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10 years after Katrina, New Orleans offers lessons about childhood trauma

  • l kendall1200
    Photo: Laine Kaplan-Levenson




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Ten years after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, much of the physical damage the storm caused in the city of New Orleans has been repaired. Neighborhoods and communities have been rebuilt. Schools, hospitals, businesses, and restaurants have re-opened.

But a deeper, invisible wound brought by the storm remains. Thousands of residents, and especially children, were traumatized by the storm and the displacement and struggle that followed.

In late August 2005, Kendall Booker was in 5th grade, watching cartoons. All of a sudden, the program blacked out, and then President George W. Bush appeared on screen. Annoyed, Kendall flipped through the stations in search of another cartoon. But all he saw was the president.

"And my mind just snaps," Booker remembers. "Something really is going on and it's serious to where, like, this man is on 50 channels. So I decided to listen but at that time I couldn't comprehend everything."

Soon after that, Booker's grandfather came in the room and told him they were leaving. He was living with his grandpa at the time and his siblings were all split up, staying with different family members. Booker and his grandpa went to a Days Inn in Dallas, but he had no idea where his brothers and sisters were. On the hotel TV, things did not look good back home.

"I see so many people crying on the TV, and this channel that they had for so many lost children," which made Booker think of his family. "I'm just wondering where's my brothers or anything, where's my sister?"

Booker was 9 years old at the time and had no idea what was going on. His grandfather wasn't explaining where his other family members were, or when they were going back home or, most important, when Booker could go back to school. He loved being in school.

"It was so fun to learn at that time. I used to mug the clock like, it's 3 o'clock, you serious?" he said. Every Tuesday before Katrina, he said, they used to get out at 11 o'clock.

Booker hated those days because it meant he had to go home. He grew up with an abusive single mom, who beat Booker and his siblings. It got so bad that school and neighbors noticed and called child protection services. Booker remembers being woken up in the middle of the night.

"They came on the fire escape, and they came through our window, and I just see them grabbing my brother, taking him out the window, some white people, and I'm like, what the hell is going on?"

Kendall Booker was 5. His mom went to jail, so he and his siblings were split up into different foster homes, where he also faced abuse.

"I was just in the room all day, as soon as I come home from school, I was in my room all day, like an inmate." He went from one foster home to another for about five years until he moved in with his grandparents. This was shortly before Katrina.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks




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