Poet: 15 years post-Katrina, New Orleanians continue to show their fortitude

Musician Akeel Salah Muhammad performing an orginal peice for the multigenre zoom honoring the 15 anniversary of Huricane Katrina
J'Brionne Helaire| Courtbouillon

NEW ORLEANS (September 4, 2020) – In August 2005 before Hurricane Katrina brought its devastation, Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy recalled, the last second-line of her neighborhood before the storm as family and friends enjoyed a “knock-down and dance-up” party in honor of her doctoral degree.

Between that time and now, Saloy noted, she has moved 16 times in 14.5 years, and her family home – half-built for eight years – is now complete. Saloy told the story as an example of the fortitude it took for New Orleanians to come home, rebuild and try to thrive.

Saloy, an English professor at Dillard University, poet and author, was one of six speakers for the “We Remember” multi-genre literary reading on Aug. 26 commemorating the 15th anniversary of the “federal flood” and left 80 percent of New Orleans, which sits below sea level, under water after the levees broke.

Some 2,300 viewers attended the 90-minute event, sponsored by the non-profit literary organization Poets & Writers, which was live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

Before reading two Katrina-related poems, Saloy noted she was blessed to escape the need for shelters and “relied on the generosity of friends and family.” Even so, the storm took its toll.

“We, our parents and grandparents paid for levees so strong the Dutch hold back the North Sea with our design,” she said. “But our levees broke and caused what we now call ‘the federal flood,’ a flood that could have been avoided if the Army Corps of Engineers had not built cheaper, shorter levees than what was agreed on and designed as safest.”

More than 1,800 lives were lost in the wake of Katrina, a Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall in Louisiana and caused a 26-foot storm surge. It produced more than $160 billion in damages and resulted in New Orleans losing a third of its population to other cities between 2005 and 2011.

Even so, Saloy noted, New Orleans has kept its international flavor – its architecture, food, music and traditions that are world-renown. And it strives to improve the plight of a large contingent of the poor and illiterate.

“In spite of that, those here want to be here,” she said.

Other speakers, all with strong New Orleans ties, included performance artist/poet Jose Torres-Tama; author Tom Piazza; journalist and writer Lolis Eric Elie (a producer of the television series “Treme”); and poets Alison Pelegrin and Asia Rainey. Musician Akeel Salah Muhammad also performed.

Poets & Writers, founded in 1970, is the largest nonprofit literary organization serving creative writers in the nation. The event was hosted by Kelly Harris, its outreach coordinator in New Orleans.

To view the performances, visit https://www.facebook.com/poetsandwriters/videos/954490315051649.