The Road To Freedom was proud to be included at the Statewide Independent Living Council Congress “Building For Our Future” in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Many thanks to Charlotte Bowen, Brenda Curtiss, Mike Collins, Maris Burton, Steve Higgins, Paula Margeson and all the SILC Congress representatives. Special thanks to Betsy Valnes, executive director of the National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN) for working with us as we develop a strong Road To Freedom youth program.

As we drove into New Orleans from Montgomery, Alabama, we came face-to-face with the devastation created by Hurricane Katrina. Actually being here made the landmarks and damage now familiar from watching the storm coverage on TV seem even more horrific. While the city is working hard to rebuild — both spirit and infrastructure — it is hard not to be moved by the evidence of destruction all around. Many of us listened to the personal experiences of residents who came to talk to SILC  participants. Some of us toured by bus or vans to see how the city was impacted and how it is rebuilding. We recalled how, when watching the images of people climbing to their rooftops to escape the floodwater, we knew that so many people with disabilities were unable to get to higher ground…

Extreme poverty and violent crime, of course, continue to plague New Orleans. We stayed in a RV park in the French Quarter that seemed surreal. It was surrounded by cinderblock walls with barbed wire and a gate. It was patrolled by arm guards day and night, and we were cautioned not to walk after dark. Sprouting out of the middle of the park, which was situated next to Interstate 10, was a huge billboard announcing the latest tally of the millions that could be won in the Megabucks lottery…

In the middle of all the devastation and heartache was a rebounding Bourbon Street with it signature food, live music, partying in the streets and more… There was an added spark in the air while we were there as the New Orleans Saints beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the division championship game.  You could not be here for long without hearing multiple versions of “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Thank you, New Orleans! We will be back!