AUDIO: Denise on Building & Rebuilding

May 29th, 2007 by Larry Smith  

DeniseWhen Josh and I went to New Orleans this past January to meet all the A.D. “characters” in person, few days were as moving or intense as the one we spent with Denise. In this podcast, recorded in the home she shares with her mother (and sometimes her niece and niece’s daughter), Denise speaks with intensity, emotion, and raw honesty about her experiences in the city she’s lived her entire life. Click the play button below and listen.

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9 Responses

  1. Lisa

    thank you for posting this. Denise speaks very passionately about something that quite a few New Orleanians feel, but haven’t had the venue to say. Smith mag has guts. thank you.

  2. Woodrow R. Wilson

    Well fuck you Denise. I gave NO. four weeks of my blood, sweat and tears to help my fellow Americans rebuild… never again. I’m not one of the dyed hair, drug using volunteers you feel you had to berate in your pathetic tirade. Even if I were, I assure you, It’ll be a cold day in hell when I leave the comfort and safety of my home to help ingrates such as yourself. You’re just another bitter asshole who thinks they’re entitled to everything. BTW You might want to brush up on the history of your own city.

  3. Denise

    Four weeks? You stayed in New Orleans four weeks and you know everything? You must be really smart.

    BTW, I was talking about the people moving in under the pretense of rebuilding; it smacks of colonization. I actually appreciate people like you who went home.

    And I don’t feel entitled, I feel deprived of my own agency. I am very aware of the history of my city, and maybe a lifetime of study doesn’t have the credibility of one super human smart person like you, but you know everything so I’ll bow to your superior wisdom.

  4. Melissa

    Denise, please get over the anger and move on to constructively rebuilding the magical city of New Orleans. I fully agree that LOTS of people got screwed, but “Wilson” never claimed he “knew everything” or was a “super smart person” he was simply offended (and I think justifiably) that you would extort such hate on people who really wanted to help those in New Orleans. Not everyone will do it the “right” way as defined by you. At least some people tried. Unfortunately, tirades like yours don’t inspire others to want to help. I hate to say it, but the hateful things you had to say about those who came to help (most for completely altruistic reasons) confirm many peoples impressions of why they don’t see a reason to save New Orleans - and there are a lot of those people. I find myself defending the beauty of the city and the people everyday, but I can’t defend against the kind of things you said here. I fully expect you to berate me for this comment because I’m sure I didn’t put something properly in your perspective, but it really is meant with good intentions, and I hope that you find peace and happiness in your gorgeous New Orleans.

  5. Denise

    Melissa, It’s not the rebuilding of New Orleans I am railing against. It’s not the volunteers who worked tirelessly from altruistic efforts I’m angry with. I am angry about gentrification and how Katrina has sped up that process with government sanctions and American taxpayer money. There are plenty of New Orleanians with the skills to rebuild New Orleans, it’s funny how the money you all gave to the Red Cross and other Government agencies never made it into the hands of those people. People keep forgetting about the New Orleanians who haven’t made it home. There are 300,000 of us still out here where we landed. The mayor says that we have been replaced. That the population now is almost up to what it was Pre-K. Did you ever wonder who those people were? They’re not us, because we are still floating around America with people looking for excuses to blame us for our misfortune. You want an excuse not to help New Orleanians? Have at it. That doesn’t change the fact that our city is being taken over by people who said they wanted to rebuild for us when what they obviously wanted to do is replace us. Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in your home when it is full of strangers who’d rather see you die than come home. Yes, I’m angry, but you really have no idea what’s going on down here if you think I don’t have every right to be. You always defend the beauty of the city and the people? I was once one of those beautiful people in that beautiful city. I’m not home yet. I do think it’s funny that you and WIlson feel that degrading one of the survivors of the hurricane who wasn’t grateful for being displaced is the way to go. No matter what you did or did not do in that city, believe me, it does not compare to what me and my family have contributed for over 300 years. My pedigree would astound you, but maybe it’s not people like me who should live there, it’s people like you.

  6. Christine Ahn


    Sister. You are fierce and you are speaking truth that this sick country needs to hear. It’s astonishing to me to read the other people’s incensed comments at Denise. She’s saying so eloquently what Kahlil Gibran said centuries ago, “The gift whose source is justice is greater than the gift from charity.” Thank you sister Denise for being the voice of sanity and reason. Proud to be your New Voices comrade.

  7. Veronica

    Denise, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Not having lived in New Orleans for over a decade, I will be the first to tell you that those of us who did not live through K have no clue how hard it must be to go through what you clearly continue to grapple with, even on the 3rd anniversary. I remember New Orleanians being unique to any other American group - its own entity. I have always felt akin, at least in spirit, to you who have made your families in New Orleans for generations, and my heart broke for all of you three years ago, and every day since. I understand the anger in your audio here, it must be so hard to see your city transformed by people who move in, taking the place of those who may never make it back to NOLA. Particularly when the mayor announces that you’ve all been replaced! NO, as I’m certain you are fully aware, was not just another American city, add Americans and stir, viola! new city. New Orleans must be rebuilt by New Orleanians, for no one else understands the beauty of the city the way a New Orleanian does. I did not get the impression that you were attacking volunteers who come to help for the sake of helping, as you have been accused of here. If I understand you correctly, you appreciate those who come temporarily to help, but resent (as you have every right to) the speculators, who move in to rebuild for their own benefit.

    Again, thank you for sharing this with us. I know I cannot ever forget you.

  8. Denise

    Thank you Veronica. It’s nice to be understood. What people may not know is that Josh and Larry and I spent six hours reliving the most devastating thing that ever happened to me. It’s an understatement to say I was a little “on edge”. I’m glad you could hear through that and get what I was really saying.

    I’m in Baton Rouge right now preparing for another round with nature. Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!!!!

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