The first stop on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage that I am on this Spring Break was New Orleans.

New Orleans has always had an air of mystery to me…the people there are so loyal to their city, so in love with it, and willing to go through a lot to stay.

In the morning we went to Dillard University, a historically black college in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. They had a few 9th graders from a nearby school come to the discussion. They were so smart and articulate and they spoke about being harassed by cops and seeing their friends and family members harassed. It was awful. I really don’t know why these issues have been so far out of my reality, but I suppose it’s because not much like that has every happened to me. One of them said (this is a 15-year-old boy) said “You know, I just don’t understand it. First there was slavery, then we were treated like nothing, and now… still nothing”. To hear those words out of the mouth of an American student, and person that lives in the same country and under the same laws that I do- it’s an awakening.

After hearing that and then seeing the emptiness and destruction of the 9th Ward, I feel embarrassed that this situation exists in my country. It is really awful, what I learned there. But good- very, very good- because I needed to know and there was no other way to really understand. It also make me feel simultaneously purposeful and purposeless. Strange way to feel.

“Moment of grace”, as Ray Jordan, the leader of our trip likes to say: dancing to When the Saints Come Marching In in the streets of the 9th Ward with residents celebrating the birthday of the recently deceased black fire chief. They’d started an impromptu parade with brass instruments and umbrellas. He was a good man, they said.

Good people are needed in New Orleans, seems like. The cops are corrupt, the people don’t trust the government at all. The hotels, casinos, bars, clubs, and gift shops are open and ready for business with a smile on. The projects and houses and schools and libraries are closed, boarded up, still spray painted with rescuers’ symbols and the word “HELP!”

What is going to be done?

images: steeple at Dillard, house in 9th Ward, people dancing in 9th Ward