Friday, January 15, 2010

From Bourbon Street to Little Rock - by Jenny You

I've never witnessed so many homeless or "homeless" people in my life. It's a sad reality, but there are many who live without a roof over their heads.

Those who have suffered from Hurricane Katrina and now the earthquake in Haiti are part of the 200-some-thousand people who experience homelessness each year in the U.S.

As I sit here watching the news in our Little Rock hotel, I'm saddened by the fact that I'm here enjoying my time on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage while so many people, young and old, are still left under the rubble or in the hospital, untreated and dying in Haiti. CNN reports that Dr. Gupta is the only doctor left to help those in the seeking treatment in the hospital. I wish we could take a really round-about detour to Haiti somehow on our way back to Wisconsin (I know it's totally unrealistic) :(

I can't imagine what it's like to cover such a tragedy as a reporter. I hope I'm given the chance someday to be at the scene of a disaster and be a lending hand as well as the eyes and ears for the public.

On a lighter note, last night in New Orleans was an interesting night: One of the students on the trip, Joe, and I had a ton of left over fried seafood. We decided the best thing we could do with the food is to give it out to someone who needs it more than us. So, can you guess what we did?

We went on a little journey to find someone who might be in need. Now, we knew it'd be awkward to assume someone is homeless or ask them "Are you in need of food?" so we walked around, hoping we'd run into panhandlers. Strangely, this was the first time no one asked us for money in a 5-block span. We made another trip down the sidewalk, passing crowds of people and still no luck.

After atleast a half hour of walking around, we reached somewhat of a "sketchy" ally (near Bourbon Street). A man followed us and told us to stop, grabbed the food from Joe's hand, asked what it was where Joe responded with "it's seafood," and proceeded to give the food to his friend. It's great that he wanted to share the food, but it was a bit startling when he just grabbed the bag of leftovers from Joe's hands. What if it were my purse or some other valuable commodity?

It's a different culture in New Orleans and perhaps I should admit my ignorance. I'm not used to the south yet but I'm also not used to homelessness. Although the logical side of me says, hey it's easy peasy to get a job at a fastfood joint or in retail. But I know not everyone's circumstances make jobs accessible. Nor do they have access to a good education.

Access to education based on our background was the topic of the day. Thelma Mothershed Wair was a lovely woman who had a lot to share. Hearing her story about going to Central High School as one of the Little Rock nine members made history seem more real. She says college was easier to get through than high school. I can't fathom how scary it was to go up those stairs and enter the school during that time. And the fact that people of color did not have access to education is ridiculous. Where would I and millions of others be today if we had no right to the academic sphere of learning? I wouldn't be here blogging, that's for sure.

Thelma says we've come a long way from September 2, 1957. But we still have quite a ways to go with segregation-by-choice still in existence...

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