The following is an excerpt from a speech Brenda Mitchell gave in Rochester, N.Y., at the convention of the New York State United Teachers, May 4–6, 2006. — the editors
When I left home, I never would have thought I would never be able to return. Not for anything I did. So just imagine for a moment, not only what I am going through — and I am going to be all right, because I am tough and the union has toughened me even more, and I am resilient — but for the thousands of people in the city, the thousands of members of United Teachers of New Orleans who will never be the same again. And, oh my God, the children.
Oh, we hear stories about how bad they are in Houston. Well, have they ever thought about the fact that these kids have been traumatized? I have been traumatized. It wasn't until December that I even could think. I couldn't write. I couldn't read a book. I was overwhelmed. The devastation is so great.
I was in New Orleans on Tuesday, and around my home and my neighborhood there are miles and miles and miles of dead grass. No utilities, no drinking water. All that is left standing of my home are the brick veneer walls, the studs, the cement foundation, and the ceramic tile that I just finished paying for before the storm.
There are many people like me. At least I had insurance, but in the lower 9th Ward, where the barge broke, where 54 percent of the individuals in that community are homeowners, African Americans, many of the them elderly — I don't know whether or not they are going to be able to recoup. Eighty percent of the people are gone. And you know what the feeling is? They don't really want us back.