Unmasking New Orleans – FCI Documentary: (View Trailer)

WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – In the wake of the sorrow, tragedy and massive frustration over official national bureaucratic blunders, insensitivity and neglect of the mostly Black victims of Hurricane Katrina, there was a heartwarming local response from grassroots citizens to the local government and even cooperating corporations.

Hundreds of evacuees, stung by being labeled “looters” and “refugees” as they suffered while awaiting the federal non-response, were accommodated at the Washington National Guard Armory when they were eventually relocated here.


“In the beginning, a lot of the people who came from New Orleans were disappointed because they were sent here. Some of them had no idea they were being sent here,” Tawan Muhammad, a registered nurse who worked inside the Armory, told The Final Call.

But there were a lot of volunteers from the Washington area to talk and listen to the evacuees and help them adjust. “Most of them were just lonely and afraid,” she added.

Because the most vulnerable New Orleans residents who were left to be evacuated last, “many of them had health issues that needed to be addressed right away,” Sis. Tawan recalled. Among those brought to Washington were many elderly and chronically ill persons. “Fortunately, the city did set up a facility within the armory where those conditions could be addressed,” so those with chronic illnesses could be identified and referred for treatment, she pointed out.

“It reminded me of the days of slavery,” she opined, “when families were separated. The men were asked to step aside and get on this bus; the women were told to get on that bus; and some of the children were taken from them and put on another bus. Everybody was so torn apart.”

Verizon Telephone Company set up a bank of free telephones inside the armory so evacuees could try to locate displaced friends and family members. Members of local churches and the local Muhammad’s Mosque No. 4 were instrumental in providing a number of relief services. Charles Muhammad, proprietor of Modern Scientific Barbershop, collected money, which was donated directly to Katrina families, rather than to the Red Cross and other bureaucratic agencies, which were seen mishandling their resources.

For the entire eight weeks, families were housed at the Armory and Muslim volunteers staffed at least one of the three daily shifts with professional nurses every single day, according to Sis. Tawan. Volunteers came to take women to local salons to get their hair done, people brought clothes for evacuees and many were even given cell phones to help them get calls from friends and family members.

However, the outpouring of help produced some resentment among long-time D.C. residents. “We did have people in the local shelters like D.C. Village and other places who were coming there and they were trying to get services, because they felt like they had been here for years,” Sis. Tawan informed. “They transition from one shelter to another, but these people had not gotten housing. They were there trying to get those items and got turned away because they were not a part of the Katrina group, and could not get those benefits, like free health care.

“They felt that they had waited long enough in their circumstance or condition, and that they should receive the same services,” she said. Evacuees were also given jobs. “That was another issue with people who had been in the city shelters. These people were getting jobs without work experience, IDs or resumes. The people who were here felt left out,” Sis. Tawan said.