Celebrating the Spirit of New Orleans 10 Years After Katrina
In the years following Hurricane Katrina, I traveled to New Orleans a number of times with groups of teen volunteers. Working with local non-profits and community organizations, we helped with the cleanup and recovery. While there, we met so many inspiring individuals who shared their stories of survival and perseverance.
The words and art of Marvelous Cornelius aim to capture their unshakeable spirit and the wondrous energy of the Crescent City.
On our first trip to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, our group of thirteen teenagers stayed in an abandoned warehouse with no running water and intermittent electricity. We referred to the entranceway as the “Fear Factor Foyer” because of the cockroaches and rodents we had to pass on the way in.
We shared one outdoor shower with 87 other volunteers, but it wasn’t exactly a glamorous outdoor shower. It was a makeshift plastic stall and a FEMA tarp.
Like Cornelius, we saw the destruction firsthand and understood the cleanup was up to us. The volunteers would be the ones to do the work no one else was wanted to do, no one else was willing to do.
On one trip, we had thirty-five New York City public school teen volunteers. We traveled around in what we called “The Magic School Bus.”
The retired bus was missing more than half of its seats. So we sat and slept on top of one another like puppies.
Our blue bus appears in some of the paintings in Marvelous Cornelius.
We worked most of the time, but we were in New Orleans. We weren’t missing the culture. The French Quarter is known for its street performers. We were entertained whenever we went out there.
Sitting on his corner of Royal and Toulouse, Grandpa Elliot sang for our volunteers several times.
Grandpa Elliot is visible in several of the paintings. See if you can find him in this one:
Of course, we enjoyed the music. We made our own—in front of a church on Alabo in the Lower Ninth, by the levee at the King’s Plantation in Algiers, and on the back of pick-up trucks. We listened to bands at all different venues.
We also enjoyed the food. New Orleans is all about the food. We sampled a lot of it—sno-balls, gumbo, beignets and crawfish. We learned to eat crawfish the correct way.
Most of all, we learned about community, and we learned about ourselves. We learned that everyone has something to contribute. Everyone has value.
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