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    Stony Brook Students Participate In Louisiana Winter

    Sixteen months after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, a group of 100 students from 20 universities, including two students from Stony Brook, traveled to Louisiana to offer their assistance. The student campaign, entitled Louisiana Winter, was focused on persuading Congress to pass legislation based on the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project, a campaign that would create 100,000 civic works jobs for the newly homeless in New Orleans and the surrounding area.

    Simone Crichlow, a graduate student in the School of Social Work, was one of two students from SBU to travel to New Orleans. From Jan. 19 to 20, she, along with friend Claire Green-Forde, traveled to communities to see for themselves the effects of Katrina.

    Speaking about houses and schools that were destroyed after the Category 5 storm made landfall in Aug. 2005, Chrichlow said, ‘There is no way to describe it.’

    ‘It was like a ton of bricks hit me,’ Crichlow later recalled, when she described how seashells were clearly visible on the floors of what were once living rooms, and twisted fences and a slide lined the playground of a former public elementary school. Most shocking, said Crichlow, was the lack of construction and repair. There was ‘not one crane, not one construction site’ in the Lower 9th Ward, the now-famous low income area of New Orleans that was virtually underwater for weeks following Katrina.

    In the aftermath of the hurricane, the Bush administration received harsh criticism from citizens in New Orleans, as well as thousands of Americans who believed that more should have been done to help those stranded in the Gulf Coast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was blamed for a botched recovery effort, and Michael Brown. Brown, then head of FEMA, resigned amidst outrage over his handling of issues like temporary housing for the thousands of misplaced families.

    Many believed that the poor response of the U.S. government was racially motivated, as many of the affected families in Louisiana and Mississippi were African American, but Crichlow is not one of them. Instead, she cites socio-economic discrimination as the reason for the mishandled recovery. As an example, she mentioned that while the poor 9th Ward was left unattended, even after over a year, the richer middle class areas have started to undergo serious reconstruction. Additionally, insurance rates in the area have spiked, and while the wealthier population can afford the new rates, many of the city’s poorest residents cannot keep up.

    There is hope, however. The Louisiana Winter project has received national attention in the media, and the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project has picked up traction in Congress. Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson (D) has expressed his interest in the Civic Works project, and calls the plan ‘a model’ for reconstruction.

    Scott Meyers Lipton heads the Louisiana Winter program and is pushing for a few things to be accomplished within the year, chief among them being the passing of a non-binding resolution in Congress promoting the ideas outlined in the Civic Works project. Additionally, Green-Forde and Crichlow are in communication with Rev. Willie Walker, who wishes to set up a tour of SUNY schools to teach students and professors alike about what has been done in the Gulf Coast and what needs to happen in the near future.

    In the meantime, both Crichlow and Green-Forde are focusing on their upcoming graduation in May, as well as the continual publicizing of what they saw in New Orleans. From visits to town hall meetings to tours of towns destroyed by the storm, both students were moved by what they witnessed.

    ‘For me to forget what I saw would be an injustice to them,’ said Crichlow. ‘I got here today because of those before me,’ she said. ‘I cannot walk away from that.’ There are many people out there who feel bad for the victims of Katrina, she continued, but ‘passion means little without commitment.’

    For more information on the work of the Louisiana Winter project, as well as suggestions on what you can do to help, please visit solvingpoverty.com

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