24 posts categorized "Katrina"

Congratulations, Albert!

December 21, 2008

ReusgaWe're pleased when good things happen to good people. The Greater New Orleans Foundation, a community foundation serving New Orleans and southeast Louisiana, has announced that Albert Ruesga will join the foundation as president and CEO in January. Ruesga replaces Ben Johnson, who served as GNOF's chief executive from 1991 to 2008, and Ellen Lee, who has served as interim president since Johnson's departure from the foundation in June.

Currently vice president for programs and communications at the Washington, D.C.-based Meyer Foundation, Ruesga previously served as founding director of New Ventures in Philanthropy, a national initiative of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers; worked with the Boston Foundation; and was an assistant professor of philosophy at Gettysburg College.

He's also a wicked good writer. In fact, two of my favorite posts this year were written by Albert and appeared on White Courtesy Telephone, his hugely entertaining blog.

The first, a point-by-point rebuttal of the most common objections to social justice philanthropy, is a must-read for anyone who cares about fairness and justice in society. Here's how Albert answers critics who say funding for social services or youth enrichment programs or housing development etc. is social justice funding.

I'll cede the point: there's no use arguing over the ownership of the term "social justice." Moreover, I can imagine contexts in which giving a hungry man a piece of bread would count as a deeply political act. It's true that funding social services or youth programs, for example, fails the definition I've given above of social justice philanthropy. After all, providing funding for these services doesn’t typically lead to structural change and might in some cases impede it. Nevertheless there's something wonderfully human, deeply just about giving assistance to someone who needs our help.

There is, however, another kind of funding that aims to address the upstream causes of our downstream problems, that asks why some communities are much more desperately in need of social services or affordable housing than others, or why the young people in these communities attend schools that are falling down around their heads. It's the kind of philanthropy that analyzes how power and privilege are brokered and maintained in this country. It's the kind of philanthropy I'm championing here. I'll call it "social justice philanthropy plus" perhaps, "or turbo philanthropy" or "Maureen." Rather than fight for possession of the term social justice philanthropy, I'd happily yield it to whomever would claim it since ultimately it doesn’t matter what we call it, it matters only that we do it....

And this is Albert opining about the "talent gap" in the nonprofit sector:

Attend any earnest discussion of nonprofit issues and there’s frequently an elephant in the room. On the issue of how to attract and retain the best nonprofit talent, the room that houses all those elephants in the room is, in my view, the chronic and significant undercapitalization of nonprofit organizations.

"Undercapitalization" is a fancy way of saying that nonprofits are always madly scrambling for money. This undercapitalization leads to fundraising burnout (figuring prominently in both the Daring to Lead and Ready to Lead reports), underinvestment of time and money in staff capacity, lack of attention to new staff, and an impoverished organizational infrastructure.

But chronic undercapitalization also exacerbates something I'll call the nonprofit "frump factor." That's frump as in "frumpy." Think Roz Chast doing a cartoon about a bake sale for the local 4-H Club.

A friend and I were watching a film about the making of Cloverfield, one of those big budget summer blockbusters featuring extraordinary special effects: thirty-storey monsters tearing off the head of the Statue of Liberty and hurling it down Broadway -- that kind of thing. At one point my friend, a veteran of nonprofit work, turned to me and asked, "Why can’t our sector do anything as cool as that?"...

Alas, things have been pretty quiet over at WCT since midsummer, and now maybe we know why. Still, what a shame. Imagine, had he had the time, what Albert might've said about the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the bailouts of AIG, Fannie and Freddie, the TARP, Hank Paulson, Bernie Madoff, and the whole sorry cast of characters on the Hill and on Wall Street that fiddled madly as Rome burned.

Congrats to GNOF on an inspired choice. And here's wishing you the best in your new job and city, Albert. Don't forget to write.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Foundation Center Launches Gulf Coast Giving Feature

August 28, 2008

Katrina01_2To mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating assault on the Gulf Coast, the Foundation Center has launched a special Web feature that puts private institutional giving for Gulf Coast recovery into sharper focus.

Powered by data collected on thousands of grants made from 2005 through 2008, the interactive feature allows visitors to map more than $800 million of the over $1 billion donated to relief and recovery efforts by institutional grantmakers. The feature also provides links to related PND news stories and Foundation Center research reports.

The feature is the first in what is expected to be a series of free, accessible, data-driven features tied to special topics and current events as they relate to philanthropy.

To learn more, visit: http://fconline.foundationcenter.org/maps/katrina/

But don't stop there. What do you think of our new mapping and charting tools? How can we make them better? How would you like to see them applied in the future? To share your thoughts, use the comments thread attached to this post.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Best Practices in Disaster Grantmaking: Lessons From the Gulf Coast

April 18, 2008

Katrina01

Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,300 people, caused $150 billion in property damage across 90,000 square miles of the Gulf Coast region, and put 80 percent of the city of New Orleans under water.

As destructive as the storm was to life and property, however, it may end up being remembered more for what it revealed -- about the shocking inequality and inequities in the region, about the lack of public sector accountability at the city, state, and federal levels, and about the wellspring of generosity that continually reinvigorates American society -- than for the damage it did.

Two and half years have passed since the storm made landfall, and the region's recovery advances by fits and starts. The public sector response has been halting and hampered by bureaucratic red tape, leaving much of the dirty, nuts-and-bolts work to underresourced nonprofits, community-based groups, and volunteers.

One of the bright spots in this often lackluster picture has been the response of the New York-area philanthropic community. According to data compiled by the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers (NYRAG), 145 New York-area philanthropic organizations have contributed over $325 million to 950 nonprofit organizations in 196 communities for rescue, recovery, and rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast region. Under the aegis of the NYRAG Gulf Coast Recovery Task Force, detailed information about that giving was provided in the NYRAG publication Donors' Guide to Gulf Coast Relief & Recovery, 2nd Edition (144 pages, 1.74mb, PDF).

In order to share the experiences of the foundations, corporations, and individual donors that made grants or gifts to address the needs of those affected by Katrina and its aftermath, as well as "to provide a blueprint for future philanthropic intervention following such disasters," NYRAG has just published a new report, Best Lessons in Disaster Grantmaking: Lessons From the Gulf Coast, that, in addition to a list of best practices, includes practices to avoid, brief case studies of innovative grantmaking in the region, and opportunities for future philanthropic investment.

You can download a copy of the report (44 pages, 1.45mb, PDF) here, but I thought it might be nice to give you a preview. As NYRAG president Ronna Brown has said before, "The ongoing efforts to rebuild and transform the Gulf Coast for all of its citizens and communities require focused, collaborative, and inclusive strategies." Best Lessons in Disaster Grantmaking: Lessons From the Gulf Coast is a valuable contribution to that effort.

Best Practices: Strategies Identified by Nonprofits, Community Foundations, and Governmental Agencies

Utilize key people in the affected communities. Recognize, respect, and utilize the skills and knowledge of key people and local leaders in the affected communities.

Utilize existing relationships to gather information. Leverage existing relationships with both nonprofit partners in the local community and philanthropic peers who are funding in the region to learn of needs, opportunities, and potential funding relationships in affected areas.

Be willing to take risks. Overcome the inherent cautiousness of foundations and invest in nonprofit organizations that have not previously received significant support from the philanthropic community.

Share information with other funders and with nonprofits. Foster collaborative relationships with peers, share ideas and funding opportunities, and encourage direct communication with nonprofit organizations in the affected communities.

Create a dynamic funder collaborative. Partner with other funders to create a flexible, adaptable information-sharing method that has the ability to adapt its purpose and function to the changing needs of its membership through all stages of the recovery process.

Create a nationally relevant information resource. Collaborate with other funders to develop a practical, user-friendly resource that distills information about community needs and grantmaking opportunities into a referenced document that encourages communication among funders.

Put staff "on the ground." Use staff to develop relationships in the affected communities, to garner knowledge about the ever-changing needs of the communities as they move through the recovery process, and to provide practical, skills-based support to nonprofit organizations in the days immediately following a disaster.

Be proactive. Don't wait for nonprofit organizations in the affected communities to request assistance -- make phone calls and offer support.

Create collaborative funding efforts. Work with peers to pool funds and maximize financial resources available to the affected areas.

Strengthen local philanthropy. Use financial resources and staff expertise and time to invest in and develop local philanthropic organizations. Stronger local philanthropic organizations will yield stronger nonprofit organizations.

Defer a portion of grant dispersal. Rather than providing only short-term funding to the affected communities, wait to see what "gaps" need to be filled and provide medium- and long-term funding in those areas.

Expand funding focus. Recognize the extraordinary circumstances that arise following disasters and look for opportunities to fund outside traditional funding guidelines.

Simplify the application process. Modify the grant application process to minimize demands made on nonprofits in the weeks and months following the a disaster, and utilize common application forms whenever possible.

-- Mitch Nauffts

CGI University (Day One) -- Opening Plenary

March 15, 2008

Cgiu_logo2_3

("Live" posts listed in reverse chron order; read from bottom up.)

11:25 a.m.: Good advice from Dr. Skorton to all young people interested in making change:

  1. Listen. Learn everything you can about your issue or cause.
  2. Make a plan.
  3. Do whatever you can on your own.
  4. After you've done the first three, enlist the help of others.

That ends the opening plenary session. Breakout sessions in four areas -- global health ("Starvation Amidst Plenty, Obesity Amidst Poverty: Malnutrition's Devastating Toll on Children"), energy and climate change ("Seizing the Economic Opportunity"), human rights and peace ("Building Peace on Campus and Beyond"), and poverty alleviation ("Students Ending Poverty: Start From Where You Are") -- to begin at 11:45 a.m. (EST).

11:16 a.m.: Lance Armstrong cites a statistic in a study he recently came across which says that China is anticipating losing 1 billion people to tobacco-related illness in the 21st century.

10:44 a.m.: Opening remarks concluded. On to opening plenary panel, "Working Together: Students and Universities Take the Lead on Global Challenges," moderated by Clinton and featuring:

  • Lance Armstrong, founder and chair, Lance Armstrong Foundation
  • Betty Bigombe, Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow, United States Institute of Peace
  • Brittany Cochran, graduate student, Xavier University of Louisiana
  • David Skorton, M.D., president, Cornell University

Format is tailor-made for Clinton, a master of extemporaneous speaking. Contrast with George Bush's performance yesterday before the Economic Club of New York (which I happened to catch in its entirety on CNBC) is striking.

10:38 a.m.: Press release from CGI hit my mailbox as I was typing the last bit. Notes that nearly 700 college students from more than 250 colleges and universities, representing almost every state and continent except Antarctica, have travled to the campus of Tulane University for the evnt. They have been joined by 29 university presidents, 11 national youth organization directors, social entrepreneurs, and college and university faculty and administrators.

Clinton quote: "Today’s generation of young people has more power to change the course of our future than any previous generation," President Clinton said. "Whether it’s from their computer in a dorm room or through student groups on campus, they are seizing opportunities to put their innovative ideas into action. I hope CGI U will embolden more students to help solve the great challenges we all face in the 21st century."

The following first-day "commitments" were announced (read this to learn more about commitments). All language lifted directly from the CGI press release:

Mambidzeni Madzivire, Student, Mayo Graduate School: This commitment will repair medical equipment in the developing world by pairing engineering graduate students with faculty service trips. These groups will hold trainings in Ghana and Jamaica, where the school has pre-existing relationships.

Tony C. Anderson and Marcus Penny, Students, Morehouse College: This student group will raise funds to install one million energy efficient light bulbs including compact fluorescent bulbs over four years in low-income households. The pilot program will take place in Atlanta's West End.

Jokom Riak, Student, Salt Lake City Community College: This commitment will support returning farmers to Southern Sudan following the peace agreement by providing farming equipment, seeds, and pesticide. Riak, a Lost Boy, came to the United States as part of the Clinton Administration's decision to grant the Lost Boys refugee status. President Clinton's resettlement initiative, has already created a website to assist in the collection of funds and will reach out to other Lost Boys to spread awareness and combine efforts.

Lu Hardin, President, University of Central Arkansas: The University is creating a new program that will leverage faculty and student research relating to poverty alleviation. Undergraduate researchers will identify best practices that can be applied in rural Arkansas. These students will work towards the implementation of their research by collaborating with think-tanks and non-profits working in the region.

Elizabeth Coleman, President, Bennington College: Bennington College will create a center on campus that will house problem-based educational programs in five subject areas: education, energy and climate change, international health, human rights, and poverty. Visiting interdisciplinary scholars, practitioners and activists from diverse disciplines and backgrounds will spend semesters at this center, and new classes will be launched to introduce students to these issues and identify promising solutions to them.

Julie Carney, Student, Yale University: Through this commitment, The Artemis Project will create an online network to allow truth commissions and their successor organizations to upload, store, and share materials. In countries with the technological capacity, truth commissions can upload digitized documents to a central database. Where this capacity is not available, The Artemis Project staff will work alongside local truth commissions to help digitize documents on the site.

Scott Cowen, President, Tulane University: This commitment will create neighborhood-based health centers throughout New Orleans for residents without health insurance. Each center will employ five to eight primary care physicians, and will service up to 20,000 distinct patients.

Elliott Sanchez, Student, Loyola University - New Orleans: This commitment will create a student-sponsored microfinancing fund for community members to purchase income-building assets, such as painting supplies.

Anna Monhartova, Student, Tulane University Student: This commitment will create a tennis-based after-school program in New Orleans, which will give students an opportunity to develop as student life and ease community tensions through sports.

Laurie Gonzalez, Katherine Reeves, Kavinda Udugama, Students, Lafayette College: These students are working on an entrepreneurship and development project with the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans and the Center for Bio-Environmental Research (CBER) at Tulane and Xavier Universities to help the community build a "green" urban economy. This student group has conducted similar programs worldwide.

Qian Xiao, Student, University of California -San Diego: In partnership with Peking University, this commitment will collect and distribute 7,500 children's books for primary and middle school students in rural China. They will also compile a guidance package with instructions on how to develop and maintain school and community libraries. This commitment will target 8 rural villages and help 800 students and 100 rural teachers.

Di Ling and Jenna Hook, Students, Rice University: This commitment will create medical diagnostic backpacks for nomadic doctors in sub-Saharan Africa. Jeannie’s commitment will customize and prepare the backpacks for doctors working with the Pediatric AIDS Corps in Tanzania, Botswana and Malawi. Jenna will work with Jeanie’s team to develop a backpack to bring with her to Lesotho.

Ruth Simmons, President, Brown University: Brown University will build on the current partnership between Princeton, Brown and Dillard Universities to "green" Dillard University facilities and promote sustainability on campus. These institutions will also collaborate on educational opportunities for students and faculty research.

10:13 a.m.: I'm going to attempt to "live" blog the opening plenary/early sessions of the first CGI University. (Hat tip to Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture for the idea.) I'm in NYC, of course, so my "attendance" at the event will be courtesy of the Kaisernetwork webcasts.

Things just got started, with Samuel Anei, a Truman College student and co-founder of the Lost Boys of Southern Sudan, introducing former President Clinton.

Clinton enters to big round of applause and rolling Zydeco music; resplendent in dark suit and kelly green tie (for St. Patrick's Day). Immediately introduces New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who takes the stage tie-less and looking like he was up late. Hails New Orleans as "one of the most interesting cities in the world...the birthplace of jazz." Calls post-Katrina New Orleans "an incubator" for solutions to many of the society's most pressing problems -- global warming, social and ethnic inequities, drug abuse and gang violence, etc. Reminds the audience before exiting "to pay your New Orleans taxes at Harrah's casino." Big laugh give way to rueful chuckles.

Clinton quote: "Today’s generation of young people has more power to change the course of our future than any previous generation. "Whether it’s from their computer in a dorm room or through student groups on campus, they are seizing opportunities to put their innovative ideas into action. I hope CGI U will embolden more students to help solve the great challenges we all face in the 21st century."

-- Mitch Nauffts

CGI University on the Web

March 14, 2008

Cgiu_logo2_2

Coverage of the inaugural meeting of CGI U, a project of the Clinton Global Initiative, will be Webcast over the weekend by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Kaisernetwork.org. The event, to be held on the campus of Tulane University in New Orleans, will bring together students, university officials, and business and political leaders to discuss and explore solutions to challenges in four areas: global health, energy and climate change, human rights and peace, and poverty alleviation.

The following sessions will be webcast live (all times Eastern):

Saturday, March 15

10:00 a.m.: Opening Plenary: Working Together: Students and Universities Take the Lead on Global Challenges

11:30 a.m.: Four Concurrent Working Sessions

  • Energy & Climate Change: Climate Change: Seizing the Economic Opportunity
  • Global Health: Starvation Amidst Plenty, Obesity Amidst Poverty: Malnutrition’s Devastating Toll on Children
  • Human Rights & Peace: Building Peace on Campus and Beyond
  • Poverty Alleviation: Students Ending Poverty: Start from Where You Are

3:00 p.m.: Special Session: Rebuilding a Sustainable New Orleans

4:30 p.m.: Four Concurrent Working Sessions

  • Energy & Climate Change: Building the Groundswell for Change
  • Global Health: The Overlooked International Emergency: Mental Health in Post-Crisis Communities
  • Human Rights & Peace: Protecting and Promoting the Rights of Women through Empowerment
  • Poverty Alleviation: A More Employable Future: Educating Our Global Youth

6:30 p.m.: Closing Plenary, with remarks from President Clinton

For the complete guide to coverage, visit http://www.kaisernetwork.org/cgiU2008.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Attention Holiday Shoppers!

December 19, 2007

Seltzer_santa(Michael Seltzer is a noted authority on the nonprofit sector and philanthropy worldwide. In a previous post for PhilanTopic, he wrote about the convergence of charity and the marketplace.)

(Photo: Rosy-cheeked Santa, with gold-embroidered stars on felt robe. Hand-felted and embroidered by artisans in the Kyrgyz Republic.)

The holidays are a season of giving and shopping. Sale signs in department store windows abound, direct mail appeals and catalogs compete for space in crowded mailboxes, and our wallets and checking accounts take a hit.

Still, it comes as no surprise to learn that the urge to splurge trumps the charitable giving impulse at this time of year. According to the National Retail Federation, total holiday sales are expected to top $457 billion this year, compared to the estimated $295 billion that Americans gave to charity in 2006 (source: Giving USA 2007).

As I mentioned in my previous post, holiday shoppers can score a "two-fer" when they shop with an eye to supporting a worthy cause. By doing so, your purchases will make a positive, lasting difference in the lives of people around the globe.

In that spirit, I propose we go shopping in Bujumbura (Burundi), New Orleans (Louisiana), Asheville (North Carolina), and New York City. Fortunately, through the wonders of the Internet, products made by local artisans in these communities are only a few key strokes away; some can even be found in department stores and malls in your neighborhood.

Here are five holiday shopping tips for 2007:

Continue reading »

Ten High-Impact Giving Opportunities

December 08, 2007

For all its problems, the world is a better place thanks to the efforts of millions of NGOs and nonprofit organizations as well as philanthropists and donors who strive to advance thoughtful and effective giving.

There are other ways to evaluate the impact of a philanthropic investment, including the application of what, in the for-profit world, might be called cost-benefit analysis. Or, as the folks at Arabella Advisors, a D.C.-based philanthropic advisory firm, frame it:

  • What issues are timely but overlooked?
  • What challenges lie on the horizon that might be mitigated with proactive support?
  • Where can one’s contribution go the farthest in saving lives, educating children, preserving the environment, alleviating poverty, or addressing another urgent need?
  • Where can donors see measurable return on their investments?

To get us all thinking, Arabella has released its first annual list of ten under-recognized and/or under-funded issues for donors.

1. Improving Financial Literacy for America’s Youth -- According to a recent study, 60 percent of pre-teens cannot explain the difference between cash, checks, and credit cards. Donor support of programs that teach financial management is critical to helping the next generation get jobs, stay out of debt, and contribute to the economic welfare of our society.

2. Support First Generation College Attendees -- College graduates are three times less likely to live in poverty than people who complete high school. Providing assistance to first-generation college students is a unique alternative to traditional alumni giving.

3. Provide Safe Water and Sanitation in the Developing World -- Many areas of the developing world lack access to clean water. Supporting clean water efforts can reduce childhood mortality, promote adult health, and help to alleviate global poverty.

4. Combating Poverty by Closing the Microcredit Gap -- In Bangladesh, 48 percent of the poorest households with access to microcredit loans rose above the poverty line. Donors can reinforce and extend those gains to other regions and countries by filling in the gap between small microcredit loans and larger-scale commercial finance.

5. Improving Access to Dental Care for Low-Income Children -- Lack of access to dental care can impair a child's ability to eat, learn, smile, sleep, and play. Innovative opportunities for donors helps to raise awareness of this issue and bring quality health services to children in need.

6. Promoting Renewal in New Orleans -- Investing in the city's once thriving arts community not only helps to preserve one of the nation's most treasured cultural resources, it also provides valuable economic returns to the city's tourist and arts-based economy.

7. Improving Energy Efficiency in Low-Income Communities -- Investments in energy efficiency and weatherization programs can significantly reduce pollution and heating bills by 31 percent for the average low-income home, helping families as well as the environment.

8. Increasing Access to Financial Services for the "Unbanked" -- Supporting community-based organizations that educate and fund practices that provide the "unbanked" with assistance will positively impact the financial future of millions of households.

9. Developing Local Food Systems -- Supporting local food systems reduces pollution, creates jobs, and promotes healthy eating in an increasingly unhealthy society.

10. Facilitating Trust-Building to Prevent Violent Conflicts -- Investments in international conflict-prevention programs can help address root causes of conflict before they develop into full-scale violence.

What do you think? Are these the areas/issues you would choose to achieve impact with your charitable dollars? What other areas/issues should be on the list? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

-- Mitch Nauffts

2008’s Most Important Causes

November 27, 2007

(Michael Seltzer, author of the award-winning Securing Your Organization’s Future, has served as president of the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers, as a program officer at the Ford Foundation, and as chair of the Nonprofit Management Program of the New School's Robert J. Milano School of Management and Urban Policy. This is his first post for PhilanTopic.)

The season of giving is officially underway, and the drum roll for 2008 has begun. Our world is a better and more just place through the work of millions of nongovernmental actors operating in most of the countries of the world. As the New Year approaches, let's both celebrate and promote the work of these efforts. We can start by building a cumulative list of the most important causes that warrant our support and spreading the word about their work.

To start the ball rolling, here's my list:

American Friends Service Committee, which each year earns anew the Nobel Peace Prize it won sixty years ago for its ongoing global social justice work.

American Jewish World Service and other members of the Save Darfur Coalition for galvanizing a community of conscience in response to the horrific slaughter raging in the Sudan.

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, for its social, racial, and economic justice work in the United States and internationally.

Funding Exchange and its member funds for their support of grassroots organizations that are working to ensure a more just and equitable future.

One Laptop Per Child, which puts XO laptop computers in the hands of children in the global south through its Give One Get One program.

Operation Crossroads, which for fifty years has been sending college students to sub-Saharan countries to engage in development efforts.

Southern Mutual Help Association, based in Iberia, Louisiana, for helping residents of the Gulf Coast rebuild their lives and homes.

The Innocence Project, for assisting prisoners in the United States who could be proven innocent through DNA testing. To date, 208 people in the U.S. have been exonerated by such testing.

VDAY-A Global Movement To End Violence Against Women and Girls, for raising funds and awareness through benefit productions of playwright/founder Eve Ensler's award-winning play The Vagina Monologues.

The We Are America Alliance, for uniting grassroots immigrant rights organizations and unions in twenty states to deliver the message, "Today, we march, tomorrow, we vote."

The Women Moving Millions Campaign, for its efforts to raise substantial new resources for women's organizations across the globe.

Don't hesitate to add you own organizations to this list, and share it with your colleagues, loved ones, and neighbors. Better yet, ask the young people in your life to nominate their favorite causes and organizations. And most importantly, commit yourself to supporting these organizations and causes in 2008 with your time, energy, and dollars.

Let's get the word out about 2008's Most Important Causes!

-- Michael Seltzer

Teaching 'The Levees'

September 14, 2007

New_orleans_flooded "I think when we look back on this many years from now, I'm confident that people are gonna see what happened in New Orleans as a defining moment in American history. Whether that's pro or con is yet to be determined. And that's one of the reasons why I wanted to do [the] film...."

-- filmmaker Spike Lee

Katrina made landfall on the morning of August 29, 2005, and by afternoon had caused major breaches of the levees in New Orleans at the 17th St. Canal, the London Avenue Canal, and the Industrial Canal, leaving 80 percent of the city under water.

Over the next few days, as images of unimaginable destruction and suffering were beamed to television sets around the world, Lee, who was attending a film festival in Italy, was outraged. "It was a very painful experience," he said later in an interview,

to see my fellow American citizens, the majority of them African-Americans, in the dire situation they were in. And I was outraged with the slow response of the federal government....

Lee returned to the States and, with backing from HBO's documentary unit, was in New Orleans with a crew by October, shooting footage of the devastation and conducting interviews with officials and residents of the city.

The result of those efforts, the Emmy-nominated When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, first aired on HBO in August 2006 and again this past August.

Earlier this month, Teachers College at Columbia University, in collaboration with HBO and the New York City-based Rockefeller Foundation, launched "Teaching The Levees: A Curriculum for Democratic Dialogue and Civic Engagement," a 100-page teaching tool developed by TC faculty, students, staff and alumni that is cued to Lee's documentary.

The curriculum, which is being distributed free of charge to 30,000 teachers nationwide, together with a DVD of the film, is divided into five components geared for high school, college, and adult audiences and features units on media literacy, civics, economics, geography, and history.

Ultimately, the aim of the project is to use the opportunity provided by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to renew the American conversation on the subject of race and class and to provide an opening for dialogues that are central to the concept of democratic citizenship.

If you haven't seen the documentary (rated TV-14), I urge you to. And to learn more about the curriculum, New Orleans, or any of the many issues raised by Katrina, check out the "Teaching The Levees" Web site.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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