Transcript of Mayor Ray Nagin\'s Speech at New Orleans Math and Science Charter High School

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New Orleans Science and Math Charter High School

In the month leading up to the 2006 mayoral election Ray Nagin visited every high school in the city. Pasted below is the transcript of his speech at Math and Science Charter High School. After the speech\'s transcript is several excerpts from the high school student\'s question and answer portion of the event. Student\'s Dudley Grady and Ashliegh Joplin transcribed this interview for their book project titled, Desire: Returning and Resurecting New Orleans. \r\n\r\nNAGIN\'S SPEECH TO THE STUDENTS OF THE NEW ORLEANS MATH AND SCIENCE CHARTER HIGH SCHOOL ON FEBRUARY 20TH, 2006 \r\n\r\nMayor Ray Nagin\'s Speech:\r\n\r\nLet me start off by asking ya how many of you are in your original home? [some hands are raised] Ok that\'s good. All right, how many are staying in a hotel? [some hands are raised] How many of you are in a FEMA trailer? [laughs] Ok so most of you are back where you stayed before in your homes. Back where you stayed before Katrina. So what do ya\'ll think, how does the city look? [Comments include \"bad\", \"horrible\", \"a mess\"] All right so it seems like the city still lookin a mess. Now what perspective is ya\'ll using? You using the perspective prior to the storm, or right after the storm, and then you seen it today? You know, what is your base of your comparison? We got some people up here saying compared to when they first came back it looks way better. \r\n\r\nWell you know the reality of what we are dealing with, its gonna take us a little while to get this city back to what your used to being custom to, which is prior to Katrina. It\'s just natural because of the amount of devastation we have had. This city, your city, New Orleans, you know was probably devastated in a way that no other city in America has been devastated. 80% of this city took on water. That is a footprint that is bigger than all of Manhattan, the entire island of Manhattan, and all of Washington D.C. and would extend into Virginia. So we have a huge challenge ahead of us. \r\n\r\nIn addition to that, the amount of debris that we have to remove, [pause] the debris that we have to remove. The debris is all the stuff that is left after a storm, whether it be trees or people gutting out their homes or just destroying or demolition of homes. We have 15 million cubic yards to remove we\'ve done about half, that we\'re at a little over 7 million cubic yards to remove. But guess what happens we remove debris, somebody comes back that was out of town, gutt their homes, put it on the streets on the neutral ground and the city looks like crap again. And that is what the challenge is. In some areas of the city we have made seventeen runs to pick up debris, and its still not enough. \r\n\r\nSo what I am trying to get you to understand is that the challenge is large. We are going to continue our flow to improve what the city looks like, and we\'re gonna get there. Now there is a lot of challenges. We have pretty much used up every utility we need to move the city forward, whether it be Entergy and their electrical power they have services available to about 85% of the city, we have water services through out most of the city, we have sewer services. Probably the area where we struggle the most right now is certain parts of New Orleans East and the lower ninth ward. These areas were hit double hard and its gonna take us a little while to get that together.\r\n\r\nWe are in the process of trying to get money in people\'s hands so that they can start to rebuild their homes. I recently announced a program that were gonna pushing with Congress basically designed to get grants of up to $150,000 to any homeowner who has had at least 2 ft of flooding or more,[pause] then we can get some money in your hands to redo your homes, [pause] so those are some things we are starting to really focus on and try and get done but its just gonna take some time.\r\n\r\nNow what about the stuff that is what New Orleans is, that you really enjoy like Mardi Gras Jazz Fest, you know Super Sundays, all that good stuff. Well you know Mardi Gras is getting ready to kick off this weekend,[pause] Oh what about Jazz Fest and those sorts of things? I don\'t know if you\'ve been reading the paper but all that is looking good. Its gonna probably be one of the strongest jazz festivals we\'ve ever had in the history of the city. And the list goes on and on.\r\n\r\nThe big struggle we have right now is that we are trying to get more people to \r\n\r\ncome back into the city. A lot of our musicians a lot of our artists, a lot of the things that make New Orleans unique from a cultural standpoint. A lot of our people still out of town and still struggling to come back, because of the housing challenge that we have. I don\'t have to tell you about that, sure you know about the housing challenge. We have had 45,000 people request a FEMA trailer, 45,000 people requested a FEMA trialer, 45,000. FEMA has installed probably 3,000 thousand so we have a lot of work to do. \r\n\r\nWhat my main message here today is to encourage. I want to thank you for coming back. Some of ya\'ll could have stayed were you were. You didn\'t have to come back. So I want to thank you first of all for coming back and then I wanna encourage you because I know a lot of you have seen things during the storm that probably wasn\'t that cool. And I understand that and I saw a lot of that stuff too. But it\'s upon all of us to get together to try and rebuild this city and you have more power then you realize you have. As young people you have more power. Any revolution that has happened the key drivers of a revolution in change has been the young people. \r\n\r\nWhen Martin Luther King was doing his thing that changed this entire country it wasn\'t until he got young people involved in Selma, AL and in Montgomery when Bull Conner was doing his thing with the power holders in Alabama, that things really started to change. You can influence your parents, you can influence the mayor, you can influence the city council, you can influence the government, but you have to understand your collective power and come together and start to make your views known. \r\n\r\nWhat kind of city do you want to see in the future? Look I\'m old, this is ya\'lls city. We want to build something special and we\'re doing it from scratch. But we need to know what kind of city you want to have going forward. Do you want a city that has enough jobs for everybody? Do you want a city that has business opportunities if you want a job. Do you want a city that does not have a lot of violence in it? Do you want a city that has great schools? Well then if you want that kind of city, you need to start to talk to your parents and influence them. Tell them to get involved and to make their wishes known. And to get involved from a standpoint of letting the political leaders know what we want and what we don\'t want. Because if you don\'t do that someone else will do that, someone else is gonna make a decision for you and then we\'ll look up and It will be five years down the road and we\'ll have the same stuff prior to Katrina. And I don\'t want that, I don\'t know about ya\'ll but, I don\'t want that. \r\n\r\nSo we gotta stop all this foolishness we used to do before Katrina. All the parochial stuff we used to do, the \"you not from my neighborhood then you can\'t be in my hood.\" You know I\'ve got a beef with you and all that, its time out for that. We all in the same boat, we all got hurt, we all lost our homes, we all lost relatives that may have gotten caught up in something. \r\n\r\nIf we gonna be New Orleanians then we gotta come together and this is the time. So that\'s my main message, it is here to encourage you, to talk to you and look in your eyes and see how you are doing. [pause] And everybody\'s looking pretty good. They look like they want to do this. \r\n\r\nBut the message again is, if you want to see a different city, start to speak up. Start to talk to your teachers about what you like to see. Start to organize yourselves to get out and clean up some area of this mess that\'s out there, it ain\'t gonna hurt you. You can take a couple hours, with a glad bag and a rake a shovel and you can go out and clean some are that you think is dirty and guess what we will come pick up that trash after you\r\nhave done that. But you can help. [Student\'s shout out \"what about the pay?] We\'ll talk about the pay later. Let me stop now because I know what\'s it like to be sitting back letting somebody lecture to you.\r\n\r\n\r\nEXCERPTS FROM RAY\'S Q & A SESSION \r\n\r\nDudley: What parts of the city do you guarantee will be rebuilt as they were?\r\n\r\nNagin: Well, my intentions are that every area of the city will be rebuilt, it is just a matter of timing. I think the core of the city, from the west of the Industrial Canal, certain sections of New Orleans East are going to be immediately rebuilt. I think the Lower Ninth Ward is a little more challenging because you had so much devastation and we were delayed by lawsuits, so we can\'t clean up all the debris that is the street. And that has impeded our ability to get the utilities back up. But every part of New Orleans will be rebuilt.\r\n\r\nDudley: What do you mean by certain parts of New Orleans East?\r\n\r\nNagin: There are certain low-lying areas of New Orleans East that we are going to try \r\nand encourage people to sell or move to higher ground.\r\n\r\nQuestion From A NOMSCHS Student: What did you mean by your \"Chocolate City\" comment?\r\n\r\nNagin: When I gave that speech on MLK birthday it was at a time when I had seen a lot of stuff happen in this city. It was at a time when I saw the media try and portray this city as primarily poor black people. And it was at a time when I saw the federal government respond slow because of those images. I think if it would have been Orange County CA or Miami it would have been a different response. That\'s just me. \r\n\r\nIn addition to that I was going around the country and meeting with people in town hall meetings. And there was a lot of feelings among African Americans that they were not wanted back in this city. Because there was some high profile stories by business people here in New Orleans saying that and they were pretty bold about what they were saying. So as I was going around to these town hall meetings I was getting all this anger and frustration because of what was being said. So I thought MLK\'s birthday was a great time to speak to that hopelessness. \r\n\r\nSo I used the term \"Chocolate City\" to let everyone know that this city will be culturally diverse number one. But to the African Americans who felt displaced and hopeless that they were welcome to come back to a city we could be proud of. Well I went way over the line and I said some things I probably shouldn\'t have. But let me tell you the message got out and it opened a dialogue on race. And at the end of the day I think that will be ok. \r\n\r\n\r\n

Citation

, “Transcript of Mayor Ray Nagin\'s Speech at New Orleans Math and Science Charter High School,” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed April 20, 2018, http://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/12051.