From the Editors / Philanthropy and Inequality

Reflecting on the Past 10 Years: U.S. Philanthropy’s Response to Katrina

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, The New York Times today published an in-depth analysis of how the city of New Orleans has changed since then, arguing: “The city that went under in the surging waters of Hurricane Katrina has not returned, not to the way it used to be.” Though the piece does not focus particularly on philanthropy, it does provide informative maps, videos, and analysis of the change-over-time in the city’s various neighborhoods. It is worth a read.

For a more philanthropy-focused lens on the lessons of Katrina, there is Greater New Orleans Foundation CEO and President G. Albert Ruesga’s article in the summer issue of Responsive Philanthropy, the NCRP’s Quarterly Journal. While congratulating philanthropy for its role in responding to Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, Ruesga calls on the sector’s leaders and staff to take this moment to reflect on how they should respond with the same sense of urgency to current suffering and injustice in New Orleans. He concludes:

Hundreds of foundations across the country and across the world mobilized to help put New Orleans back on its feet. They made huge investments in relief and rebuilding efforts; they gave voice to beleaguered residents; they helped us rebuild better than before. Here was philanthropy at its best. Not photo op philanthropy, but rather a response from the heart that has lasted to this day and has transformed our city. I know the overwhelming majority of my fellow New Orleanians share my gratitude for the generosity of so many.

The problems with organized philanthropy – the work of foundations and the like – are more systemic; they extend far beyond our attempts to respond to any one disaster. These problems explain why it’s the pope, rather than a foundation CEO, who’s deemed by Fox News to be the most dangerous person on the planet.

For now, dear reader, dear fellow philanthropoid: If you’re moved to do so, make your pilgrimage to New Orleans this year. Give us an opportunity to thank you again. We can mourn together for the dead. And, most importantly, arm in arm, we can find a way to honor the dignity of those who are thankfully still with us.

In this moment of commemoration and looking to the past, Ruesga urges the philanthropic sector not to forget the present needs of the city.

-Maribel Morey, co-editor of HistPhil



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