In the wake of John Edwards' decision to bow out of the race for the Presidency, many of us have found ourselves feeling like positive change has, once again, been postponed to some future date. It's a hard pill to swallow, and mine is stuck somewhere just below my Adam's Apple, and I can't seem to get the damned thing to go down.
We've talked about how important it is that his ideas continue on, but how do we do this? How can we help to continue shaping the debate as John has, so that these incredibly important issues can receive the interest and resources they so desperately need? We can start by talking about the things that are happening, and look at the people who are making these things happen.
As most of you are aware, John helped the UNC School of Law's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity get started a few years ago, and served as its director in the early days. He took some 700 students with him down to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina to render help in whatever fashion they could. You may remember how the pundits and skeptics in (and out) of the news media dismissed this as merely a "photo op with a shovel". But it was much more than that. It was a beginning.
Shortly after this first trip, the Center helped establish an entity known as NORI (New Orleans Recovery Initiative):
The New Orleans Recovery Initiative (NORI) was designed to connect the expertise of the University's faculty, students and staff with the needs of community groups in New Orleans. Its origins lie in a challenge issued by Walter Isaacson, Vice-Chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, during a Poverty Center-hosted event (Katrina Revisited, September 8, 2006). Mr. Isaacson called for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to commit its resources and energy to aid in the rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans. In response, Oscar Barbarin, a professor in the School of Social Work, traveled to New Orleans later that fall in order to explore ways that the University of North Carolina could become involved.
NORI is currently involved in projects in several different wards to help rebuild infrastructure and develop workable programs to restore basic services and enhance the quality of life that many of us take for granted here at home. They're not just marking time, they're looking at ways to ensure New Orleans eventually emerges from this nightmare as a better place to live than it was before Katrina, including a focus on green building wherever possible.
The people of New Orleans face myriad problems in their recovery, not the least of which are legal in nature. I think we've all seen reports of insurance companies seeking whatever methods they can to deny claims for property damage, and I'm convinced the Federal government has not done enough to shield citizens from this travesty. But that's only one facet of how the system works against these folks.
Many of the homes that were damaged or destroyed had been constructed back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, handed down from generation to generation ending with the current owners. New Orleans folk have always done things a little differently from the rest of the country—they have their own ways, and have gotten by quite well using them in the past. But that sometimes leaves them wanting when it comes to legal documentation, especially as it relates to the requirements of our Federal bureaucracy which administers much of the relief funding.
There are currently countless legal proceedings by individuals to prove their legal ownership of their property by way of "succession", which is the process of connecting the dots of legal inheritance. Naturally, this affects low income folks much more than others, due to the costs of the legal process, and many folks who are trying to rebuild are finding their legitimacy questioned. This is where some of the staff and students of UNC are stepping in to help.
UNC Law's Pro Bono project began a few years ago, where staff and students spend their Winter and Spring breaks traveling to New Orleans to work on these cases under the guidance of local pro bono attorneys. I have followed some of their experiences detailed on their blog, and to say I admire these kids would be a gross understatement. While their fellow students are taking ski trips and reveling in Cancun, they're toiling for countless (unpaid) hours trying to solve the legal problems of folks who are lost in a maze of red tape, disappointment and despair.
On behalf of all of us who do care, thank you so much. :)
As I mentioned in another thread, this election season has inspired me to donate (probably more than I can afford) to several candidates, as I'm sure many others at BlueNC have. But if there's a little bit more hiding in the piggy bank, please consider donating to this worthy program.
Please select “School of Law” as the University Designation, “Other” as the University Fund, and then indicate “Pro Bono Program-New Orleans” in the “Other Instructions” below that.
And lastly, I want to thank John Edwards for the vision and desire to change our minds about what is important to this country. We're still with you, because we know you're still with us.