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Eyeing the Next Storm: 10 Years after Hurricane Katrina
Education

It seems unbelievable, but tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Arriving in New Orleans this week, the memories came flooding back. The Weather Channel picture of a mammoth storm. Survivors’ joy turned to horror over learning that the levees were overtopping and that some would not hold. The faces of death, destruction and despair.

The city we love and our citizens fought the reality of hell and high water. Strong recovery has indeed been a story of the haves and have nots.

As a member of the Governor’s staff, I recall rounds two, three, and four of the storm. The flood water was just the beginning. Then came the glaring insensitivity to the realities of race and poverty, the rhetoric against rebuilding and the politics played when our state was already on its knees.

I also recall Katrina-sized acts of kindness. Law enforcement came to our rescue from near and far. The faith-based community prayed, organized and helped. Businesses, large and small, donated aid and America did not abandon one of its great cities following one of the nation’s deadliest and most destructive storms.

Today, the sights, sounds and aroma of “Nawlins” are back. But the next big storm is upon us. More people live in poverty now than before Hurricane Katrina.

The New Orleans poverty rate is 27%, compared to 19% for the nation. The opportunity gap is larger. So we have more vulnerable people than before.

Since the pathway to prosperity is education, the response should be urgent, focused and at scale. The fact is more citizens need to complete a credential beyond high school. In postsecondary education we’ve been focused on access, not enough on success. To participate in this knowledge economy, students must acquire more education and/or skills training. That’s a message not just for New Orleans but for the entire state and the nation as well.

I’ll admit I’m a big advocate for education and a Who Dat Saints fan. Everyone remembers the excitement when our New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl. It was a season like no other because the team lifted our spirits and carried a weary state with it to victory. I remember the team motto too. It was “Finish Strong!” That’s my message to our citizens.

As we honor those lost and show gratitude to all who have helped us, my eye is on the next storm. Getting prepared for this one means we need more citizens who have educational success – a clear road out of poverty and into good paying jobs. Nothing less will do.

Dr. Kim Hunter Reed is a Principal at HCM Strategists dedicated to strong higher education policy that improves student success and equity.  She served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Blanco during Hurricane Katrina.  Kim hosted Louisiana Post Katrina: A Decade of Difference on Louisiana Public Broadcasting.  Click here to view