N.O. Still Reeling, Even With Hollywood's Help

Several months ago I had the opportunity of a lifetime to not just watch the news but to be a part of it, marching with Jesse Jackson and Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans.

My friend Nina Rawls, the widow of jazz singer Lou Rawls, asked if I would accompany her to New Orleans to meet with various government officials, clergy members and relief organizations on behalf of the Lou Rawls Foundation and assess the progress of reconstruction following Hurricane Katrina.

I had been to the Big Easy once before and could not resist the magical call of the South. The music and spirit, the architecture, the food, and so much more makes it a city like no other, and post-Katrina, the courage and dedication of the people are what's keeping it together.

I saw so many things and heard so many different stories on this trip that I still can't understand. I continually ask myself, and we must continue to ask our government officials: Why has only 67.6 percent of the population returned, and why has only 36.5 percent of St. Bernard Parish returned? Why have only five of nine acute care hospitals re-opened in Orleans Parish? Why is this romantic and historic city still overrun with crime?

I toured the whole city. I walked with Jackson, Rawls, Nagin, Clarice Kirkland from the mayor's office, Bishop Marshal, and Councilman Oliver Thomas to where the first levy broke in the Lower 9th Ward (which by the way, isn't that low.)

I saw the remains of devastation the likes of which I have never seen. I could feel pain and compassion in my heart for the souls of those who had spent, then lost, their lives there. I passed a sad parade of signs that read, "Thou shall not kill": What insanity and negativity has become a normal part of every day for many people in New Orleans.

Hollywood Steps Up

Don't think for one moment this is a problem for "the poor blacks."

Disaster, water, destruction are equal opportunity attackers that don't hurt, kill and destroy based on race or any pre-judgments other than where you are. So where is all the relief money that Hollywood heavyweights and major corporations donated? Where is the money millions of Americans donated to their brothers and sisters? And where's the government aid, where's FEMA's contribution?

I just didn't see the results of it anywhere. And worse, where is the solution? It's been two years since Katrina struck later and there are only weeds growing where houses should be surrounding families living and enjoying their lives. Imagine losing all of your prized possessions -- photos, clothes, electronics, furniture, cars -- and worst of all, loved ones. It is truly incomprehensible, at this time in this country, how generations of families have been separated and torn from their roots and are still unable to return.

When apocalyptic disaster strikes, there is no place like Hollywood to reach out to for understanding and support. It was and still is heartwarming that so many celebrities and power players of the entertainment business stepped up with an abundance of talent, money and creative thinking to help bring aid and resources to the downtrodden region.

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