When I was in New Orleans last week, my friend, Dr. Silas Lee, invited me to give a guest lecture to his class on 20th century African American urban life at Xavier University.
I ended up learning more about the challenges residents face as they try to rebuild their homes and neighborhoods.
The students expressed frustration with the claim that "this town is coming back." One student said, "When I hear that New Orleans is back, on my street lawns haven't been touched. We need help coping with the issue. It's not simple when you see it on a daily basis."
They dismissed the candidates' promise of, ahem, gumbo in every pot as pandering. Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's sincerity was questioned in part because they have affected a preacher's cadence when speaking before predominantly black audiences.
The cameraman may have captured the video (or perhaps just the audio) of Nagin blowing past his colleague because he was off the clock. So, while his constituents are struggling 24/7 to rebuild their lives and homes, their, um, leader punches a clock.
The vigil was held in Jackson Square to expiate the sins of omission and commission of President Bush, who two years ago stood before the American people and promised to "do what it takes."
But as the Rev. Al Sharpton noted:
This disaster started with broken levees. It was continued in this square with broken promises. The government let the people down. Drive-by sympathy cannot fix the city.
Something is wrong when you can see weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but you can't see a hurricane in New Orleans. Bush can find money to rebuild Baghdad but he cannot find the will to rebuild New Orleans.
Don't blame God for the government's neglect. The hurricane was God. The levee breach was government. We will stay with you until the job is done.
In declaring "better days are ahead," Bush continues to ignore the plight of the 33,000 New Orleanians who are trapped in FEMA trailers. Homeowners, whose ability to pass on wealth to the next generation was lost in the flood, and renters, who have been locked out of public housing, know what it means to miss New Orleans.
Heavenly Father, make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: "Use power to help people." For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one use of power and it is to help people. -- President George H.W. Bush, Jan. 20, 1989
Rev. Thomas preached, "We need to stir things up and keep stirring things up."
And they were stirring things up in Congo Square, where the People's Hurricane Relief Fund held a political rally. The participants vowed to continue to fight to ensure Katrina survivors can come back home. Their battle cry: "We're fired up. Won't take no more."
I got spiritual nourishment at the prayer breakfast but in Congo Square, I felt the spirit of the ancestors, who gave black folks the strength and resilience to survive the worst natural man-made disaster in U.S. history.
During the rally, the sky opened up and there was a downpour. Still, the Hot 8 Brass Band played on and people danced.
I was so fired up I walked back to my hotel through the pouring rain. For nearly an hour, I waded through the water and tried to get a sense of what Katrina survivors experienced two years ago.
As for the recovery effort, Melanie noted that outside the French Quarter:
All it takes is a five-minute ride in either direction, and you know it's not okay. If this thing stays as it is, it will be one of the largest forced migrations of this century and the last.
So we will march and rally to show Katrina survivors that they matter. We care and we have not forgotten the anger we felt two years ago as we watched their suffering on CNN and other media outlets.
From 2 pm to 5 pm CST, there will be a rally in front of Halls A and B of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the site of unimaginable misery, perseverance and survival. CNN is expected to broadcast the event live so tune in.
But don't just sit there like a bump on a log -- multitask. Flood Congress with calls and emails and demand an equitable recovery here.
I'm in New Orleans, where the sense of loss is palpable from the moment one deplanes at the Louis Armstrong Airport. The presence of absence evokes a Southern belle sitting on her front porch waiting for a gentleman caller who never shows up.
Like all communities, we in New Orleans have a microscopic perception of culture. It's a way of living – the food we eat, the institutions we're committed to – the people we're used to interacting with.
Anyone who loses a component of their culture, it's like losing an immediate family member, a part of your soul, the essence of what makes your community. It's part of the spirit of a neighborhood.
Silas told me New Orleans is losing the social anchors of its neighborhoods – churches, grocery stores, barber shops. "The people made those institutions."