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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMB Symposium Will Commemorate Hurricane Katrina

A shrimpboat washed 6 miles through the woods in Longbeach Mississippi
A shrimpboat washed 6 miles through the woods in Longbeach Mississippi

A little over a year ago, Hurricane Katrina hit the southern Gulf region and met the residents with disastrous, life-shattering consequences. Lack of forethought and planning ahead by the federal government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), coupled with results detrimental to the entire area presented a poor image of the US, not only to nations across the world watching the news, but to its own citizens.

Although the majority of the storm’s damage to New Orleans was done on Aug. 29, 2005, the city and the surrounding areas hit by Katrina are still in states of disarray. Because of this, Barbara Lewis, director of the Trotter Institute, has planned Boston Meets Katrina: An Anniversary Symposium.

“I’m hoping that everyone who attends takes away a greater understanding of what happened and what needs to be done,” Lewis said. “It’ll underlie a larger understanding of the past and hopefully will become an annual event. It’s a way to commemorate and examine what happened and what needs to be done.”

The Symposium, taking place from Sept. 21-30, begins with a marathon reading in the UMass Boston bookstore of excerpts from the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. The Harlem Renaissance novel features a segment from at 1927 flood that was met with responses similar to Katrina.

“I had watched a program on PBS and learned about the flood in the Delta region and discovered the resemblance between it and Katrina,” Lewis said. “It’s one way of looking at things. It presents another point of view on the way disasters were and still are handled.”

However, the first event still needs a helping hand from those around campus.

“Currently, we only have one person signed up to read,” Lewis said. “We need 24 volunteers to read for 10 minutes a piece. There is a poster in the library with more information, and we are hoping that more students will become involved.”

Alongside Lewis were two others in planning this event: Assistant Dean of Graduate Students Rita Nethersole and Assistant Professor of American Studies Lynnell Thomas.

“The three of us worked on assembling a panel of people to speak, and the whole thing grew out of that,” Lewis said. “We worked for two months and other things just began to happen. For example, after the flood in 1927, there was an outpouring of music, particularly jazz musicians, composing songs dealing with the hardships. From that, we have a jazz musician coming and performing a concert on Saturday (Sept. 30).”

When making the poster, Lewis found an image from New Orleans in which an American flag was shredded by the winds and the weather brought on by Katrina. Lewis said that when people see this image, at first they think it is from 9/11.

“I see Katrina as the black 9/11,” Lewis said. “It is a sacred moment that capsulates our history. We pushed out of slavery and now we have to push through this. It shows where we are in history-trying to recover from the epicenter of reality.”

Within this recovery, Lewis believes that the younger population is ready to head in that direction.

“The generation coming up now is idealistic and full of activists,” Lewis said. “One of our panels is a group of kids who went to New Orleans and surveyed the damage and grasped an understanding of what happened. We want to celebrate that activism and encourage others to make a difference and show them that we all have a responsibility.”

Though all of this, Lewis would like to continue these activities each year, bringing a sense of growth and posterity along with each passing symposium.

“I’m hoping that each time, we will reflect on what happened and project forward to see what needs to be done,” Lewis said. “We need to come up with ways to make the world safer, make the world more harmonious and peaceful. We have ball full of energy-like an eternal flame. We need to keep sending it up.”