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Yesterday our nation marked the solemn anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with news coverage highlighting the lack of progress made since the winds and water washed away so many hopes and dreams. For many Americans, the images from Katrina may feel like distant memory, even though the arduous process of rebuilding continues at a painstaking pace. I believed and hoped that Katrina would be a watershed moment that awakened national outrage over the sleeping and all-too-invisible giants of inequality and poverty.
Katrina held up a mirror to our nation, forcing us to ask the basic and penetrating questions, Are we really our brother or sister’s keeper? What kind of nation do we aspire to be? How would we want to be cared for in the midst of a national tragedy that shipwrecks lives? What are our responsibilities to and for each other, particularly toward the weakest and most vulnerable? These are fundamentally biblical questions echoed by the scathing indictments of the biblical prophets, and by Jesus’ judgment in Mathew 25 that “Just as you did to the least of these, you also did unto me.” Katrina tests our nation’s compassion, mercy, and commitment to justice, and demonstrated the urgent and unparalleled need for good and effective government.
I traveled to New Orleans in February to attend the Samuel DeWitt Proctor conference. The trip was like beholding two separate cities in one. In the French quarter it felt like the best of times, with tourists returning for revelry, while the worst of times are still being felt just miles away in entire neighborhoods and parishes struggling to rebuild from the waterlogged ashes. While the waters have receded, pain and trauma remain indelible. Where the government has failed, civil society has triumphed with an outpouring of charity and volunteerism, arguably providing the greatest engine behind the progress made so far.
I pray that the week of August 29 becomes a week of national repentance for the indifference we have so often shown toward our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. The week can also be a time for national redemption as we rededicate ourselves to the work of uplifting and empowering those Americans whose lives are circumscribed by inequality and destitution. There are Lower Ninth Wards across our country, both in urban and rural settings, whose social levies remain fragile and broken. On this anniversary I hope you will redouble your efforts to support the rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast and deepen your commitment to redress the root causes of poverty in our nation.
Adam Taylor is director of campaigns and organizing for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.