August 29, 2006 - The American victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans marked the end of the War of 1812 and made unequivocal the fact that Louisiana and West Florida were part of the United States. After the battle, despite the fact that Andrew Jackson was victorious as a bona fide conquering champion, he was criticized by some for the difficult choices he was forced to make.
Not dissimilarly, despite the fact that many individuals persevered through untold hardships and are emerging victorious post Katrina, most if not all have been forced to make hard choices about charting a course for the future security and safety of their families, and sadly some are being unfairly criticized for the difficult choices that they too have had to make.
Some people had no choice but to leave the area, others had no choice but to stay, and both made the right decision. Unfortunately, many of these people, deep in their heart of hearts, continue to agonize over their decision because of what others may say or think.
I have had the honor to work with hundreds of Louisianans including a few folks from Mississippi and Alabama that were dealt a devastating blow (literally and figuratively) by Hurricane Katrina. I am very fortunate to still be working with many of these fine people, and having lived much more closely among them over the past 12 months, am convinced that the adjective "champion" is the only appropriate moniker to ascribe to them rather than mere hurricane "survivor" or "refugee".
Most of these brave souls demonstrate a noble and quiet fortitude, coupled with a tireless work ethic, as they go about the business of rebuilding and improving their lives...largely by themselves. Moreover, contrary to another common portrayal of these fine people as hurricane "victims", these assiduous American citizens from the Gulf Coast do not appear to consider themselves victims at all because I haven't observed any of them, not a single one, waiting around for someone else to do something that they could do for themselves, or grumbling without good reason, or expecting a handout like many news reports would have the nation believe.
From my perspective these people are the main characters in an unfolding success story. While they probably don't recognize it now as they busy themselves getting their families reestablished in new and unfamiliar lands, or toil daily among mold spores to rebuild in what was the devastating path of Katrina, these amazing people are already key historical figures in a battle just as significant as the Battle of New Orleans. Theirs is the Battle of Human Spirit that will teach future generations of American's about individual fortitude and winning determination set in a battle ground of a crowded modern society. These fine people are yet another reminder about what has made America great throughout history, what continues to make America great today, and what gives our country great hope for the future.
Their Battle of Human Spirit could also be called the 'Recovery Battle' of 2005 and it will most certainly last longer than the 'Battle of New Orleans' as the "battle lines" are drawn not only in the Gulf Coast but in cities throughout United States. Moreover, today's battle involves not only millions of adult Americans, but includes its children as well. As fellow Americans it is critical that we do not let their individual and collective Herculean efforts, and hard earned successes, be obfuscated by the magnitude of the aftermath, or the politics surrounding it.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that many of the people that are today successfully waging these individual battles of recovery are descendants of a great legacy, one that has been chronicled for almost two centuries, and one that bears repeating again now because it reminds all of us that it is essential for we Americans to be prepared and vigilant, and ready to be self-reliant if need be. 191 years ago on January 8, 1815, a diverse force of ordinary Americans comprised of people from various ethnicities, races and socio-economic backgrounds, led by Andrew Jackson, worked with incredible creativity, courage and determination to literally defeat and turn back what was then the greatest fighting force known to mankind, the British army. It was the local citizenry that was decisive and victorious, the individual, not the government.
The assured victory of today's American citizens from the Gulf Coast against similarly formidable odds will ultimately prove to be just as sweet today as it was back in 1815. And while they couldn't turn back the storm, which has now been determined to be the costliest natural disaster ever forced upon our country, ordinary Americans, our fellow citizens, have endured the repercussions of Hurricane Katrina and are emerging victorious...largely on their own, without any government assistance. In short, they are the central figures in a modern day American success story, one of individual determination that will go down in history amid the staggering experience of death and misery that most from the Gulf Coast have been forced to endure and overcome.
The self-flagellating introspection felt by many of those that left the area, and many of those that stayed, brings to mind the words of Teddy Roosevelt. I believe his words will resonate given the personal battles most are still fighting today:
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
I am very, very proud of my association with the great people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. I have learned from them as they have toiled in the arena to which Roosevelt referred, whether that arena is on the Gulf Coast, or in cities throughout the country like Kansas City. I have developed a tremendous amount of heart-felt affection for them borne of respect and admiration.
I invite everyone in America to honor them, each and every one, and to join me celebrating their individual successes as the 'champions' that they are as the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is marked this day.
Hurricane Katrina completely destroyed 80% of UA Grantham's campus facilities in Slidell, LA. Faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, Grantham's administrators and staff from the Gulf Coast did not waiver...they persevered and advanced, and working shoulder to shoulder performed what most would consider the impossible - reestablishing an entire university infrastructure, some 900 miles away, literally 8 days after the storm. Their success has rightly been the subject of feature articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review. All of these wonderful people from the Gulf Coast are most appreciative of the tremendous support demonstrated by Grantham's students, and by the nationwide adjunct professor network that sustained both the students and staff during a very serious time of need. The State of Missouri, the city of Kansas City, and the generous people from both Missouri and Kansas have made the people of the Gulf Coast feel right at home in the Show-Me-State.