On a Tuesday morning inside a dank, carpeted room at the New Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, Patrick Carter is waiting patiently. At a quarter past 10 a.m., a handful of men and women trickle in, sliding back plastic chairs and taking seats at oblong tables that wouldn’t look out of place in a school cafeteria. These aren’t traditional students but, then again, this isn’t a traditional class. Carter, 35, is the group facilitator for NOLA Dads, a program offered by the Family Services of Greater New Orleans to reduce recidivism for ex-offenders on probation and parole. This is one of seven to eight classes Carter teaches weekly, each focused on topics like anger management, parenting, and education. For the lifelong New Orleanian, today’s topic hits especially close to home: finding a job.
“How many are you are actively looking for employment?” Carter asks. The students, all African American, raise their hands. Carter nods. “I feel you. I’ve been there,” he says. He describes the four months it took him to find a job when he came back to New Orleans a year after Katrina hit. He had three years of college education on his resume at the time, but even Home Depot wouldn’t return his calls. “I was stressed out,” he says. “I was [leaving interviews] with tears in my eyes afterwards. I know I’m qualified to put stock on a shelf and you’re not gonna hire me?”
At a time when New Orleans leaders are championing the city’s progress in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of the city, killing nearly 1,000 residents and displacing 1 million more, Carter’s class is one piece in an overwhelming pile of evidence that there is still work to be done. While whites, Hispanics and women have in many ways seen their livelihoods improve since the storm, black men have largely been left out of the resurgence. For these men, the storm, while no doubt traumatic, exacerbated a host of socioeconomic inequities that had already plagued them for decades, leaving them without the foundation they needed to bounce back. As a result, black men in New Orleans are in some cases worse off than even before the storm.