New Orleans Student Found Refuge in Rhode Island Deandra Stewart of New Orleans' Xavier University talks about a four-day trip that turned into a four-month stay with a Rhode Island family. Stewart attended Brown University during the cleanup that followed Hurricane Katrina.
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New Orleans Student Found Refuge in Rhode Island

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New Orleans Student Found Refuge in Rhode Island

New Orleans Student Found Refuge in Rhode Island

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You're listening to NEWS AND NOTES from NPR News.

I'm Ed Gordon, next time on NEWS AND NOTES: the 1965 Voting Rights Act ensured an equal vote for all Americans, but a new study shows there is still discrimination at the polls, leaving some to wonder if African Americans are losing ground in the fight for equal rights.

That's next time on NEWS AND NOTES from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Yesterday we heard from Jill Davidson, a writer and mother living in Providence, Rhode Island. Her life was personally touched by hurricane Katrina when she took in a young college student displaced by the storm.

Today, we hear from that student, Deandra Stewart. The young New Orleans resident recounts her experience in Providence in the months following the hurricane.

Ms. DEANDRA STEWART (Student, Xavier University): Deandra, you need to get out of New Orleans now, were the words my uncle Neal told me as I was so eagerly doing community service.

After community service and a meeting I leisurely packed four days worth of clothes. Like a lot of other people I underestimated hurricane Katrina's arrival. I had no idea that my four-day evacuation would turn into four challenging months. There were blessings, pain and new discoveries.

After Katrina's wrath, the blessings were numerous. The first came in the form of Brown University who helped me continue my studies. Once they found out that I could not attend my school, they made it possible for me to take classes in Providence. The best blessing I received was from a local writer, Jill Davidson, who opened her home and her heart to me. It was here where I discovered how I wanted the world to perceive my life. Seeing Jill made me realize that I not only wanted to be a wife and a mother, but also a successful working woman.

But, I also faced a lot of pain during my time in Providence. As a senior from a historically black, Catholic institution, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I will never forget being treated like a charity case when a Brown parent gave me money after realizing I was displaced by the hurricane. Yes, I needed the money, but I didn't need anyone's pity.

The most humbling moment was when I entered a Salvation Army store. I literally broke down into tears. I always donated clothes to the Salvation Army, but receiving articles of clothing was a different story. I remember pinching myself over and over again to make sure I wasn't dreaming, but this was reality. I found myself crying every night and feeling a sense of hopelessness.

But Jill and her family were a bright spot during all of this. They constantly reassured me and encouraged me to seek counseling. Whenever I had a long, hard and frustrating day, I knew I would be greeted with warm and friendly smiles from Jill, her husband Kevin and, sons Elias and Leo. They gave me a sense of home and belonging.

In those four months, I encountered a lifetime of experiences. Some were bad, and others were great. I learned firsthand that tomorrow is not promised and life is full of unexpected surprises. So, I try to make the best of each day and be prepared for life's surprises along the way. Oprah Winfrey stated, I've come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that's as unique as a fingerprint and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.

With this in mind, I'd like to thank Jill Davidson and her family, Dr. McHune(ph), Dr. Wilson, Leadership Alliance, Dr. Wharton(ph), Dr. Fryman(ph), Aubrey(ph), Justin(ph) and Jonathan(ph) for never giving up on me during my stay in Providence, and leading me closer to my own unique fingerprint.

GORDON: Deandra Stewart is a senior majoring in Biology at Xavier University in Louisiana.

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