7 Touching Quotes From Obama's New Orleans Speech On "The Very Best Of The American Spirit"
On Thursday, President Obama traveled to New Orleans to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. There, the president visited new mixed-income houses in the Faubourg Lafitte/Treme neighborhood and enjoyed a meal at the iconic Willie Mae's Scotch House in the neighborhood. He later delivered an impassioned speech at the newly opened Andrew P. Sanchez Center in the Lower Ninth Ward. The nearly 45-minute oration highlighted the city's recovery as well as what still needs to be done. Memorable quotes from Obama's New Orleans speech are plentiful, but these few truly stand out.
In addition to highlighting the many gains that the city of New Orleans has made following the devastating storm and levee breaches, Obama also took the opportunity to boast about the recent uptick in national economic growth. In his speech, he noted that unemployment is on the decline and that 13 million new jobs have been created in the past five and a half years alone.
The president likened the improvements to New Orleans' own recovery, but added that he feels that more could always be done. Obama urged Congress to successfully agree to a national budget before the end of September deadline. (Congress is set to return from a six week recess on September 8.)
Speaking about the Andrew P. Sanchez Center, where Obama delivered his Thursday speech, the president had this to say about how far the Lower Ninth Ward has come following Katrina:
This new community center stands as a symbol of the extraordinary resilience of this city, the extraordinary resilience of its people, the extraordinary resilience of the entire Gulf Coast and of the United States of America. You are an example of what is possible when, in the face of tragedy and in the face of hardship, good people come together to lend a hand, and, brick by brick, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, you build a better future.
Obama was somber but also realistic about the storm, acknowledging the failings of the Army Corps of Engineers while also discussing the ways that New Orleans had struggled prior to natural disaster. The violence, economic disparities, and issues of affordable housing and healthcare are sadly all still prevalent in the region. Obama had this to say:
We came to realize that what started out as a natural disaster became a manmade disaster — a failure of government to look out for its own citizens. And the storm laid bare a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for decades... Too many kids grew up surrounded by violent crime, cycling through substandard schools where few had a shot to break out of poverty. And so like a body weakened already, undernourished already, when the storm hit, there was no resources to fall back on.
It's been a long and arduous 10 years for New Orleans, which the president acknowledged. He praised the Crescent City's efforts and cited them as an inspiration to the country at large:
And, by the way, along the way, the people of New Orleans didn’t just inspire me, you inspired all of America. Folks have been watching what’s happened here, and they’ve seen a reflection of the very best of the American spirit.
The gains that the Gulf South has made are undoubtedly impressive, which Obama touched upon heavily. His confidence in the region's disaster preparedness was evident during his speech:
Together, we’ve delivered resources to help Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida rebuild schools and hospitals, roads, police and fire stations, restore historic buildings and museums. And we’re building smarter, doing everything from elevating homes to retrofitting buildings to improving drainage, so that our communities are better prepared for the next storm.
Likewise, the progress that schools have made in New Orleans has been equally fascinating. Obama cited a marked increase in students graduating from high school as well as those enrolling in higher education. George W Bush will be speaking on Friday at one such improved school, Warren Easton High School in Mid-City. According to the School Improvement Network, the charter school graduated all of its senior class this year. Obama had this to say about the ever-changing educational landscape in the city:
Today, thanks to parents and educators, school leaders, nonprofits, we’re seeing real gains in achievement, with new schools, more resources to retain and develop and support great teachers and principals. We have data that shows before the storm, the high school graduation rate was 54 percent. Today, it’s up to 73 percent. Before the storm, college enrollment was 37 percent. Today, it’s almost 60 percent.
One of the most inspiring and surprising stories of recovery has been in the service industry. New Orleans thrives on its culinary excellence, thus efforts from around the world were made to preserve its iconic restaurants following Hurricane Katrina. Obama touched on one such effort following his visit to the culinary landmark Willie Mae's Scotch House in the Treme:
We saw that spirit today at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. After Katrina had destroyed that legendary restaurant, some of the best chefs from the country decided America could not afford to lose such an important place. So they came down here to help -- helped rebuild. And I just sampled some of her fried chicken. It was really good. Although I did get a grease spot on my suit. But that’s okay. If you come to New Orleans and you don’t have a grease spot somewhere -- then you didn’t enjoy the city. Just glad I didn’t get it on my tie.
Obama concluded his speech by commending New Orleans' unique spirit and determination. It's the city's diversity that the president finds at once incredibly inspiring as well as unifying. Obama said:
That’s the story of New Orleans — but that’s also the story of America — a city that, for almost 300 years, has been the gateway to America’s soul. Where the jazz makes you cry, the funerals make you dance — the bayou makes you believe all kinds of things. A place that has always brought together people of all races and religions and languages. And everybody adds their culture and their flavor into this city’s gumbo. You remind our nation that for all of our differences, in the end, what matters is we’re all in the same boat. We all share a similar destiny.