New Orleans native and Common Ground relief organization co-founder Malik Rahim travels to Seattle Tuesday, Dec. 9 for a fundraiser benefitting Nova High School's spring volunteer construction trip to the Big Easy.
"The Current Situation in New Orleans: What's Happened Since Katrina? How Can We Help Residents Equitably Rebuild a Great American City?" is from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Benham Art Gallery, 1216 First Ave., near the Seattle Art Museum.
The event features a talk by Rahim and photographs of New Orleans by Seattle photographer Matthew Smith. All funds support the Nova teens and Common Ground's wide-ranging relief services in New Orleans still-struggling neighborhoods.
It's a rare Northwest appearance by Rahim, hailed in his hometown and around the nation as a hero who was instrumental in massive relief efforts serving thousands of displaced residents, with the help of volunteers who have traveled to the stricken city from all over the world.
Born and raised in the Algiers neighborhood, Rahim had, before Hurricane Katrina, headed the Algiers Development Center and Invest Transitional Housing.
He is also a Vietnam War veteran, a former Black Panther and a prison reform activist.
Rahim was recently honored with the 2008 Thomas Merton Award for Peace and Justice, and is currently running as the Green Party's candidate for Congress in Louisiana's 1st District. The elections are this Saturday, Dec. 6 – after being postponed by Hurricane Gustav.
He spoke with The Skanner about his upcoming event and Common Ground's current focus, three years after Katrina.
"The work that we are currently doing is our wetlands restoration, our bioremediation," he said. "We are moving toward establishing another food distribution center because now the need is even greater, now as families are rebuilding, the times are really hard."
Rahim says the Common Ground's legal collective has also been expanding from its original role in representing evacuees in Katrina-related cases towards providing more services for arrestees across the board, especially in pre-trial support.
A new initiative for the coming year focuses on emergency preparedness and evacuation plans.
"How can we make sure families, in case of a hurricane, can move and move in a humane way," he says. How can we establish centers which neighborhoods can move to, how can we evacuate entire neighborhoods?"
The message he has for Seattle residents is about the need for more construction help in New Orleans – in the form of volunteers, trainers and materials.
"We are expanding our construction training program," he said. "We need construction tools; we need resources, we need funds."
Also on the drawing board for 2009 is organizing a new biofuels station and a collective to operate it.
"We need those that have experience in environmental justice," he says. "And we need trucks."
Three years have passed but much of the Ninth Ward and other neighborhoods are still under construction; Rahim's organization continues to work on the "right of return" for New Orleans' still-scattered communities.
"We have individuals that have assisted down here like Brad Pitt and his group Let's Make It Right," Rahim says. "They are doing the rebuilding but you can't ask the man to do everything."
The movie star and his wife, Angelina Jolie, have invested heavily in a project to rebuild the Ninth Ward, with the goal of building 140 new houses for families displaced from their home sites.
"So we're talking about a person who's going to put 140 families back in their homes, that's all new construction," Rahim says. "We need help for those who need to have their homes renovated, didn't lose their homes per se, but that is beyond the fact that they can't live in it right now.
"We need help to help people, we need especially those who have construction skills," he says. "We need them to come and not only volunteer, but to work with us and help us establish our construction cooperative.
"And most of all we need people who can get involved, and make sure that never again, nowhere in America that a disaster turns into a tragedy."
For more information about Tuesday's benefit call 206-523-3656.