This month and year marks the 5th anniversary of the devastation that was brought on by Hurricane Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Many people were displaced. Many people unfortunately lost their lives. And for the few that stayed around, there are still many questions that need to be answered and still many people that need to be taken to task for some of the actions that followed.
For many of us in the Hip hop generation, we can remember exactly where we were upon learning of Katrina’s wrath, just as much as we remember where we were when we learned of Tupac and B.I.G’s murders, or where we were when we found out about the Rodney King and O.J. trials and verdicts, or where we were when we first heard the news of a man named Amadou Diallo being shot 41 times by NYC police officers. For many of us, it’s just that important and deeply-rooted in our hearts and minds.
Personally, I had graduated from college just a few months prior up in Michigan, and also had completed an internship. I remember waking up to a dreary and overcast day in Detroit, even though it was still pretty hot outside. I remember my sister calling me into her room to watch CNN and see everything that was going on with the approaching storm down south. We initially thought nothing of it. But as the day progressed, we had our eyes glued to CNN, and things started to get worse. I can remember my entire family being huddled around the television for days on end looking or the latest updates, and if the storm was affecting some of our relatives in the southern states.
More than that, I remember the faces of people on TV that had been affected by not only the storm, but by the breaking of the levees, the martial law that was declared by state government, being forced to live in a makeshift mega-shelter in the Super dome, and the response of trusted national and international institutions such as the U.S. Government and the American Red Cross. I remember getting a first-hand glimpse of every emotion from frustration, anger, and wrath to hopelessness, fear and hatred. I remember hearing the voice of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on national radio just a few days later, filled with rage and disappointment at how his city residents were being treated, or not treated, depending on how you look at it.
But what’s most important about this post is how this storm affected the Hip hop community, and how Hip hop affected Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. Many people in this country were shocked at the response by President Bush and his staff to the suffering of people that had just had their livelihoods destroyed all at once. Many people claimed to have only now coming to know the level of poverty that still exists in America to this day. And subsequently, many people lost faith in this very institution, along with a few others. When a natural disaster of this magnitude happens, many people expect an institution such as the United States Government to step in and do all it can to rectify the situation and give help to the people affected. For many of us, that wasn’t the case at all, and we were subjected to seeing many of our brothers and sisters lose everything they had, even their lives, almost needlessly.
But in all of this, on the other end of the spectrum stood Hip hop. While the criticism of traditional institutions grew louder and louder, many students, young professionals and artists of all magnitudes did all they could to make their voices heard. Specific artists like David Banner, Juvenile, Jay-Z and a host of others did the talking with both their art and their pockets. And who can forget those eight infamous words spoken loud and clear on national TV during a televised celebrity fundraiser from a guy by the name of Kanye West: “GEORGE BUSH DOES NOT CARE ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE!”
And there was so much more done by so many people at the grassroots level, locally and regionally, all around the country, by people whose names w will probably never know. From fundraisers and food drives, to local benefit concerts, to youth volunteers traveling to New Orleans to help with clean-up, to people putting the displaced up in their homes and giving of what they had to help their fellow man, be they blood related or otherwise. There were many stories to be told of people helping people, many of them from the Hip hop nation.
No, it wasn’t perfect. Yes, there could have been a lot more done. And no, Hip hop did NOT fly in with a red cape and save the day…far from it. But maybe it’s not as important in terms of what was done by the Hip hop community versus what may have been proven: that some compassion does exist at the heart of Hip hop. Without looking to place blame, there are many from older generations, from traditional institutions, from corporate and “mainstream” America and from many other places that have painted the Hip hop generation for many, many years as lackadaisical, non-caring, uninvolved, selfish, greedy, misguided, materialistic, egotistical, ignorant, myopic, lazy and violent. But can you honestly equate any of those ideas to what was done by this generation in the face of sheer devastation nearly five years ago?
In the end, the most important ideas are how the people affected by Katrina are getting along now, what is happening with the city of New Orleans and all other places affected by the storms, and what is being done and will be done to help those that need help the most. The biggest questions are, Do we still remember that there are people that are in need? Are we ready to do what we can to help our people that are in need? What must be done in the long term? And, most importantly, do we even still care enough to lend a hand? These are all difficult and hard-hitting questions that we MUST ask ourselves, and that we MUST give real and honest answers to.
Please share your thoughts, memories, feelings and even frustrations on this topic. Whether you agree or disagree isn’t important, just that you at least feel some way at all. Feel free to spread this around too, if you like. And, most importantly, PLEASE do all you can to remember those that lost their lives and their livelihoods. Thanks and take care.