Author: Kelsey Longmuir
Last Wednesday, Oct. 29, members of the Oxy community were transported back to 2005 as the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL) hosted “Rising From the Waters,” a presentation about struggle and survival in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Caroline Heldman, Assistant Professor of Politics and Director of the New Orleans Women’s Shelter, and Earl Barthe Jr., a member of the civilian rescue effort during Hurricane Katrina, shared the story of their meeting and the impact of the storm on their lives.
Heldman initially became involved in the relief effort while flying back from a political conference. “Coming back from the conference, we [Heldman and two students] decided to do a research project on media coverage of the storm relief,” Heldman said.
Heldman and her students got into the city using borrowed press passes to get their own footage of the relief effort. They met Barthe Jr. on their way into the city, when they were fixing a flat tire.
“I was kneeling by the tire, I looked up and there he [Barthe Jr.] was with rays of light just streaming out of his head,” Heldman said. Heldman and her students accompanied Barthe Jr. into the depths of the city, where the main relief effort was concentrated.
“The military kept asking Erin, my African-American student, if she needed help . . . they just kept trying to evacuate the black woman in our group and pull us away from these guys,” Heldman said.
Barthe Jr., a member of the civilian relief effort, took his neighbor’s abandoned boat and paddled around the city, picking people up. “We were broke kids from the hood doing all we could to help,” he said.
Barthe Jr. encountered a girl who refused to get in the boat because she was waiting for her father. Barthe Jr. paddled the boat into the back of the house and found the father’s dead body. “We had to become psychologists and psychiatrists,” Barthe Jr. said.
In telling his story, Barthe Jr. emphasized the injustice in the relief effort. “The police station had a huge line of food while people were starving [inside the city],” he said. “There were heavily armed men patrolling the waters, hunting us [because they thought we were looters].”
Barthe Jr. came to Oxy to give a true account of what happened in the days following Hurricane Katrina. “The misrepresentation of the story is what you heard,” he said. “Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to tell you a little of the truth.”
The event concluded with a free performance in the Quad by rap artist DaReal, a Katrina survivor who raps about his experience in the aftermath of the storm. “It is still a struggle for us to survive,” Barthe Jr. said.
“I thought the presentation was moving,” said Jennifer Lara (sophomore). “The work that they [Heldman and Barthe Jr.] did and are still doing is incredible.”
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