A Call to Rebuild New Orleans

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Commentator Yolanda Young says that the rebuilding effort in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is a must for the sake of our nation's culture. Young is an attorney, Sunday school teacher and author of the memoir On Our Way to Beautiful.

ED GORDON, host:

Yolanda Young is not a New Orleans native. Like many of us, her main exposure to that city's rich culture is through friends, food and music. She says the recent disaster there has left the nation suffering collectively from the loss of life and tradition. Unless our desire to rebuild is fierce, Young says the country will suffer a gaping cultural hole.

Ms. YOLANDA YOUNG (Author): Thomas Wolfes' prescient words repeat in my head, `You can't go home again, not when Mom and Pops' house, a two-story looking out on a golf course in Gentilly is 20 feet under water.' Mary and Ferrell Kristoff(ph) lost everything when the levee broke. Big Bertha(ph), the family mobile home that Pops would park on Lee Circle during Mardi Gras, was in the shop and got left behind. Along with the house went birth certificates, bank records, computers carrying vital information for the Kristoff's Steak Escape Restaurant, one of which likely went up in flames with the rest of the river walk. More than any of that, they lost pictures of club parties, of family reunions on Cane River and of their son who died 15 years ago from sickle cell anemia. The only thing approaching the pain of losing someone you love is losing the keepsakes.

The Kristoffs aren't my real parents. They were a gift from my college roommate, Angela Kristoff. She was pure New Orleans, serving our dorm floor King Cake in March, making pots of gumbo at midnight, doling out nuggets of her grandmother's sugary praline. On visits to New Orleans, her father enjoyed taking us around the city pointing out the local landmarks--the St. Louis Cemetery, Gallier Hall and the Belfort mansion on St. Charles that was featured on MTV's "Real World: New Orleans." We ate three-pound lobsters at Drago, crawfish pies at Jazz Fest and beignets at Cafe Du Monde while boys on the corner made music with buckets and sticks.

I've spoken with my play sister more in the last week than I have in a year. We've been in embroiled in a family feud, much like the one that's erupted between officials in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana state government and the White House. There is blame to go around, but the fact remains that the house, the city and the culture Angie so graciously shared with me are being drained of their vitality while we fight. As Angie so eloquently put it, `Everything else is bull (censored).' Angie believes her mom is afraid of what she'll find when she goes back--death in the streets, a toxic wasteland, people who've lost their minds and their morals. It's really not a question of whether the Kristoffs can go home or whether the citizens, companies and the government will rebuild the city. They have to. New Orleans is our Venice, our Rome. Without it, we are less of a country.

GORDON: Yolanda Young is an attorney, Sunday school teacher and author of the memoir, "On Our Way to Beautiful."

(Soundbite of jazz music)

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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