Writing About Life Before the Hurricane

I was initially motivated to write a book in the latter part of the 1980s about my fifth-grade teacher because she was an excellent teacher, and her characteristic qualities as a teacher and the strategies she used in the classroom could be beneficial for parents and educators, as they have been most beneficial to me as a student, parent, and educator. But, during the next fourteen to sixteen years, there was no apparent time to seriously write because of job, family, and community interests and concerns that seemed to take every moment of my time.

Shortly after the opening of the new millennium, I began to think about the book again, focusing on the possible effects that my fifth grade teacher had on my classmates.

Valena C. Jones School Building in Seventh Ward New Orleans

After talking with and learning more about my classmates and the factors they thought most important to their development, my interest for the book shifted to the impact of the teachers at Valena C. Jones School (our elementary school), our parents, our classmates, our culture, our principals, and our community on our success in life and on the paths we selected. Special consideration in this book is given my fifth grade teacher because she greatly impacted my life.

Although I had been jotting down thoughts for this book for several years, I didn’t really get started on it in a serious manner until after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, three months after I attended activities in New Orleans celebrating the fortieth anniversary of my graduation from Dillard University.

Hurricane Katrina attacked New Orleans almost two weeks short of the fortieth anniversary of my leaving the city for graduate school at Howard University in Washington, DC. I left New Orleans a few days after Hurricane Betsy hit in 1965, at which time hurricane waters had not yet receded in all sections of the city. Following Hurricane Katrina, I knew New Orleans would never be the same, and I wanted to focus and capture in writing the New Orleans of my formative years.

Crowning of Jacques Girls in 1944

I began planning the content for the book and talked with close relatives and friends about my plans. I developed a list of interview questions, selected a somewhat diverse group of classmates (initially 6) and subsequently interviewed twelve of my elementary school classmates who unselfishly helped to capture a period in the history of New Orleans and of the Creoles of color in the Seventh Ward as well as the engendering culture of my city during the 1950s. They relived the education and cultural experiences during that period. Many of my classmates interviewed have also contributed to an understanding of the evolution of the Creoles of color into the broader culture of African Americans as we learned to be accepting of and acceptable to the larger culture. I am most grateful that my classmates dug deep into their memories and were free and open in sharing their lives.

As a senior citizen, I feel free and compelled to share the many positives and some negatives of my Creole culture and educational experiences and of those of my classmates.

We noted with delight that our teachers in grade school, parents, and principals — all African Americans — valued education during racial segregation in the south; they set high standards for student achievement and believed that the students could reach those standards. They set standards of performance for the common good, and they believed that we could become good citizens and rewarded us for doing so.

Those beliefs and the experiences provided by the teachers and principals and supported by our parents helped to produce competitive individuals in all walks of life who serve their communities with distinction. Many of our parents were not formally educated; however, they were steadfast in supporting the education of their children.