This past week, I spoke at Harvard and NYU about New Orleans. More than three years after the failure of the levees, New Orleans and its issues are still relevant to the rest of the country.
At Harvard, students were eager for knowledge about a place they had heard that needed them, but had no network to connect them to the city. For many students, who are idealistic and want to work to equal the playing field, Teach For America has done an extraordinary job of appealing to them. Some of the workshop participants were planning to go to New Orleans as part of the TFA corps, another was a football player from New Orleans, and there were also several young women who wanted to go to New Orleans, but did not know where to start in their job search.
During the undergraduate experience, college students spend hours developing their intellectual capital. They are reading, discussing, writing, thinking critically about current issues, but if they want to pursue their passion in fighting for economic and social justice, it is not clear how they can continue to grow intellectually as they enter the job world. In many cases, even in the non-profit and public service sector, their intellectual potential is not cultivated. I understand the importance of experience and building capacity through time spent on the job, but College career centers need to do a better job of figuring out ways to connect students to jobs that allow them to pursue their passion.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers, he writes about how great success can be attributed to “extraordinary opportunity.” New Orleans provides this opportunity for thousands of young people from around the country. The failure of levees was a tragic event that damaged 80% of the city, leaving an American city to have to rebuild itself from the ground up. With no precedent or guidebook, creative solutions were applied to solve the city’s most serious problems. The city is still ripe for change and is the perfect city for young people across the country to contribute to this revitalization and act as agents for change and advocates for the people of New Orleans.
Another exciting part of doing these workshops at college campuses, is to get people who are all interested in New Orleans, in the same room talking to each other and getting to hear what they are working on. In New York, the people in the room all were passionate about New Orleans- some were from New Orleans, some had spent time there, and some were moving there and wanted more information.