Finally, I'm NOLABound.
Six and a half years since Hurricane Katrina destroyed my home and sent my community into a far flung diaspora of despondent resignation... two years of self-imposed exile, four more years of casual visits, content to be a tourist in a city reminiscent of a life long left behind... I find myself returning home, riding a crest of serendipity and curiosity, a part of the BeNOLABound program.
What is BeNOLABound? The pitch was that 27 professionals in four industry disciplines would be brought to New Orleans to experience and provide commentary on "New" New Orleans, through an all-expense paid, whirlwind weekend of activity highlighting the best of what New Orleans has to offer. Being intimately familiar with "old" New Orleans, my knee-jerk, neck-rolling reaction was "I'm not about to let a bunch of strangers roll through my city and give 'comment' when I have something to say too." So I threw myself into the three minute video application, determined to be a part of what sounded like a really cool "free vacation" to New Orleans, but also curious about what I would be presented with when I got there. Furthermore, the project will be filmed as a pioneering foray into "docu-tourism," combining interviews and public dialogues with hyper-local experiences that will paint a thoughtful picture of New Orleans through our experiences this week.
Since the selection of NOLABounders was announced, I have had a great time getting to know them and pushing around the potential hot-buttons of our dialogues on our open LinkedIn group. The delegates are as well-traveled, diverse and varied as the industries they represent -- arts, digital media, biosciences, and sustainability. Each person is bringing to the trip their own perspective of the various cities they've lived in, a dynamic set of professional experience, and an earnest excitement to both see what the city has to offer and to help contribute to the growing emergence of New Orleans as an attractive place to build a life. I think it will be a fun bunch, and I am excited to see what will come out of the discussions that we take part in this week.
However, as a person who was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and who made a decision to rebuild my life elsewhere in the aftermath, it will take more than a po-boy and a second line to convince me that New Orleans is a place where I can seamlessly and successfully continue my career in digital media and entrepreneurship. As a single woman who grew up in New Orleans public schools during the time when NOLA was the murder capital of the US, I am fully concerned about crime, education, the levee system, and most of all, long-term economic development and infrastructure investment that will ultimately determine whether or not New Orleans will ever compete on a global scale again. I love New Orleans with all of my heart, and spent all of my formative years there, only to have my hopes dashed as a new college graduate seeking work outside of the hospitality and tourism industries. I know scores of young professionals like myself: my schoolmates and friends who would love to move back home, if only we could fully envision the futures that New Orleans would hold for us.
So I'm walking into this project with eyes and ears open, wanting to see the "New" New Orleans that the visionaries who've arranged this project want the world to see and the new attitudes and approaches to age-old problems that have plagued our city for decades. Ever the cynic, I hope that I'll at least come away with a renewed sense of confidence for New Orleans' future... but a tiny part of me hopes that maybe I'll even start my own long journey back home.