You inspired all of America
Visiting residents on tidy porch stoops and sampling the fried chicken at a corner restaurant, President Barack Obama held out the people of New Orleans on Thursday as an extraordinary example of renewal and resilience 10 years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
“There’s something in you guys that is just irrepressible,” Obama told hundreds of residents assembled at a bustling new community center in an area of the Lower 9th Ward that was once under 17 feet of water. “The people of New Orleans didn’t just inspire me, you inspired all of America.”
He held out the city’s comeback as a metaphor for what’s happening all across a nation that has moved from economic crisis to higher ground.
“Look at what’s happened here,” he declared, speaking of a transformed American city that was once “dark and underwater.”
Still, Obama acknowledged that much remains to be done. And after walking door to door in the historic Treme section of a city reborn from tragedy, he cautioned that “just because the housing is nice doesn’t mean our job is done.”
Areas of the city still suffer from high poverty, he said, and young people still take the wrong path.
There is more to be done to confront “structural inequities that existed long before the storm happened,” he added.
In his remarks at the community center, Obama blended the same themes of resilience and renewal that he drew from encounters with the sturdy residents he met along Magic Street and at other locations.
Leah Chase, the 92-year-old proprietor of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, was one of those to chat with Obama. She pronounced herself a fan of the man, saying he’d handled “a rough road.”
Chase — who’s known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine” — said, “That’s all you have to do: handle what’s handed to you,” voicing what could be a credo for the city.
Obama was clearly energized by his visits, at one point breaking into a song from “The Jeffersons” sitcom after meeting a young woman who calls herself “Ouisie.” He stopped for fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, and pronounced the resulting grease stain on his suit a good indication that he’d enjoyed his stay in the city.
He held out the community center as “an example of what is possible when, in the face of tragedy and in the face of hardship, good people come together to lend a hand and, brick by brick, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, you build a better future.”