HBCUs five years after Katrina

Juliana D. Norwood | 9/1/2010, 5 p.m.

Five years after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina a large percentage of residents are back to living life as they knew it before, but many more continue struggling to get back on their feet and are still looking for help wherever they can get it.

Some neighborhoods can luckily say they received that help partially because of the dedication of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the area.

Xavier University of Louisiana, Southern University of New Orleans, and Dillard University are a few of the universities that were drastically affected by the storm, have repaired themselves, and are still working to rebuild their surrounding neighborhoods.

"We began assisting with rebuilding efforts before any other university was back in the city," said Christy Legarde, assistant director of Student/Community Engagement at Xavier University of Louisiana. "Xavier has continued to assist with these efforts; just this past weekend on the fifth anniversary of Katrina we commemorated the event with a Service Day on August 28. About 60 XU student volunteers came out in the rain (with flash flood warnings on the news) to serve. We assisted with a gutting-out project for a community organization that could not afford to have their facility gutted for rebuilding. The building has been idle since Hurricane Katrina, and with our assistance they are on their way to a newly renovated facility for our elderly in the community.

"Our institution was founded on service, so we are passionate and ready to serve. We believe that in order to be a true leader you must first serve. Our students participate in service projects throughout the year sponsored by our office here at Xavier called Service Saturdays. The students get together one Saturday every month to work on rebuilding efforts in the community," Legarde explained.

"Xavier University is a huge name in the medical field for its contribution of minority doctors. It is also known in this very city for its contribution to the community pre- and post-Katrina, but I wonder to what extent. I see the surrounding communities around the college campus being rebuilt. I see the highest enrollment in years but, for what? I see that Xavier pays attention to the things that can potentially pay Xavier," complained Dante' Peppers, a former Xavier student. "It's how I feel, it was pre-Katrina, and it seems to reveal itself more post. Communities like Gert Town and Holly Grove, namely Palmetto Street show the extremes. On one side you see abandoned buildings demolished and on the same street, new apartments being built and stores are re-opening. If you move closer to residential areas in uptown New Orleans, you'll see homes decaying and families struggling. I ultimately feel Xavier only helps, when it can benefit its own future endeavors, like the new building for the pharmacy department. The money they received for such a project could have just as easily been used to rebuild some of the homes on its very campus," continued Peppers.

Legarde stated that Xavier actually is working to repair the homes that are on its campus and so far have already begun to rebuild three that will be used for faculty housing, which is what they were used for pre-Katrina. "Not only do we do work in our immediate community, but our students go out to the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans East, St. Bernard Parish and wherever else there is a need. We work with other organizations in the community to do service. The students even worked with Habitat for Humanities to build a home, which they were really excited about.