Like most aspects of New Orleans, the story of its recovery after Hurricane Katrina is complex and, like a recipe missing key ingredients, often gets mangled in translation. In a move to outflank what they see as an inaccurate and detrimental image of the city and its recovery, a group of New Orleanians is traveling across the country to deliver a more personal message about the community’s condition, goals and potential directly to those in positions to help.
New Orleans City Councilman Arnie Fielkow
Called the Fleur-de-lis Ambassadors, these volunteers are organized under a program conceived by Tulane University President Scott Cowen and New Orleans City Councilman Arnie Fielkow. The ambassadors will meet with newspaper editorial boards and business, civic and philanthropic groups to address key recovery issues, including the city’s rebuilding plan, levees, education reform, housing, crime and other topics.
“If our long-term recovery is going to be successful, it is critical that we build a solid base of support for New Orleans around the country,” Cowen says.
Misperceptions about the condition of New Orleans and what he describes as “the ongoing, one-sided, negative news coverage” of the city are the biggest obstacles to the local recovery, Cowen says.
Tulane University President Scott Cowen
Cowen and Fielkow created the program with Rod West, president of Entergy New Orleans, and Kim Boyle, a partner with Phelps Dunbar LLP. To get started, they recruited a cross-section of individuals with diverse expertise and experience from throughout the community to represent New Orleans as the initial group of ambassadors.
“Our best spokespeople are those who are at the forefront of bringing our city back from Katrina’s devastation,” says Fielkow. “Certainly one of the most important elements our ambassadors will bring to their visits will be their own personal experiences during the recovery.”
The first 21 volunteer ambassadors represent fields including business and healthcare, arts and higher education, religion and government. Some ambassadors include David Bell, chief judge of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court; Gregory Ben Johnson, president of Greater New Orleans Foundation; Ti Martin, managing partner of Commander’s Palace Restaurant; and the Rev. Vien Thé Nguyen, pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church in eastern New Orleans. Another ambassador is Norman Francis, president of Xavier University, who last year was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest official honor the U.S. can bestow on a civilian.
Small groups of ambassadors began making their visits in April, traveling first to Boston. A trip to Atlanta is coming up this month. – I.M.