As the holiday season continues to gain momentum, some Hurricane Katrina victims have come to find personal truth in the fact that, “home is simply where their heart is.” More than three months later, many college students who were displaced by the storm and forced to attend other institutions away from home, are concluding a semester that has been filled with numerous unknowns and new experiences.
Ronald Richardson, a sophomore education major at Howard University, is from New Orleanswho ransferred to Howard in mid September from Southern University. He said that even with this semester drawing to a close, he is still trying to completely grasp the fact that he has begun a new life in Washington, D.C.
Richardson, who used to live in downtown New Orleans, said that when his family heard about the hurricane, they initially thought that the storm gave them the perfect excuse to take a vacation. After looking at different hotels and discussing where to go, Richardson said that his family finally decided to head to Brookhaven, Mississippi, where his father had family.
”We filled up the water pots for the dogs, cut the alarm on, cut the water off so we wouldn’t have to pay for the bill, and got two to three days worth of clothing,” Richardson said. “I said let me get all of my old, raggedy clothes cuz we going to the country. I left my car cuz I said ‘the water isn’t going to get that high’. That’s the kind of attitude we left with.”
Richardson also said that leaving his family behind in Mississippi to come to school at Howard was the hardest thing that he’s ever had to do. “I didn’t want to go off to college. I wanted to stay. I had to leave my family in Mississippi and come up here by myself. “
Nonetheless, Richardson faced his nervousness about his future and set out to explore a new life in Washington, DC. About a week after he moved to Howard, both his immediate family and some members of his extended family, totaling about 25 people in all, moved to the DC metropolitan area as well. They lived out of different hotels for weeks before settling into various communities in Maryland.
Richardson said that he was faced with many challenges and changes upon is arrival at Howard including financial trouble, having to transition into dorm life, and getting used to the entire Howard atmosphere. In comparison to life at Southern, Richardson noted more differences than similarities.
His first observation of change was that because Southern didn’t have dorms, he stayed at home, where he had his own room. But at Howard he moved into a freshman dormitory, which required him to adapt to sharing his space and getting along with a roommate. He also said that on a good day the cafeteria at Southern had about 20 people, while at Howard the lines wrap around the dining area
However, the most striking difference that he spoke of between the two institutions was the elaborate production of Homecoming at Howard. “Homecoming at Southern . . . it’s possible to be there and find out in the middle of the week that it’s going on. Howard treats it like it’s a Jewish festival or something,” he said.
Overall, he said that people were welcoming when he first arrived to Howard and that by the end of October he began to feel more at ease with the entire situation. As far as the Howard administration is concerned he said, “I think they were doing everything they could with the time they had because everything happened so fast.”
Yet, Richardson did encountered mixed feeling from many students on campus especially in response to the financial aid that displaced students like him received to attend Howard for the fall semester. He also said that he was unfortunate enough to overhear one administrator voice concerns about whether or not the incoming displaced students were involved in the looting shown on television after the hurricane.
Although Richardson said that a part of him believes that he will return to New Orleans one day, that time is not right now. Currently, he said that he is focusing on the new year and that his short term goals are to continue to excel in his academics and to feel a little bit more at home at Howard. In reviewing his semester in its entirety he said, “I managed the semester. I did better than I thought I would with everything. The Lord helped me out.”
Recently, Richardson joined his first campus organization, the Howard University Community Choir, which he said was instrumental in helping him feel more welcome and at home. He noted that in light of his goals of academic excellence, he is satisfied with his campus involvement only consisting of the choir for right now.
While still wading through the rubble of childhood memories and ever-present nostalgia, Richardson continues to count his many blessings. Refusing to complain about any of the hardship that he has experienced this semester, he summed up his first semester at Howard and his life by saying, “I’m just so glad to be alive. No one died in our family. I just thank God that were still here.”