The State of Black Leadership in New Orleans

The large population of Black teachers who were displaced following Hurricane Katrina comprised a class of civically engaged, educated, self-sufficient members of the community. When many didn’t return—because of the loss of affordable housing, the closing of schools, and the shuttering of Charity Hospital—this segment of the Black community that played a critical role in political empowerment was also lost, and with them, a key engine of black leadership in the city.

The exclusion of the Black electorate from the new vision for New Orleans has had obvious implications for Black politicians and the communities they once served. With fewer Black faces in office, there are fewer Black leaders to craft policy for Black New Orleanians. That’s only part of the story, though.

Just as Black families and workers were shut out from the city’s rebuilding, a new class of workers—including many new White teachers in the city’s now entirely charter school system—has moved in. So has a new regime of charter operators, non-profits, and businesses that are not borne of the experience, the struggle, and the wisdom of the Black New Orleans communities that once existed in places like the Lower Ninth or the Seventh Ward. This is why the myth of a “Resilient New Orleans” is so dangerous. It is a narrative that paves over the history of Black New Orleans and ignores the true cost of exclusionary, disaster capitalism policies.

This is why we must resist any oversimplification of the Katrina narrative. Yes, Black New Orleans is resilient, but we are also resistant. #ResistantNewOrleans. The current moment in our country presents exciting possibilities for Black grassroots organizations to recapture the mantle of Black leadership in New Orleans. Therefore, if #BlackLivesMatter, in New Orleans and everywhere else, supporting the base of Black communities whose voices most need to be heard is a fundamental first step.