We will go to the shelters and far-flung communities where significant numbers of exiled New Orleanians are now residing. We will collect their stories — not simply their memories of escaping our flooded city, but also a social profile of who they are, what their day to day lives were, what were their hopes and dreams, their challenges and struggles.
Too often when major historic events take place, those who are live at the margins of the mainstream are ignored. We know what the presidents and generals did, we know what the business leaders and major cultural figures thought, but do we know anything about the poor, the disenfranchised, the people of the Dome, the overpass, as well as those who left the city on Sunday and as of Tuesday night had no city to return to?
During the Great Depression the WPA collected the stories of people who had experienced slavery. Today we will collect the stories of people who survived a defining moment in American and World History.
We are neo-griots. Griot refers to the traditional West African historians/story-tellers/musicians. Neo refers to digital technology. Our goal is to write, to record, to photograph and video the stories of survival, and to share these stories with the world via the internet.
The project will be led by Kalama ya Salaam, a New Orleans native, internationally recognized as a cultural historian and creative writer. Among his many accomplishments, he was the Executive Director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation from 1983 to 1987, and was serving as the co-director of Students at the Center, a creative writing program in the New Orleans public schools. Salaam taught writing and digital video. As the editor of the Black Collegian magazine (1970 - 1983) Salaam published over a hundred interviews. He was also a member of the Free Southern Theatre, which toured the deep south. For the last ten years, Salaam has been leading the Neo-Griot Workshop, a weekly gathering of New Orleans writers of color.