By Kimberly Seals Allers
Editorial director, Black Maternal Health
Sunday, August 29, 2010
While attending a conference in New Orleans on health disparities in communities of color, Kimberly Seals Allers realized the real story of such disparities and racial inequities is in the Lower Ninth Ward, the area most impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Recently I attended a conference on health disparities in communities of color. The National Health Policy Training Alliance for Communities of Color hosted over 40 journalists of all hues and ethnic origins to convene in New Orleans to discuss how we can better cover health care-related issues and the health disparities that still plague our communities.
For three days, we sat in the top floor of a well-appointed hotel in the lovely French Quarter, having a lively discussion about how we can get better and more thorough coverage of the issues. But it turns out the real story about health disparities and racial inequities was but 20 minutes away, across the bridge and down Claiborne Blvd in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
The Lower Ninth Ward was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina five years ago. The area was the hardest hit when the levees broke and the low-income community residents were the last to get help. The images of bodies floating through the water still haunt me.
One would have no idea of what is still going on in the Lower Ninth Ward by walking through the downtown area of New Orleans. I too enjoyed walking up and down Bourbon Street, looking at all the new apartments, shops and restaurants that were alive and bustling in the downtown area. There, you would think Katrina never happened. The city looks like back to business as usual.
I've never been one to take things at face value. It is my experience that in most urban environments there is almost always a tale of two cities--and the tale of the brown city that exists across the railroad tracks or the bridge or whatever socioeconomic divide exists in that particular locale is almost always starkly different.
So when a few of the local community leaders came to address us, what they had to say about the Lower Ninth Ward was appalling but not surprising. They said that of the $90 million that the Federal Emergency Management Agency allocated to rebuilding the city, the Lower Ninth Ward has not received any money. Nobody has been told a definitive answer as to why.
They said the Lower Ninth Ward only has one working school for kindergarten through 12th grade. The school has 750 students and a 450-student-long waiting list. There are no hospitals in the area and God help you if you need emergency care and have to travel across the bridge and across town to get it. Many displaced residents, they added, would love to return to the area, but they can't because there are no schools and no real health care options for the elderly.
The local community leaders expressed their outrage that tour companies bring busloads of people through the Lower Ninth Ward everyday to gawk at their despair, yet never share any of their profits or stop to support local businesses.
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