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A Lucky Break After the Storm

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Rockell Brown returned to New Orleans two years ago triumphant and eager. She had a Ph.D. from Wayne State University in media studies, and a teaching position at her undergraduate alma mater, Xavier University in New Orleans.

By summer her life was looking even better. At age 30, she had purchased her first home and her fiancé, Malcolm Burton, was moving from Detroit to join her in New Orleans. At the end of August, it all came to an abrupt halt.

Brown fled New Orleans along with hundreds of thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Today she is living with friends in Houston while tackling reams of paperwork associated with insurance claims, relocation and a new job.

But she counts herself among “the lucky ones.”

“I’m feeling guilty because I’m in a better place than so many people,” she says. “There are just five of us staying in a house. Some people are in homes with 30 people. Insurance is taking care of my house and I had a savings account and credit card.”

Brown was hired almost immediately as a visiting professor at Texas Southern University. Xavier University remains closed until further notice. Her fiancé has joined her, and she has learned that other family members are safe.

She said that the hurricane hit just before the end of the month when people are typically short on cash. “So many people in New Orleans couldn’t afford to leave. If I hadn’t had savings and a credit card, I don’t know what I would have done. But a lot of people don’t have those things. There’s not enough understanding about poverty in this country.”

One of the classes she was to teach at Xavier was media criticism, and she certainly has plenty of that right now. “It seemed that the reporters were talking only to people who fit a certain profile. I tried to get interviewed when we first arrived in Houston because I objected to the use of the word ‘refugees.’ But if you were educated and articulate,” she said, “they wouldn’t interview you.”

Pearl Stewart is a journalism professor at University of Southern Mississippi.

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