Segregation and Duality in New Orleans

by Brian Acosta

The bustling streets of the French Quarter are alive. Everywhere one turns  something is going on whether it be couples kissing in clear sight, buskers  showing their skills off to the world for a couple bucks, fortune tellers at every corner ready to claim another destiny, or the endless gaggles of people marching up and down the streets in search of the next thrill. Food and drink are plentiful, if a bit expensive, and on Bourbon Street, one can’t go a few feet without crashing into another bar full of boisterous patrons asking for more. Music—jazz, pop, blues—streams out in all directions and the kaleidoscopic barrage of colors creates a cacophony of energy that could raise the dead.

The barren streets of the Lower Ninth Ward are lifeless. Every block has at least a few abandoned and destroyed houses, the roads are crammed with potholes, nature has retaken the neighborhood, and it is quiet. Few people have returned to the Lower Ninth Ward following Katrina and it feels as if the disaster has happened only recently. There are few people walking down the streets and one can’t help but feel a great loneliness in the area. They have been forgotten and the inhabitants are not happy about it.

Apparently, if one were to ask who has rebuilt the Lower Ninth Ward, the inhabitants would reply: “the volunteers.” Whereas areas such as the French Quarter have largely recovered from the tragedy and are slowly creeping back to a level of prosperity, areas such as the Lower Ninth, a historically African American neighborhood, one that had been hit hardest by the hurricane, remain forlorn and neglected save for organizations like that have volunteered to help rebuild the neighborhood. The city is divided, and this is no more strikingly apparent then looking at the French Quarter and its surrounding areas and then looking at the Lower Ninth Ward, the St. Claude Bridge serving as the dividing marker.  Although segregation as a government institution has ended, the effects are still felt today in New Orleans and indeed, the rest of the nation.

Even in the Northern States, even in Illinois, even in Chicago, this segregation permeates in society.  Almost everyone knows  there are bad parts of Chicago and so people, businesses, and municipal governments try to avoid them.  This creates a strange situation where these neighborhood are unable to better themselves due to lack of public resources and things such as schools and businesses and funding. They become traps for their inhabitants and it creates a cycle that they are unable to escape. What is happening in Chicago isn’t a problem unique to Chicago, nor is the problem in the Lower Ninth Ward unique to New Orleans. It a problem that faces the United States and all countries of the world. And as Mac, the director of one of the volunteer organizations  in the Lower Ninth says: “the only way we can begin to fix the problem is if we begin to listen.” Only once we have listened can we begin to ease the segregation that we face in our daily life, and perhaps life will return to the Lower Ninth Ward.

In June 2013, nine Scholars and three chaperones from the Schuler Scholar Program traveled to New Orleans to help rebuild houses in the Lower Ninth Ward, the neighborhood that suffered the most damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and is still experiencing the devastation brought by the storm today. Our group volunteered through an organization called, which works specifically in this neighborhood and has a very strong relationship with the community. We wanted the Scholars to be able to do something meaningful on the trip, but also to experience the culture and history of New Orleans that is such an important part of the American story. To see pictures from the Mega Exposure, visit our Facebook page.

Brian Acosta graduated from Warren Township High School in 2013.

He will attend Swarthmore College in the fall.


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