NEW ORLEANS (FinalCall.com) – Pastor Raymond Grant was greatly disappointed when finding out he and his family would not be able to enter the main hall to see President Barack Obama speak at Xavier University. They made the Aug. 29 trek from Baton Rouge to the school–not to cheer–but to reach out to the country’s commander-in-chief for assistance.
“We’re still doing bad and struggling to pay our bills. Nobody is helping us. We came here to talk to the president. Along with other displaced residents in Baton Rouge, we don’t hear anything about the recovery,” Pastor Grant told The Final Call.
Pastor Grant and his family lived in the Lower Ninth Ward before seeing their home submerged in floodwater in 2005. They had to climb through their attic, pierce a hole and spent three days on their roof before being rescued. They have journeyed through Texas, Colorado and are now in Baton Rouge. His wife is working as a manager at Subway to bring in family income because he is disabled and unable to work.
President Obama and the first lady were joined at Xavier by Cabinet members assigned to Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. Throughout his speech, President Obama told the people in New Orleans and the nation that his administration is standing for Katrina victims.
“When I took office, I directed my Cabinet to redouble our efforts, to put an end to the turf wars between agencies, to cut the red tape and cut the bureaucracy. I wanted to make sure that the federal government was a partner–not an obstacle–to recovery here in the Gulf Coast,” said Mr. Obama to the applause of the audience.
He emphasized that his administration has “put in place a new way of resolving disputes so that funds set aside for rebuilding efforts actually went toward rebuilding efforts.And as a result, more than 170 projects are getting underway.
“So while an incredible amount of progress has been made, on this fifth anniversary, I wanted to come here and tell the people of this city directly: My administration is going to stand with you–and fight alongside you–until the job is done.Until New Orleans is all the way back, all the way,” said President Obama.
To enter the university hall where he spoke, you had to apply for a free ticket online and people were reportedly randomly picked lottery-style. Pastor Grant and his family, along with hundreds of students, had to watch the address on a jumbo screen in a gymnasium.
Diamond Billinger, a biochemistry pre-med major at Xavier, told The Final Call she was disappointed that she could not get inside to see Mr. Obama.
“I think the speech was very nice. I think he covered a lot of issues that people are still wondering about. But I feel like students should have had first priority in going to see him instead of the public because this is our new home. Some of us students need that push from Obama. We should have been first on the list,” said Ms. Billinger.
Biology pre-med student Briana Miles expressed the same sentiment. “I loved the speech but I really wish we could have been in there. And since Obama is so big on talking to the students we should have been inside,” she said.
“This speech did not move me one bit. After five years of experiencing this hell, I am only interested in action,” New Orleans East resident Bernard Johnson told The Final Call.
The president backed up his pledge to help by citing funds appropriated to help New Orleans come back, including $1.8 billion allocated for Orleans Parish Schools.
“On the health care front, as a candidate for president, I pledged to make sure we were helping New Orleans recruit doctors and nurses, and rebuild medical facilities–including a new veteran’s hospital,” said Mr. Obama. A dispute that held up funding for replacement for Charity Hospital, which treated poor patients, has been resolved and that project should be moving forward, the president said.
“The largest civil works project in American history is underway to build a fortified levee system. And just as I pledged as a candidate, we’re going to finish this system by next year so that this city is protected against a 100-year storm. We should not be playing Russian roulette every hurricane season,” Mr. Obama added.
Katrina’s legacy still painful five years after disaster (FCN, 08-31-2010)