Yesterday i spent the afternoon walking around my old neighborhood, almost crying. Little things would make me almost cry: a violin in a yard, encased in mold. My neighbor's studio window, with "New Orleans, I love you so much!" spray-painted across it. I don't know if he's back, or if he's coming back, ever. I feel ok about crying on the street these days, but yesterday, every time i was about to give in and let myself do it, i'd run into an old neighbor and we'd have the How'd Y'all Make Out conversation. Did you leave, where'd you go, how's your family, how's your place, where are you staying now, listen to the crazy thing I did the other day. These days, I have that conversation so many times, it's almost mundane. Lost the house, job's in Lafayette but the kids are in school in Baton Rouge, so-and-so moved to Dallas, forever. I always brace myself for the news. No one ever says, "I'm great! How are you doing?" Weeks ago our reunions were joyous, screaming affairs in the middle of streets. We were so glad to see each other alive. The National Guard and the Animal Rescue workers would gaze at us in awe as we'd jump into each other's arms from all the way down the block. Now the quantity of stories has become overwhelming. Sometimes I want to just walk on by and not listen. But for some reason I always stop.
Today we went to the Israelite Baptist Church in Central City to talk about setting up a free clinic there a couple of days a week. Reverend Larry was amazing; he brightened my whole day. The church does a whole host of programs, everything from an exercise ministry to a drug program called "Sons of Blood and Thunder." For the past three Sundays they've had services without electricity, and every week over 100 people showed up. Rev. Larry explained to us that everything they do, they do it for the community, whether people are religious or not. No one has to be a part of the church to participate in the activities the church does. They've even set up a nonprofit to do things like distribute condoms and talk to teenagers about sex and drugs, since it's hard to do those kinds of things through the church itself. We said we'd be happy to do the clinic in whatever space they had available, that we were good at making do, having set up clinics in parking lots and baseball diamonds, and Rev. Larry said, "Y'all are my kinda people." I think I'm still smiling from when he said that.
After we left, Molly said. "I'd always heard organizing in New Orleans is about relationships, and I think I'm starting to see how that works." It's been really amazing to see other people here willing and ready to learn about how organizing works here, people being conscious that there is a long and rich history of amazing work here. I feel like a big part of my job is to help translate that reality to people, help people slow down and listen and be respectful of the place they've come to. Every time I get in the car with folks from out of town, I hear myself saying things like, "this didn't always used to be a Wal-Mart. This was the St Thomas housing project until just a few years ago, and there was hella organizing going on back here." People need to know that if they are coming to rebuild my city.
Thinking a lot about what it means for me to be "rebuilding" this city as a healthcare worker and someone committed to racial and social justice. I think I'm coming to an understanding of how I need to balance actually being out there and doing work, because there's always more people needing healthcare than there are ways to fill that need-- even here! in this city where so many people still aren't around--and also being conscious and strategic about what kind of healthcare there needs to be. Feeling excited about building relationships with grassroots anti-racist healthcare providers in the city, like the St Thomas Health Clinic; feeling like this is a time where anything is possible and where healthcare itself can be an amazing force in the struggle for racial justice in this broken city.
Driving home tonight I felt like I was in the middle of a checkerboard. The Quarter lit up like Disneyworld; poor black neighborhoods a few blocks over so dark I couldn't even see the street in front of me. The whole city like that: housing projects so desolate you can hear the doors, loose from their hinges, creaking in the breeze like songs. Who's here, who's not. Who gets to come home, who doesn't. At night I feel us all here, lost together, wandering through that dark.