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FRED DE SAM LAZARO, guest anchor: Tropical storm Gustav offers both threat and reminder this weekend as the country marks the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. We have a story about two people in the vanguard of a historic grassroots movement that’s brought hundreds of thousands of volunteers to the region. Its focus has shifted from Katrina’s immediate aftermath to broader issues of social justice.
Dr. COURTNEY COWART (Author, “An American Awakening”): I lived in New York City at the time Katrina hit.
SHAKOOR ALJUWANI (Community Organizer, Episcopal Church): It was maddening to me to watch the stories on the national media and see no signs of heroism.
Dr. COWART: I just felt very strongly that now it was my turn to be one of those people and to go to the point of need.
Mr. ALJUWANI: Once I got here it became clear to me that this was going to be more than just a one-time disaster.
Dr. COWART (reading from “An American Awakening”): Well over 1.1 million Americans, the greatest voluntary outpouring of humanity by grassroots white America toward grassroots black America in the history of our nation, continues to flow unabated to this day.
I know the people of New Orleans are going to turn this into something really, really good.
Dr. COWART: (reading from “An American Awakening”): I’m immediately drawn to Irvin as he begins to talk about blues and jazz. He’s describing in musical terms all that I have come to believe about metabolizing suffering — watching it transformed into grace. In his music he is telling me a story of the frustrations and aspirations of a battered group of survivors under siege who are greatly in need of divine and human assistance.
What is it that millions of Americans are saying when they come to gut and rebuild this city block by block with their own bare hands? Americans are saying that they love their neighbor as themselves and want those beliefs and values reflected in our public policy.
There is no question that hundreds of thousands of struggling Gulf Coast survivors view the youth who are doing the heavy labor as angels of mercy.
Mr. ALJUWANI: You couldn’t stop people from coming. College students especially were willing to risk everything to help people they didn’t even know.
It’s becoming clear to more and more people that it’s not just enough to bring food, as important as that is, or to gut somebody’s home — isn’t that we have to fight for affordable housing. We have to fight for schools that function. We have to fight for a transparent and democratic system of government.
Dr. COWART: Katrina is the incident that brings up all the issues. We need to address straight on the issues of racism. Doing it in a nonviolent way is going to be tricky, which is why the church leaders will be key.
Despite New Orleans’ multi-generational destruction, our recent decimation, our floundering elected leadership, and the fear many have of the poverty and pain in our city, we see in the helpers in New Orleans the growing presence of an incredible light.
It’s hard to walk into a situation where you’re becoming intimately familiar with the circumstances of a family in New Orleans as you gut and rebuild their houses. You realize that children aren’t being educated. The parents are unable to earn a living wage to support their family. The grandmother can’t get health care, and when you start to ask those “why” questions that’s when you’re really getting to the justice issues.
What I see is this generation taking that a step farther and becoming politically aware and politically involved.
How can we improve our program or Web site?
Ms. ALJUWANI: They’re not satisfied with just, you know, doing good for a week — that they want to make a real difference in the lives of people.
Dr. COWART: People of faith and people of compassion in this country have led every great era of social progress in the history of America, and I think we’re about to see it happen again.