Single Mom Back in New Orleans, Still Battling

Single mother Brenda Morris and her four children were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. She returned to New Orleans six months ago, but tells Farai Chideya she is still struggling to make ends meet and pull her life and family together.

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A year ago we shared the story of New Orleans's resident Brenda Morris. In the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina, she struggled to care for her four children, ill brother, and mother. She eventually had to evacuate. Six months ago, Morris was back home but learned her brother had died soon after the hurricane.

Today she's still trying to recover from the storm. Recently NPR's Farai Chideya caught up with Brenda at her home in New Orleans.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

So, Brenda, you're looking well.

Ms. BRENDA MORRIS (New Orleans Resident): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: How are you doing?

Ms. MORRIS: I'm doing okay.

CHIDEYA: When we talked to you six months ago your brother had passed. How's your mother doing?

Ms. MORRIS: Well, she had her leg amputated like three months ago. So she's not doing good. She has semi-Alzheimer's, doesn't want to come back to New Orleans because she doesn't have a home anymore. And basically, she's just laying around and going to dialysis.

I try to tell her over the phone, you know, get up, get your wheelchair and push it with that one leg. Give it some strength. Don't give the bed all your strength. You know, get up and motivate yourself. But I haven't seen my mother since I left in October.

CHIDEYA: I see you crying right now. It must just tear you up after all that you did to hold this family together, to see things tearing apart.

Ms. MORRIS: Yeah. Because what hurt me so bad - this was for Mother's Day - I called my mother and she was telling me she couldn't talk to me and I was like why? I mean all I ask is for a conversation. I can't see you. And I'm like so you can't talk to you anymore? And she was like I can't talk to you right now. It's hard. It's really hard.

So I just pray everyday. Things are getting better. You know, one day, hopefully.

CHIDEYA: I'm sorry.

Ms. MORRIS: I am too.

CHIDEYA: Last time we talked to you you were looking for a job. Are you still looking?

Ms. MORRIS: Oh, yeah. But I'm trying to wait ‘til my kids are back in school because I don't want to have to take off and run here and run there, get shots done, looking for certain records and stuff. Like I said, my house was vandalized so I didn't have a lot of their records because they just came through and just tore stuff up, stole a lot of stuff.

So I had to go get new shot records, new birth certificates and stuff like that, and Social Security cards and stuff. Because you can't enroll in school without them.

CHIDEYA: What is the school situation like now?

Ms. MORRIS: It's up and down crazy situation. Because we have a lot of charter schools now, and we didn't have them before. And then a lot of the old schools changed names. Then a lot of the kids are coming more uptown than downtown, because the Ninth Ward area and Gentilly area, a lot of those schools are just shutdown because of the recovery. It's like they had so much mold and so much floodwater.

So you can't really just jump on them and get up, people up in there cleaning them up so fast, you know, and school is opening now. It's already open. So I did find a nice school for my daughter when I first came home and she loving it. So my son, he'll be going to a new school September the 7th, so I'm happy about that. Once I got them all settled - then my son started college, so thank God for that one, you know? I think I'm blessed for the moment.

CHIDEYA: What's your son going to study?

Ms. MORRIS: Criminal justice. Yeah. He's always talked about that ever since he was young. Even when he was in, like grade school, he always, you know, talked about criminal justice. And I'm like, yeah, okay, we'll see. You know, once you grow up it'll be something different. But, yeah, that's what he's going for.

CHIDEYA: Well, that's a perfect segue to crime. How's crime been in the city?

Ms. MORRIS: Crazy. I mean you have two or three murders a night. So it's like basically you just have to watch where you're going these days. And you don't know because a lot of people - it's so much anger because they feel Katrina, you know, took everything away from them so I don't have nothing else. I don't have nothing to lose.

But I just feel don't feel like that. You know, that's to open up your eyes to move on, to make you a stronger person. You know, it's to open up your eyes and see something, but you're not trying to see it. You're just hating because you lost everything and it shouldn't be like that.

CHIDEYA: How do you think your city's going to pull itself up, with the crime issues, with people still struggling to find jobs, all the situation that you face here in New Orleans?

Ms. MORRIS: You know what? I really don't know. Because I said if we have another hurricane and they do a mandatory evacuation, I am not coming back. Because I feel I don't want to keep going back and forth. I want to be somewhere where I can be stable and happy. But if you have to keep leaving and coming, no, I'm not having it.

CHIDEYA: So you're a fighter. You've been fighting for your family. You fought for them through the storm, after the storm, today. What do you want to see happen, you know, for your family and for the city? For your future?

Ms. MORRIS: Oh, I want to see great things happen. I want everybody to be what they always wanted to be. You know, whether it's in school or in a job or, you know, in another city if that's what you want. I mean just do what you need to do for yourself. Just get up and do it.

But it's just to be together. You know, that's all I really wanted even before the hurricane. When we went through the hurricane, I didn't care about anything. As long as I knew where my family was, I was fine. Have a granddaughter live across the river.

CHIDEYA: You got a new grandchild, right?

Ms. MORRIS: Yeah. I have two granddaughters now. One is two and the other one is, what? She's two weeks. So that is a blessing. You know, I know where my kids are.

CHIDEYA: Well, Brenda, we wish you all the best as you continue to hold it down in New Orleans.

Ms. MORRIS: I'm a try. Thank you so much.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya with New Orleans resident Brenda Morris. You can see where Katrina survivors landed and how they are faring today on our Web site at NPR.org.

That's our program for today. Thanks for joining us. To listen to the show, visit NPR.org. And if you'd like to give us a comment, call 202-408-3330.

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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