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Bloggin's Bulls: New Orleans

USF students will be in New Orleans, La., March 3-6 studying the impact of Hurricane Katrina and will volunteer with Project Rebirth. The students are part of Dr. Mike Weaver's class, Katrina and Environmental Health in the Black Community. Two students will be blogging daily about their experiences. Check back to read about their journey.


 

March 6, 2011 | 8 a.m.
We left Project Rebirth to travel back to Tampa. This was a great trip. I'm exhausted, but thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip. Lots of camaraderie on this trip and we learned a lot. We all agreed that in a couple of weeks we'll have an after trip get together to discuss our experiences and watch the video that I shot. Lots of editing ahead. I shot four hours of footage.

One final experience: When we arrived back in Tampa I forgot my suitcase. I had so much equipment with me that I didn’t realize I forgot to grab it. Hopefully one of the students grabbed it and is holding it for safekeeping.

-Bethany

March 5, 2011 | 12:30 p.m.
I am completely floored. Today, we all visited the Lower 9th Ward, the area hit hardest by the floods of the Industrial Canal. Contrary to popular belief, we learned that the mass damage to the city was result of a barge left in the canal breaching one of the major man-made levees, not Hurricane Katrina directly. All but a few homes were wiped out by the surge of water when the levee failed.

It is so fortunate that Brad Pitt developed the Make It Right Foundation to rebuild housing in the area. And, it is even more fortunate that we had the opportunity to speak with his team and receive a better understanding of the disaster and recovery of the area. The experience was both priceless and rewarding.
 
At first glimpse of families and children outside on the streets of the newly constructed Lower 9th Ward, we were all shocked and a bit uncomfortable. Our discomfort did not come from any animosity, however, we simply felt as though these people deserved a right to privacy. Still, they did not seem bothered at all, in fact, they embraced us. One victim and resident of the Lower 9th Ward in particular, Robert Green, spoke with us personally and gave us a tour of his Make It Right Foundation home. Hands-down, he is the most humble individual I have ever met in my entire life. Mr. Green lost his granddaughter, age 3, and his mother during the chaos of Katrina, but his strength is exceptional. His eyes tended to water a bit in his dialogue with us, but his demeanor remained hopeful and unbroken. My eyes watered as he displayed photos of his family and the city in turmoil. And, as I began to look around at my peers, disbelief and tears took over. Mr. Green gave us all a sense of humbleness. Seeing one person go through so much and be able to persevere is inspirational. I believe that we all left with a more mature perspective on life and a stronger will for solidarity.

-Jacri

March 5, 2011 | 8:35 a.m.
We had an extremely early morning; waking up at about 6 a.m. Dr. Weaver had plans for us to explore the more untouched parts of the city. Our first stop was Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1. We explored the crypts to take note on their architectural structure and design as all burials are above ground due to the spongy soil in New Orleans. The cemetery was definitely nerve wrecking and interesting. We visited the grave of Marie Laveau, the Notorious “voodoo queen” and most widely known practitioners of voodoo. Voodoism, of African origin, was brought to New Orleans from Santo Domingo and flourished in the 19th Century. As scary as it was, we all could not help but to be intrigued by such an odd culture held by the city.
 
After, we continued on our tour to Louis Armstrong Park, which was unfortunately closed. Still, we discussed the history of Mr. Armstrong and his contribution in music to New Orleans. His music gave hope in desperate times and spoke the words unspoken by those in grievance. So, even today, he serves a purpose in the city.
 
Leaving Louis Armstrong Park, we all walked and explored a little more of uptown New Orleans. Many of us got the chance to take photos with the officers of the New Orleans Police Department, NOPD. The whole city and all of its constituents give off this welcoming vibe like no other. I cannot wait to see what the rest of our day has in store.

-Jacri

March 4, 2011 | 11:15 p.m.
I definitely had one of the best experiences of my life tonight and the other students probably feel the same. This was the first Mardi Gras parade that any of us have ever attended. The people, the atmosphere, the beads, all contributed to an amazing night. New Orleans has so much to offer and more people should indulge in the city.

-Jacri

March 4, 2011 | 5:30 p.m.
The group finished doing community service in Uptown New Orleans. We had the pleasure of working with Mr. Lee, who is a native of the city. We did landscaping to set up garden beds consisting of concrete bricks, fresh soil, and manure. Fruits and vegetables will be grown, including collard greens, tomatoes, melons, mustards, carrots, etc. The job was extremely demanding, especially due to the weather. It began to pour, but we continued on in our outside work. Mr. Lee has been setting up nurseries, like the one we did, in order to promote sustainability and feed natives of New Orleans. It is essential that we uplift one another and share the fruits of our labor. The experience was rewarding and you could see it in each of our eyes.

After a quick stop at Wal-Mart and a nap during the ride back to the Project Rebirth center, we are rushing to get ready for a Mardi Gras parade on St. Charles street.

-Jacri

March 4, 2011 | 11 a.m.
We arrived at Project Rebirth around 8:15 a.m. Since we've been here, we have met all of the facilitators of the building. Everyone is overwhelmingly nice and we're all becoming accustomed to our living quarters. We ate breakfast together and had an in-depth discussion afterwards. The discussion was laced with topics such as socio-cultural and economical trends as well as the failure of governmental institutions to act promptly in state of emergencies. The facilitators of Project Rebirth have instilled a sense of togetherness within us all. Later when we start our hands-on volunteering on the Vietnamese Community Church in east New Orleans, we will do so in a sense of solidarity.

We are all sleep deprived at the moment. However, I believe and it is blatantly obvious that our will power is overpowering our lack of sleep. We have some down time right now, yet we rather incite debate and discussion than sneak in a power nap. I have to say that this is the most diverse and passionate people that I've ever encountered. If only more people in society would voice opinions and promote change, I couldn't even fathom how different our world could be. All the potential and opportunity in this world has me in complete disbelief. I can only wish that we all seize and grasp all that we can within our lifetimes.

The day is long from over and we are ready to work and interact with more of the enriched people of New Orleans.

-Jacri

 

March 4, 2011 | 6:31 a.m.
We arrived in downtown New Orleans and had beignets and hot chocolate at Cafe Du Monde. Lots of powdered sugar...it woke me right up. Then we went for a long walking tour of downtown New Orleans. Beautiful sites. City's getting ready for Mardi Gras. As we were heading back to the bus, I saw a young man down on one knee proposing to his girlfriend. She said, "Yes" through her happy tears. Bystanders began clapping for the happy couple while a photographer took pictures of the event.

-Bethany

 

Fellow USF student Drew Evans at Washington
Artillery Park.

March 4, 2011 | 6:31 a.m.
We have arrived in the great city of New Orleans, in French Quarter to be exact. Dr. Weaver expressed to us all how at this very place, slaves were bought and sold. The reality that we are really standing in a huge part of history is nothing short of amazing.

We had the chance to experience authentic New Orleans style beignets at Cafe Du Monde along with hot chocolate. Beignets , a sugar powered pastry, are a part of New Orleans culture and, might I add, are delicious.

After eating, we walked through French Quarter, taking in the scenery. The buildings are old, and just give off this down-to-earth vibe. Jackson Square is this massive palace-like structure that seems to be like an epicenter of the city. Moving along, we toured the Washington Artillery Park and the Moonwalk, on a natural levy. You also can see the New Orleans Aquarium in the distance across the water. We are breathing in the history, the culture and an unparalleled experience.

We actually got filmed by ABC 26 WGNO News while walking to Bourbon street. Needless to say, we showed out with our Green & Gold spirit, representing for our great University of South Florida. The opportunity was surreal.

Soon, we will be getting prepared to board the bus again and head to Project Rebirth. Thereafter, we will get our room assignments and start lending a hand in service. Here we go.

-Jacri

 

March 4, 2011 | 1:30 a.m.
We just made our first stop in Marianna, Fla., at a trucker stop. I have to say that this stop has absolutely everything a traveler can possibly need; it's crazy. The trip has been comfortable so far. A lot of discussion and debate on the bus began a little while ago. Various topics have been thrown up, all having some kind of historical relevance to New Orleans and/or African-American descent.

During the ride we have also been "attempting" to watch a great movie, Lackawanna Blues. I say "attempting" because the film has been randomly skipping to different parts throughout the movie. At first, it was hilarious, but as the technical difficulties proceeded, we got a little restless. Man, I still want to finish watching that movie. LOL.

-Jacri

 

March 3, 2011 | 7:47 p.m.
Just stepped outside of the charter bus to pray. We're now on the bus waiting to depart to New Orleans. Everybody is ready to go; the bus is filled with laughing and talking. Yeah, it's going to be a good trip. I know we all do not have a clue what to expect. Hopefully, sooner than later, we'll find out.

-Jacri

 

March 3, 2011 | 4 p.m.
Hi everyone. My name is Bethany Rowell. I'm a senior, double majoring in Mass Communications (Telecommunications-Production) and Africana Studies. I'm very excited about this trip to New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, I had the opportunity to help with some relief efforts. Ultimately, myself and a friend were designated to drive eight people from New Orleans to Clearwater for relocation. These people had seen horrific devastation. All were from the Lower Ninth Ward. We were driving to Florida, trying to stay ahead of Hurricane Rita, when it was announced that more levies had broken near their homes. The RV became silent as tears rolled down their faces. At the time I didn't realize what had just happened. Eventually, one of them solemnly said that they had no home to return to because when those levies broke their homes would be completely flooded. It was a humbling experience to be with this group during this horrific time. This weekend I'll finally have the opportunity to see the area where these people lived and lost. 

Around 8 p.m., we left from University Square Mall to begin our long journey to New Orleans. Everyone's really excited. After stopping in Wesley Chapel to allow another student to catch up and join us, we headed out. Dr. Weaver had the students introduce themselves and explain why they're coming on this trip. Later in the evening we stopped at a rest area in Mississippi. I was surprised to see that the rest area looked like a typical Southern plantation house. Strangely enough, there was a sign above the toilets saying "Please excuse our brown water." Yes, it looked like someone had used the restroom and forgotten to flush. It made me wonder if it was ok to wash my hands.

-Bethany

 

March 3, 2011 | 3:21 p.m.
Hey everyone. My name is Jacri Stubbs and I am a marketing major here at the University of South Florida Tampa Campus. Go Bulls! I am extremely involved within our College of Business and Student Government. I’ll be graduating in the fall and am trying to take part in everything possible while I have the time; that is, before “real-life” kicks into full gear.

Well, I am one of the official bloggers for the project Rebirth Service and Learning Culture visit to New Orleans and am ecstatic. I am going because I believe that it is an amazing opportunity to take in the history of New Orleans and help those left in troubled times. Every bit of exposure, thus far, on the damage to New Orleans has been watered down. The news tends to follow a “top-down” method, displaying the state situation as a whole in general. I cannot wait to actually work with the afflicted on a smaller scale. While working in the East Vietnamese Community and touring the Lower and Upper 9th Ward, it is my mission to develop more personal information on the crisis.

The toughest part of this whole trip will definitely be staying strong in the midst of depression. I want to connect with New Orleans’ residents and help them in a time of need. However, I have to brace myself to any and everything that I may or may not see or experience during the trip. I strive to empathize with the victims, but will hold strong in order to uplift them as well.

Well, the time is drawing near for departure and I am filled with a mix of emotions. Wish us luck on our journey and in the ability to truly assist our fellow people.