Last month, StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to downtown Chicago, Illinois, to record the stories of chief service officers from city administrations across the nation. CSOs described the impact that different community development initiatives have had on their cities as part of Cities of Service, a coalition of mayors from metropolitan areas that represent nearly 20 million Americans in the United States.
Kia Bickham, the CSO for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, spoke about the Love Your Block Initiative, a program that distributes small grants to citizen committees for the greening and beautification of city blocks, work that is mainly carried out by community volunteers. Kia explained how the implementation of that initiative has changed the urban environments of many historically black Baton Rouge neighborhoods that have been affected by decades of urban decay. (more…)
During our recent stop in Louisiana, the Mobile East Team closed our Booth in New Orleans for two days and headed to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola. There, we found community both behind bars and outside the cell blocks.
Clifford Hampton and Kuantau Reeder have been incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary 51 years and 17 years, respectively. They discussed the choices and circumstances that brought them to prison, how their outlook has changed since their incarceration, and their hopes for the future. They also discussed punishment, redemption and forgiveness.
Maurice Rabalais and his mother, Dora Rabalais, talked about what it is like living, working and raising a family at Angola Prison. The Rabalais family has lived and worked at Angola Prison for three generations. Maurice and Dora talked about the closeness of the community of employees at Angola. Maurice spoke of how he feels at home as soon as he sees the Louisiana Penitentiary sign at the gates to the prison and that when he helps a co-worker at Angola it is likely he’s also helping a neighbor.
Site Supervisor Whitney Henry-Lester and I recently took a day trip to the community of Kenner, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans, for a field recording at the Greenwalt Adult Day Health Center. First, Melba Dwyer was interviewed by caregiver Gaynell Bean. Melba talked about her husband, Louis, and their six children. The next pair of participants were Patricia Landry and her mother Marie Ayo. Marie talked about what it was like being married to a railroad section foreman and about the time her family lived in a box car, no doubt an early precursor to the MobileBooth! Carolyn McKnight interviewed her sister Eunice about her happiest moments, which included her baptism at age 18.
Caregiver Denise Hall used her interview as an opportunity to tell Lena Anderson just how much she appreciates Lena’s sense of humor and all the fun she brings to Greenwalt during her visits. Caregiver Roslyn Buggage accompanied Kathy Roland to her recording, which just happened to take place on Kathy’s 65th birthday. Finally, Becky Rousseau and her mother Doris rounded out the day with stories about Doris’ love of softball and how the sport not only kept her in great shape, but also led her to marry Elmo Rousseau, her former coach.
On opening day in New Orleans, Patti Adams, flutist for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, told her husband, percussionist Jim Atwood, why she loves New Orleans. “It celebrates the senses on a daily basis. It’s so interesting to live here.”
Jim agreed. “New Orleans is a great place if you like art, architecture, history, food, or music.”
“And great people!” Patti chimed in. “It’s filled with great, interesting, wonderful, loving people. And that’s what life’s all about.”
The MobileBooth East staff couldn’t agree more.
StoryCorps last visited the great city of New Orleans in May of 2006, just 8 months after devastating Hurricane Katrina slammed the southern coast of the United States. Now, five years later, the MobileBooth has returned for 5 weeks of recording, hoping to collect 150 stories of all varieties. The MobileBooth is parked outside of the National World War II Museum until April 17th. We are happy to be partnering with WWNO, Common Ground, Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Center, Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, Edible Schoolyard, Puentes New Orleans, and the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, among many others.
On the road, we stop in for a photo op with facilitator R. Lena Richardson…
Close to their final day in Lafayette, Kamiliah Duggins and Andrew Wilson are visited by Eddie B. Mormon, an artists from Lake Charles who works with knives and brushes to paint– the facilitators hold up an original Mormon, a portrait of Gerald Ford. After getting a taste of Cajun and Creole culture, facilitators Susan Lee and Lena Richardson bid farewell to facilitators Duggins and Wilson, who have shown them some of that good Southern hospitality while they were shown the ropes around the booth.
Everything is packed and secured and the Storycorps Booth rolls out of Lafayette, Louisiana en route to Fayetteville, Arkansas, incidentally both cities named after Marquis de Lafayette.
Getting beads at Mardi Gras is a fierce competition. Both Andrew and Kamilah made out pretty good for their first time.
When Andrew and Kamilah arrived at Lafayette’s Mardi Gras parade at 10 a.m., the party had long since been going on. We decided to swing by the booth and ran into participants Fran and Steve Patton, who came to the booth to record his story for his grandchildren.
Happy Mardi Gras!
As we get closer to the actual day of gluttony, Mardi Gras, the city of Lafayette is brimming with anticipation in the form of parades. We could see this one out of the booth windows.
Just ten days before Mardi Gras, the MobileBooth arrived in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Kamilah Duggins, in an effort to immerse herself in local culture, is on a Quest for Beads.
Andrew is as well, but so far, Kamilah has had considerably more success.
Here we see the MobileBooth in Parc Sans Souci, which translates from French "The Park Without Sauce."
While in Lafayette, Kamilah and Andrew will be staying in the Blue Moon Guest House and Concert Hall. On Thursday, The Moon was host to Dick Dale, the guy responsible for that song they play in "Pulp Fiction" while Uma Thurman and John Travolta are dancing with one another. Check out this video to see footage of the closest Andrew has ever come to getting a rock and roller in his bedroom.
What an amazing, wonderful month StoryCorps has had in Louisiana! It’s almost impossible to sum up. A pot of images will have to do as we get ready to bid farewell to the incomparable song of New Orleans.
We couldn’t help but notice that there’s something about New Orleans that goes beyond the vibrant stories, jamming music, colorful characters, and delicious food. It’s the hats. Once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere.
Hat while enjoying fresh air.
Hat while sitting.
Hat while waiting.
Hat while browsing.
Hat while delivering food to restaurants around Jackson Square. Soul Man can carry boxes, sing, and wear this smile all at the same time..every, single, time we see him.
Hat on facilitator named Brett while talking with the Soul Man near his truck.
Hat in New Orleans. Model: Facilitator Nelson Simon.
Hats from New Orleans.
Dancing hat. Miss Lollipop plays the flute in the incredible Treme Brass Band.
Hat Store. The oldest one in the South.
Hats off to New Orleans–but only long enough to tip the musicians!
Welcome to Antoine’s, one of the French Quarter’s finest dining experiences. Facilitators Brett Myers, Laura Spero, Nelson Simon, and Veronica Ordaz get ready to treat themselves to a world-class dinner.
We were told we couldn’t leave New Orleans without trying oysters rockafeller.
Richard is a career waiter at Antoine’s, and here he is carrying baked Alaska. We weren’t sure what baked Alaska was until we saw it, but when we asked Richard if it is traditionally flambÃd, he said no. We were disappointed, so he went ahead and lit it on fire for us. Now that’s top noch service.
Even with a great deal more field recording than usual, the booth is staying busy in Jackson Square.
Facilitators have spent a fair share of time down the road at Cafe du Monde. Waitresses Ming Smith and Rua Thi Vu returned the visit with hostess Cam Ming. All three women are Vietnamese immigrants and have been working at Cafe du Monde for 25 years.
Voodoo Priestess Miriam Chamari was interviewed by her husband, Allen Villeneuve. She recalled caring for nuns through their sickly retirement, and reflected on spirituality. “Seek the Kingdom within yourself,” Priestess Miriam advised. When asked how, why, and when she decided to become a spiritual practitioner, she answered simply, “My path has chosen me.”
Composer and lyricist Cosmo Matassa came to the booth with his friend Jack Stewart.
It’s called THE SECOND LINE, and it’s a die-hard New Orleans tradition at weddings and funerals alike. The first line is made of friends and family of the deceased, who walk with the casket along with a brass band, sending their loved one off in a celebratory fashion. Then there are all the folks who tag along for the music, dancing as they go and waving white hankerchiefs. That’s the second line.
We were invited to wave our hankies at StoryCorps participante JolÃne Bouchon’s marriage to Bryan Christian. (This is Bryan waiting patiently, with the second line brass band in the background.)
After the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom often form a street procession behind the second line brass band. These joyous parades have come filing through Jackson Square a few times while we’ve been here, waving white hankerchiefs, sporting the distinctive second line umbrella, and dancing.
Well, sometimes there’s a good reason to have a large mob of people making a WHOLE lot of noise outside the recording booth, eh?
Residents of St. Bernard Parish and the Ninth Ward were kind to welcome us into their trailers and homes for two days of literal “door to door” recording. The drive out reminds us what our participants are facing daily: closed businesses, broken buildings, and pile after pile of debris.
Roy and Tony Calabrisi, 77 and 83, took us into Roy’s trailer. His home was first flooded, then burned from the top when the house next door caught on fire.
Roy and Tony talked about how the storm has intensified their relationship with each other and their elder brother Sal, as well as with their neighbors.
They see each other daily at nearby Emergency Communities, a volunteer effort that has become a colorful community center amdist these bleak conditions.
Tony worried that they would not live to see St. Bernard Rebuilt, but agreed with Roy that there’s never been any question of leaving New Orleans.
“When I go, I’ll go out feet first,” Roy told his younger brother. “Don’t worry Tony, we’ve made it this far. We’ll make it. We’ll make it.”
Trisha Roberts and Donna Banks became close friends at the Common Ground Women’s Center, located in the Upper Ninth Ward. Donna is currently the coordinator at the Center, which provides a home for women and children whose homes were destroyed in the storm.
Trisha and Donna were instrumental in transforming the Women’s Center into a tight-knit family unit where everyone lives together, works together, eats together, and prays together. Trisha is newly married and has moved into her own home. They reflected on how profoundly their friendship and work at the center has impacted their lives.
Sydney Roux was interviewed in her trailer by her friend Dagmar Booth. They reflected on the differences between hurricanes Betsy (1965) and Katrina.
Sydney’s trailer sits in the lot where her house used to be before it was washed clear across the street last August. Sitting on the steps of her temporary home is a strange experience with the house looking back at us.
Chalmette High School became a refuge for hundreds of people stranded in St. Bernard Parish when it flooded from end to end. Boats came and docked on the roof over the walkway to the school entrance; refugees included a woman who gave birth, a man on dialysis, twins on ventilators, and many people with lacerations and other injuries.
Facilitators Brett Myers and Laura Spero spent a day listening to conversations between school administrators who served fruit loops and half glasses of water to the crowd for nearly five days. Chalmette High School has reopened as St. Bernard School Unified and is home to elementary, middle and high school students; it is now the only public school open in St. Bernard Parish.
In the next few days, we will be doing field recording in some of the areas most heavily affected by Hurricane Katrina. These images are just a glimpse of the devestation in St. Bernard Parish and the Ninth Ward.
In the lower 9th Ward, this area next to a broken levee is essentially unsalvageable. Most homes will have to be completely demolished. Try enlarging some of these images to get their full impact.
Above is a rebuilt levee in the Ninth Ward. It had a barge stuck in it, which channelled water around this tree, which is the only thing left standing a in a field of debris.
Below are pictures from a neighborhood in St. Bernard Parish where the levee was topped, not breached. Many homes will need to be gutted after sitting under water for many weeks; others were destroyed completely. Water rushed through the streets, smashing cars against lamposts and picking up everything in its path.
The contents of a decimated house in St. Bernard Parish. In the background is the levee. Below, the same levee through the window of a partially gutted home.
This house and its concrete foundation were swept right into the middle of the street. The entire structure remains in the road.
Piles of rubble indicate buildings that have been gutted, or striped down to their bare frames, which is the first stage of rebuilding. But many homes have not been touched since they were submerged up to the second floor eight months ago. Inside, furniture and belongings look as if they were at the bottom of a swimming pool. Residents who return to their homes must face emptying all of this debris before they can rebuild.
A calendar in a girl’s bedroom, inside a house waiting to be gutted. It’s edges are curled over a month notated with birthdays: August, 2005.
We discovered an unexpected gem in St. Anna’s Church, where local musicians play at a community dinner every wednesday evening after a short service. We were welcomed to the intimate gathering with open arms; five dollars got us a home cooked meal, and all proceeds go to the artists. Next week we’ll be better prepared for the open mic segment!