I’m sitting here with a cup of Café du Monde chicory coffee and imagining that I’m back in New Orleans. I’ve wanted to visit New Orleans for as long as I can remember. Like India, I had an idea of what it would be like in person – full of mystery and beauty and toughness. It turns out that it’s all of those things and so much more. It’s a place infused with a long and difficult history and blend of cultures.
I soaked up every ounce I could of just being there. Even in rainy, 90 plus degree weather with 100 percent humidity, it was perfect. We ate incredible Creole, French, and Cajun food, saw grand houses surrounded by old gnarled and twisted trees, listened to the most amazing jazz, drank cocktails in coupe glasses, and visited the cemetery where Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is buried.
When I sat down to write this post I thought I’d give some highlights of my favorite places and experiences in The Crescent City but the events of the past week have left me thinking mostly of the people we met on our trip. To say that the people of New Orleans are exceptional is an understatement. New Orleans is a vibrant, diverse, exotic, gritty, welcoming, love-filled, and wildly resilient city because of the people who live there. Time and time again, I spoke with bartenders, cab drivers, and shop owners who said that they left NOLA at some point in their lives and then returned after living in other cities. Something very powerful beckons you to come back. I don’t know that I’ve ever visited a place with such a strong identity and people who love their home as much as the people of New Orleans. The kindness, character, and strength were inspiring in a time when the news is full of violence and hatred. I came home with a strong desire to educate myself on the chapters of our American history that I’ve neglected because they’re too horrific or they didn’t seem like they were part of my history. I’ve long failed to realize that they are very much a part of all of our histories and what happens to one of us, affects all of us. I live in a small town in Pennsylvania, surrounded by a predominantly white population, many of whom were and still are Trump supporters. I struggle with the anger I feel towards my neighbors for bringing us, once again, to a place in America’s history where White Supremacists and Nazis can freely assemble with flags and torches in our streets. At the same time I know that unless I’m an active part of the change that I’d like to see, I’m also part of the problem.
I heard Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, speaking this week about our path ahead. She said that we need to ‘hold the line’ in order to keep Trump and his administration in check. While a great deal of responsibility lies on Congress, our individual voices and actions are more powerful than I sometimes remember. Watching the people of New Orleans, Boston, Altlanta, and other cities, marching peacefully yesterday against White Supremacy was a beautifully resounding example of holding the line. There is always space to learn more, listen more, practice more love and compassion – and there are always opportunities to speak up or begin a conversation, even when we may not know exactly what to say.