Students aid reconstruction over break

While some students vacationed on Florida’s south coast, 40 students at Florida A&M University chose another coast to spend spring break.

“Katrina On The Ground” targeted college students across the country willing to use their spring break aiding the rebuilding process of cities devastated by hurricane Katrina.  

Students from numerous colleges spent their break rebuilding devastated areas in Mobile, Ala., Biloxi, Miss., and New Orleans.

“The Ninth Ward is the worst community, and we are starting there. We are going to work our way from the bottom up,” said Ishmael Muhammad, a coordinator for the Legal Work Group Coalition.

Muhammad explained how some students would experience conditions they may have never seen before and told them they should keep a positive attitude throughout the week.

“Just get into the spirit. Going into the Ninth Ward, you will be seeing dead bodies or potential pieces of body which is normal in the Ninth Ward and you must be able to deal with these conditions,” Muhammad said.

Once students reached New Orleans on March 6, some students were shocked to see house roofs shattered into pieces and thousands of abandon cars littered throughout the inner city.

While in New Orleans, students lived in churches and ate at volunteer food services located on the side of roads.

After receiving intense instructions necessary before cleaning houses in the Ward, students were told about the importance of wearing the appropriate safety gear while working in contaminated homes.

Students were given full body suits, two pairs of work gloves, mouth protectors, hard hats and protective gear for their eyes in order to work in the houses.

Some students said much of the work was an emotional experience.

Such was the case that it brought many to believe the devastation in New Orleans’ black community was a result of the city’s injustice.

Ashley Butterfield, 19, a sophomore health care management student from Cocoa Beach, said prior to coming to New Orleans, she had not dealt with serious issues of racism and poverty.

“Where I’m from, I didn’t really deal with too many racial issues. I was like ‘get over it,’ but…they really literally left them out to dry,” Butterfield said.

Westli Spencer, 22, a political science student at James Madison University, said he grew angry after talking to survivors.

“I’m disgusted and beside myself,” said Spencer, chairman of the student committee for Katrina On The Ground.

“I was talking to some students who were residence of the Ninth Ward and they were talking about what it was like to stay in the superdome.

“I’d never seen anyone recount that experience. It was so different than what we saw on television,” he said.  

Spencer said much of his anger came after viewing the levee.

“The levee system is for rich white people and not the people in the Ninth Ward. A four-foot levee in comparison to a 14-foot levee in the white neighborhood told me how our people had nothing to help them,” Spencer said.  

Students got a chance to tour several historical sites including St. Augustine Catholic Church, one of the city’s first black Catholic Churches.  

“I didn’t know that New Orleans was so rich in history. The city is a mixture of every body’s history and must be restored,” Butterfield said.  

In the last days in the city, a wrap-up session was held at Xavier University, allowing students to reflect on their experience.

Joshua Ward, 21, a senior business marketing student at Morehouse College, explained how grateful he was to participate after enduring several temptations to go on vacation with friends. “I had both of my roommates trying to persuade me to go to Cancun,” said Ward, a native of Dayton, Ohio. “And up until the time it was time to leave…he was still trying to get me to change my mind.”  

Contact Christina Hordge at