Katrina, Reclaiming a Part of Me | Joshua L. Lazard, [Dillard +] Fisk '06

by Joshua L. Lazard

I got home the day before Labor Day 2005 and called around to schools across the nation. And I realized I wanted to go back to an HBCU, I seriously didn’t even call any white schools. The world was our oyster–seriously, Harvard and Yale had opened their doors to the college students from NOLA. I had one friend go to Stanford and another go to MIT during their semester away from Dillard University.

Dillard University Concert Choir in 2006. I'm the guy in the cornrows.
Dillard University Concert Choir in 2006. That’s me with the cornrows.

I called up Tennessee State University, which was my first choice and Southern University because they were waiving tuition. After most of us had had a week of school, and paid checks and signed away the following 10-15 years of our life with Stafford Loan signatures, many schools were merely opening their doors, but not their pocketbooks. The problem was that both TSU and Southern couldn’t guarantee me housing. Well, for me to spend another two or three hundred dollars on a one-way plane ticket, I needed some guarantees over the phone.

Getting in contact with my home church in Chicago, and hearing about the Tom Joyner Foundation money that was given to us, I arrived at Fisk University where I ultimately finished up my Bachelor of Science degree in business management, which was somewhat of a let down because I was supposed to be a straight up accounting major.

There were a number of reasons I stayed at Fisk. One of which was I needed to expand my social horizon, and Fisk was the perfect place to do so. Going back to Dillard, which was nicknamed the “Hillard” because they set up classes in Hilton Riverfront between January 2006 and June 2006, would have put me back around the same people and I would have reverted back to some old habits. There were rumors that they were going to set up Dillard in a cruise ship and I simply said, “no.” I be damned if I board a ship in the port of New Orleans where so many slaves were sold–to be a in another ship holed up together with other blacks with the watchful eye of a white government officials who have swooped in–no I’ll pass on that one.

But I had to go to summer school at Fisk for one class, and I made the drive to New Orleans on June 30th, driving down there for the graduation ceremonies on July 1st on the Avenue of the Oaks to see my class that I had toiled three years with, walk across the stage.

I didn’t cry about Katrina until I saw Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke” here at my grad school’s commemoration of the one year anniversary. By that time in 2006, I had been in three cities, from New Orleans to Nashville and then Atlanta. I was just tired and it finally hit home for me that I too had suffered from Katrina.

No, I didn’t lose a house, just all of my clothes, and a few childhood memorabilia that I has just brought down there for sentimental reasons. I didn’t see my city destroyed like the thousands of others did, but I nonetheless feel myself a part of that which was New Orleans culture.

It was the first place where I was on my own, doing what I did for myself, not under the watchful eye of my parents. What I lost was caught up in going downtown to the Zulu parade for Mardi Gras and seeing a friend on the float; it was walking up and down the French Quarter and Canal Street as broke college students because we didn’t have anything else to do on a weekend, but spending what you did have on a jello shot. It was me catching the Broad Street bus to the Canal street car line up to the Cemeteries to catch the Jefferson Parish bus just to go to Lakeside for a day.

John McCain made the world’s dumbest statement that “We are all Georgians” following the
Russia and Georgia conflict and I think the Democrats missed a prime opportunity to call him out on it. Where was John McCain making such a broad sweeping statement when New Orleans was underwater. Not one time did I hear a politicians say “We are all New Orleanians.”

But, I think it’s safe to say that a good chunk of me misses New Orleans. I’m not sure what it is, but I do. I miss the friends that I did make when I was down there, we talk every once in a while and of course there’s always Facebook and MySpace, but yes, there’s still a bit of me in New Orleans, and I guess it will stay there until I go back and reclaim it.

Dillard University orientation in 2003. I’m the tall guy.

Above, are the mostly unedited words from a long entry I made in 2008 when I first started blogging. Three years after I wrote that, I did go back to New Orleans and I pray that I was faithful to that which called me back to New Orleans, reclaiming the bit of me that I had lost in Katrina. Upon my return, the City became the place of firsts yet again: where I first place rented my own apartment, worked a full time job and learned the dear importance of HBCUs in my story. It was the City that allowed me to experience the joys of educating young black minds, a high sacred task that has no peer.

I returned to a City full of people willing to force politicians and business leaders to make good on the American promise that all are endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I also returned to empty streets where children once played, and to vacant lots of former homes where parents and grandparents stood on porches waiting for their children to come home once the street lights began to glow. I returned to citizens staking their claim and possessing a fortitude stronger than resilience, drawing from ancient wells that ran deeper than the Mississippi river.

Katrina, up until now, is what psychologists and sociologists would call a “major life event.” Up until now, it is the biggest one in my life. A large dividing line demarcates my life “before and after the storm.” My journey has left footprints on both sides of that line, shuffling the coils of late adolescence and meandering through the darkness that can be early adulthood. I breathed in the sultry and humid air of the delta swamps on which New Orleans sits and I inhaled the life-blood of the city. That was something Katrina did not, and I daresay could not destroy. I reclaimed a bit of myself when I returned. I left yet again, taking with me the reclaimed part of me and the newly created ones; forged in the yellow days and crystal nights of the city that care seemingly forgot, New Orleans.

Joshua LazardA Chicago South Side native, Joshua is a graduate of Fisk University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting after attending Dillard University in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.  He went on to graduate from the Johnson C. Smith Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta, Georgia with a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and a Master of Arts (M.A.) in church music with a thesis entitled “The Effectiveness of Music and the Role of Preaching in the Black Church.” A writer, minister and public intellectual, who offers engaging social and theological commentary that provides a provocative cultural critical awareness, he discovered his penchant and love for writing and launched his blog in 2007 as an armchair cultural critic. When social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram emerged, he operated under the well-known moniker The Uppity Negro as he is still known in social media networks.