Rebuilding the Spirituality of New Orleans

Howard Choir Lifts Up Residents Through Prayer and Praise

Beyond the nails, hammers and plywood, New Orleans received a different type of rebuilding this spring. The Howard University Community Choir (HUCC) toured Katrina-ravaged areas on a mission to “not only serve physically, but to serve the spiritually hungry areas of New Orleans.”

After Katrina, thousands of people were left homeless. Aside from the destruction of homes, residents also lost their places of worship. According to the Religion News Service, 900 places of worship were destroyed during and in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“There is something about the New Orleans people,” said Felicia Duncan-Sanders, president of HUCC. “Even after all they’ve been through, they still manage to find hope and we are here to bring more hope through our songs of praise and worship.”

Funding for Churches

One of the first funding efforts to rebuild churches came from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, which allocated $20 million to rebuild churches in Mississippi, Alabama and New Orleans.

The application period – now closed – was opened in 2005. According to organization’s reports, more than 1,000 churches received funds to assist in rebuilding.

“Houses of worship are the center of many communities in the Gulf region,” Alexis Herman, co-chair of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, said in a press release. “I know because I grew up there. They are the life blood of the people and a way for them to stay connected. It is important to help rebuild.”

While churches continue to rebuild the physical infrastructure, Amara Emenari, HUCC ministry team member, said that faith-based groups should focus on rebuilding the spiritual aspects.

“In New Orleans, people are in danger of responding the wrong way to stress, anxiety, depression and homelessness,” Emenari said. “And giving people a house won’t always fix these issues. Some where, some how down the line, someone has to apologize for all the injustices, but until then we want to show the New Orleans people that they are in our prayers and that we haven’t forgotten.”

The Mission

HUCC came along with more than 500 undergraduate, graduate and law school students on Howard’s 13th Annual Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip.

“We wanted to do something new,” Duncan-Sanders said. “The physical recovery in New Orleans is obvious, but it’s the things that people can’t see that get overlooked.”

The 46-piece choir’s workday was similar to the rest of the spring breakers. They painted, built houses, tutored and surveyed the neighborhood. But while other volunteers spent their free time on Bourbon Street, choir members prepared for the second part of their day: “ministering.”

“It’s really important for people to understand that we aren’t just singing,” Duncan-Sanders said. “We are ministering and giving hope to people who have been overlooked.”

Emenari said that the choir’s work “digs into the social and spiritual problems” of New Orleans.

“Folks are lost and overwhelmed,” Emenari said. “In New Orleans, especially after Katrina, there are certain things that money can’t buy.”

Dean Bernard Richardson of Howard’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel praised the choir for its commitment to serve.

“A little bit of hope can go a long way,” he told the choir after an engagement. “Especially when you’re talking about matters of life and death. This is where lives are changed.”

Jamisha Purdy is a junior majoring in print journalism from Miami.