There are elevated rates among boy as well,
but even higher among girls.
And I`m wondering, as we`re again thinking about the questions of Black
Lives Matter in the context of a post-Katrina, how do we make sure that
black queer lives, black girl and women lives, black trans lives matter?
HAYWOOD: You know, the one thing I was actually with a group of funders
yesterday and they were like, what is that look on your face?
And I said, I just can`t believe that in all the things that were said, no
one talked about women and girls, no one talked about gender. It needs to
be at the forefront and it needs to be centered. If we can`t name the
issues women are facing or the fact that if our children are in this
condition, that means their mothers are in this condition. Making sure
that women have economic security and access to ways to do that and making
sure they stay in the conversation, as well as for the queer community here
that is stigmatized not only with the health disparities, but the
continuing connection to the criminal justice system here.
So, I feel it`s about creating those programs not to save women but to make
sure women have the tools they need to make decisions for their life.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me come to the table for a second.
And, James, I guess part of what I`d love to have you do here is reflect on
the broader question of sort of how we have the most inclusive way of
thinking about Black Lives Matter post-Katrina.
PERRY: It is one of the most frustrating aspects of this conversation
about recovery. It is that we`ve gotten to this point that I think the
mayor and the president and all the presidents who are visiting are talking
about there being one recovery and one fight and the problem is there`s not
one recovery, and the problem is there are different people who have
different experiences and that we have to learn to make sure of all the
experiences that all these people have.
HARRIS-PERRY: Deon Haywood in New Orleans, one last question for you – if
there was one thing that you would like all of those presidents who have
come to New Orleans to hear from you, from the women that you work with,
what would that one thing be?
HAYWOOD: You know, I wish people could just change the way they think
about poor women. You know, poor women, poor people, poor black people are
the only people who don`t have an advocate. If people just really
understood that people are doing the very best they can with what they have
and really fight for those programs and for a space for women to share
their stories, and really do what they need to do for their lives to be
whole and make them a part of those conversations around change and
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Deon Haywood in New Orleans.
Up next, the New Orleanian who is feeding the Lower Ninth one delivery at a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said they were not coming back to the Lower Ninth
Ward because there`s not enough people. The majority of the people say
they`re not coming back because there`s not enough stores. So, it`s like
what came first, the chicken or the eggs?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: If any one place became a focal point for the devastation
that occurred post-Katrina, it was the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. In
the year 2000, 15,000 people lived there. But by 2010, the population was
Part of what was washed away was access to food. But that changed when
Burnell Cotlon opened the one single grocery store in the neighborhood.
Video journalist Nathan Willis (ph) reported on this one man`s effort to
sustain and rebuild the place he calls home. Here`s his video for Shift by
BURNELL COTLON, OWNER, LOWER NINTH WARD MARKET: I put my entire life
savings into this year with the expectations of opening up the first and
only grocery store in my neighborhood. I discovered the Lower Ninth Ward
all other again.
Even though it`s been ten years later since Hurricane Katrina, when I look
at my neighborhood and I think about the other areas of the city, the Lower
Ninth was the only one that still showed signs of Katrina. Believe it or
not, that empty slab, it used to have a movie theater there and they also
had a small record store, a liquor store. There`s so much here in the
Lower Ninth Ward.
The big box stores said they wasn`t coming back to the Lower Ninth Ward
because there`s not enough people. And the people said they`re not coming
back because there`s the not enough stores. So, it`s like, what came
first, the chicken or the eggs? Meanwhile, the ones that are here are
suffering because the closest store is Walmart and that`s in the next city.
You have to catch three buses just to get there.
So, imagine you are a single parent and you have three or four kids and you
don`t have transportation and you have to get all your kids together, put
them on those three buses to get to Walmart, make your groceries then come
back home. That`s unacceptable.
Hey, good morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I come in?
COTLON: Yes, of course, come on.
This is what the building used to look like when I first started out. A
lot of people that didn`t evacuate had to get rescued by helicopters.
That`s what this hole is for. Others just made holes and jumped in.
The water – if you think about it, this all this was submerged. This
whole entire building was submerged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the store come back to give us the hope of goodies,
snacks, reviving our community, it means a lot because we ain`t had nothing
back here. Now you can go to the store, get yourself something to eat, get
something to drink. It means a lot to the community because we`ve got
somewhere to go now.
JOHN WATSON, LOWER NINTH WARD RESIDENT: Yes, it`s showing people that it
can actually be done again because you got a guy who put a store together.
It`s not even a home, it`s a store for people who are, you know, struggling
hard to put their home together. And that`s a great thing, you know?
They can see growth in the neighborhood so that will encourage them to put
their houses back together.
COTLON: Need a loaf of bread.
We have quite a few elderly people do not have transportation. And they
need someone to bring the items to them.
And it started off with one day a week. I had what`s called delivery
Wednesdays. But when the word spread around that we do deliveries, it took
off like wildfire. So now it`s six days a week.
Be right back, we`re going to do deliveries. Two deliveries.
This is grandma. She is a good, good customer. She has literally a good
seven to ten grandkids that she watches on a daily basis and she calls me
every two days. Right now, I need some milk, right now, I need this and
this. And she can`t walk up the street with all of her grandkids so I told
her, “Not a problem.”
It`s Burnell. I`ll get the rest of your money, hold on.
If someone told me a thousand years ago that I would be delivering
groceries and owning a grocery store, I`d have laughed at them.
See, that makes me feel so good when customers come right into the store.
The kids love it. They love it. That`s everyday. Everyday. Bringing
We`re not a third world country. This is not an island. No, we are part
of New Orleans. We`re part of it.
You`re going do a pop a wheelie?
Some people come to these stores and cry because they don`t have to worry
about catching buses to get bread or sending their child from one end of
the Ninth Ward to the other end. Now they can walk right here and that`s
what makes it worthwhile.
The look on customers` faces is priceless. It`s priceless.
I want to see my neighborhood come back to normal. I want to see it come
back to normal.
I want to see the Lower Ninth Ward look like the rest of the city. And
that`s my goal. That`s my goal. And I`m going to continue to fight to get
HARRIS-PERRY: Ten years later we`ve learned a lot from New Orleans. New
Orleans teaches us that individuals and families bear important
responsibility in restoring our city and our nation. New Orleans shows us
that the innovative capacity of civil society and of entrepreneurship are
critical to bringing our nation back.
But New Orleans also reveals that recovery will always be limited without
effective, transparent and responsible government action. It`s going to
take all of that. It`s not time for a victory lap. Marc Morial said it`s
half time. It`s time to redouble the efforts of doing the work to bring
about a fully fair and just recovery in the city of New Orleans.
Thank you to James Perry, to Laura Flanders and to Jelani Cobb.
And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m
going to see you tomorrow morning 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We`re going to be
live from Washington, D.C. with the secretary of housing and urban
development, Julian Castro. He`s going to join me.
And now it`s time for a preview of “WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT.”
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