COVID-19 has shaken the whole world to it’s core. From one part of the globe to the complete opposite, it has all but stopped life as we know it. This scenario seems all too reminiscent of something that the American South will never forget.
Living in New Orleans, Louisiana we are accustomed to dealing with evacuations and disasters because of hurricane season each year. From June to November, we are on alert constantly. As you can imagine, Hurricane Katrina’s lasting effects really taught us how to deal with disaster prep along with the aftermath.
When Coronavirus first appeared on our radar here in New Orleans, I was personally shaken. Not only for me, but for my family. My husband is a physician at one of the main hospitals here in the city. Our 2 daughter’s are ages 4 and 2 and I stay at home with them. They go to nursery school for a few hours during the week but for most of the time I am at home with them. When the public schools closed down as did most of the nurseries along with everything else.
Many people through the years have asked me what it was like to experience Hurricane Katrina.
There really has not been an event equivalent to compare it to. That is, until now.
As that giant storm churned towards us 15 years ago everyone panicked and prepped as fast as they possibly could. Pandemonium and fear spread through New Orleans just like this virus has. The only difference is today, there isn't devastating winds or floods. Instead, it was stocking up on whatever you could so you wouldn’t have to leave your home.
I watched other countries very closely before this virus was found here in Louisiana. I saw the panic in the streets and the death that came behind it. I knew I needed to act then before the greedy would buy everything in sight.
I am a planner and I like to be in control. I think that is partly why I feel like I do at the moment. I literally planned our family’s next moves over a week before mandated ‘stay home’ orders were given. While people were calling me "Chicken Little", I made sure that we had everything we could possibly need. Well, except for one major life changing variable.
Our son was to be born within the next two weeks in the middle of this nightmare. My husband and I frantically tried to complete his nursery and buy the essential items from the hardware stores before our ‘lock down’ order was issued.
Along with prior preparations of food and essential items for the family, I felt it was also important to get the necessary items for the new baby. I feared that with panic stricken people buying up everything in sight along with the essential baby care items, I just knew we would be under mandated closures when he was born so I bought the diapers and baby formula weeks ahead of time. I really felt like I was in front of this thing. I planned. I was ready. And then my husband told me how bad the virus had actually gotten.
It was like the winds shifted. It was apparent that COVID-19 was about to strangle New Orleans.
Each day that went by more and more people were diagnosed. We saw this in Italy, and in New York City. But those places were much bigger than New Orleans. All of a sudden people were dying in numbers that doubled from the day before. Hundreds became thousands that were infected. It quickly was obvious that New Orleans and the state of Louisiana was the new epicenter for this outbreak. Hospitals were inundated. Especially the hospital my husband works at. Ventilators were almost depleted in the matter of a weeks time. Face masks were disappearing. Eye shields and gloves were almost gone.
P.P.E. (personal protective equipment) suddenly were rationed and in many cases disappeared or was extremely hard to come by. Local news reported that faculty were told to reuse face masks and even sterilize them so they could continue fight this battle, even without armor. Grown men are breaking down. Douglas has always been my voice of reason. When I get to hyped up, he is always there to calm me down. When I started my rants about Coronavirus this one time he didn't stop me. Or be the devil's advocate. Even when friends and family made it seem like I was over reacting in the beginning, Douglas listened to me. One conversation we had right after COVID-19 started to spread rapidly here in the city I will never forget. We were finishing up the baby's nursery one night when I told him that watching the images coming out of Italy and they were highly alarming and at the rate it was spreading it seemed impossible that it couldn't happen here. Waiting for him to correct me, instead his eyes got big. He got quiet. Which he does this so he can collect his thoughts. Then he said, "there is nothing we can do. The box has been opened and it cannot go back in. This will be the next pandemic. Most of us will get this virus. And if we all don't get it, we will personally know someone that has had it or has died from it. Lock downs will not stop it. Our hospitals will become overwhelmed. There is nothing we can do."
I was shocked. He always is optimistic. He is the yin to my yang. But that night, it was brutal honesty. And twelve hours later, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
That is when the tides started turning and that ominous silence fell when I walked outside. I was SHOOK. But I had to keep my cool for my family. My girls depend on me. On us. They can't see my fear. All of a sudden I am now their teacher every day along with being 'Papa'. I try keep it fun and new. I print out activities and educational things to keep their minds learning. I research arts and crafts for them to make. And then we go outside and play with different things every day so this isolation doesn't get so monotonous.
Then it was like my heart stopped. Douglas told me that the the main hospital was running low on manpower. Some started to get sick. And some were just overwhelmed by the tsunami of patients coming that were sick. This whole time I had been so thankful for him being a psychiatrist resident during this viral circus. Then, he told me. The Dean had started pulling residents from other specialties to fight this virus on the front lines in the Emergency Department. It didn't matter what specialty. He wanted 'all men on deck.' My heart sank into my stomach. I felt ill. Sure, I get it. He is a doctor. That is what you signed up for. But let me stop you. No. That is not what he signed up. He had a calling to help the mentally ill and the addicts from drugs and alcohol get sober, get off the street, clean up and lead a productive life. Fighting in the epicenter of this pandemic without proper equipment can be a death sentence. I would absolutely feel more incline for him to help if I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had the life saving P.P.E. that he needs to stay healthy. He needs it and WE NEED IT. As the hours ticked by my anger grew. I like to be in control. I quickly saw that we were spiraling into a tail spin that couldn't be stopped.
Just as I started to feel hopeless, our phone rang. My mouth dropped to the floor. Our birth mother was in labor! Douglas quickly rushed her to the hospital. After examining her they admitted her. We had been threw this before time and time again with our previous birth mother. I just knew that she was going to be sent home. But this time proved to be different. They told Douglas that he was allowed to stay the night but unfortunately, due to Coronavirus, I had to stay at home.
Last night, Douglas got to stay with the birth mother at her hospital and officially go on "paternity leave" for over a month! For me, it was almost like he was rescued from being thrown into the front lines of a massacre. An unforeseen force directed us into a perfectly beautiful scenario just as hopelessness gripped our future while the walls were closing in all around us. Then came Shane.
Our baby boy was born last night at 11:36 pm weighing in at 7 lbs 6 oz. He is the most beautiful boy I have ever seen. Although I have yet to hold him. Smell him. See him. It is now 10:43pm the following day and Douglas should be home in about an hours time. I am ecstatic. In this very moment I feel so peaceful and happy. Yes, right now, the world outside terrifying. But our hearts are overjoyed, filled with euphoric gratitude and blessed beyond belief.
Photo Credit: BSA Photography.com
Everything that happens in our lives is meant to teach us something. These experiences--good, the bad, and the ugly--accumulate to help us grow into the people we are. I see how true this is with each passing day.
In 2005, my life was turned upside down. Katrina blew everyone’s life to hell and then we had to pick up what was left and learn to live again. After becoming a ‘refugee’ in Memphis, I decided to move out West because I had always wanted to live in LA. I had stars in my eyes and I dreams of making it big. FEMA money in my pocket, I loaded up my little blue Mazda Protege and started my journey across the country to become a famous pop singer. It was just after Thanksgiving when I moved, and I was lucky enough to have a couple of sweet friends to meet up with when I arrived. Christmas time was quickly approaching, but I wasn’t ready for it. Yall, I loooove the Holidays. I always have. There are so many things about this time of year that are special to me... the decorations, the cheerful people, and most of all my family. I didn't realize how big of a role family played until I moved. I had to relearn how to enjoy Christmas.
As the universe would have it, I met up with a friend of mine. He was the manager of the B-52’s and lived in a gorgeous house off of Sunset Boulevard. I would sit on his door step and look over at the ‘Laugh Factory,’ a famous comedy club in LA. It was amazing. The walls of his home donned several platinum records from the B-52's. It was surreal. After some time there my friend had to leave to visit his family for Christmas. The day before he left, he called me into the living room. There were button down shirts hung from coat hangers all over the room; he wanted me to have them. At first I didn't understand why, but later on it hit me-- I was from New Orleans and people viewed me as a refugee. This man was giving me his clothes. I still have a shirt in my closet from him. I stayed in his home a couple of more days after he left. Some people would have loved it, but I remember crying and feeling so lonely. I spent Christmas Day of 2005 sitting on his front steps and staring at Sunset Boulevard, longing to be back home in New Orleans.
I remember talking on the phone to my best friend from back home that Christmas. Every year we would call and exchange stories about our Christmas and what we love about the holiday. But this time it felt different. It felt as if my friend was 1,670 miles away. While Christmas of 2005 was painful, it helped to allow me to see where I belonged. As much as I thought I wanted to be on the west coast, the place where I was supposed to be was New Orleans, my home.
It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that in just 10 years from that very moment of despair, my husband and I would be welcoming our newborn daughter home. With clammy palms, rapid heartbeats, and our stomachs in knots, we welcomed our tiny little daughter. At 4 lbs, she was smaller than a baby doll and more fragile and more beautiful than anything we had ever held. This was the moment our lives changed forever. It was as if life’s fog lifted and everything around us became clear. Now, every choice we made would revolve around her. This was perhaps the most significant day in our lives--the day we became Daddy and Papa.
The night we brought our baby girl home.
I remember laying on the couch and having this tiny baby lay on my chest. Listening to her breathe, watching her little hands move. Now THIS is surreal. Life has an amazing way of helping you grow up. When our daughter was born she only weighed 3.5 lbs. She decided to come into the world 10 weeks early so she had to stay in the NICU for a few weeks to gain her strength and put on some weight.
In the beginning we called her "werewolf baby" because she would literally try to eat us when she became hungry. She would be all snuggled in her cute swaddle then, like clockwork, about 20 minutes before it was time to have her bottle she’d start squirming and transform into a loud and angry baby worm. We had to be sure to not feed her too early because that would mess her feeding schedule up. So we had to do whatever we could to help her pass the time. We would usually cave in about 10min early out fear of being eaten alive by our beautiful werewolf baby. My husband thought to buy a Christmas ornament to remember those times. Every year we are taken back to those moments when we place it on our Christmas tree.
Our werewolf baby ornament along with
our ‘first Christmas’ ornament.
Feeding schedules weren’t the only thing we had to learn. We also needed to know how to NOT overfeed her. Being premature, she had a terrible time digesting her formula. We had her on the most sensitive type they make and yet it still seemed like it was too potent. As hungry as she would become, we knew if she drank too much we would be in for it. I think the hardest thing we had to do was try to console her when her tummy was hurting. The pain on her face was awful, and the only thing that seemed to help was when she threw up... and threw up... and threw up. All the time, every time. No matter how many burps we were able to achieve, it would still involve projectile puke somehow. We wouldn’t dare wear anything nice because it was sure to be barfed on. I lived in tank tops and sweat pants for months.
One time, we were in Jackson visiting my mother-in-law. Our baby girl was still having a tough time digesting. We were talking in the living room reminiscing about our newfound parenting lives. Someone said something hilarious that made each of us die out laughing. It was like she was waiting for the perfect moment. Douglas had Alli Mae facing him as he held her. And just as he opened his mouth to laugh, she unloaded a whole bottle's worth of baby puke directly into his mouth. IT WAS HILARIOUSLY DISGUSTING. His mom and I laugh about that to this day and I think we will until the end of time.
It's amazing how much the direction of life can change. Christmas of 2005 felt so depressing. I felt so stuck and it seemed like every decision I made blew up in my face. But in hindsight, I was wrong. That Christmas wish I made sitting on those doorsteps looking onto Sunset Blvd. almost 15 years ago came true. I didn’t realize I loved New Orleans like I did. I wouldn’t have known that unless I moved away. And as soon as I moved back home, I met my husband, the Daddy of my babies. The way the universe works is so incredibly awe-inspiring. Just when you think you have it figured out- the universe gives you a wink and says, “not so fast.”
Follow our family’s journey!
Four years ago we received the phone call that changed our lives forever. We were told that in our own city of New Orleans, there was a newborn baby that needed a forever home. What we were told by the agency would likely take 5 or more years took mere weeks. We frantically started putting together her nursery and planning for her arrival. She was born 10 weeks early and needed to stay in the NICU to grow and gain her strength and weight before she was released. She was so tiny and delicate. We were almost afraid to hold her in the beginning because of how fragile she was.
Finally, the day arrived that we were able to bring her home and we were thrust into overdrive. We prepared by reading all the baby books and watching the videos, but all that goes out the window when you have a baby in your arms. Our little baby had trouble digesting her formula due to her prematurity. The look in her eyes due to the pain she felt broke our hearts. We felt helpless! All we could do was just try to make sure to do everything on our end to help alleviate any pain she may encounter while feeding her. It was terrible. We would hold her for hours trying to console our hurting baby girl. I remember thinking to myself while she was crying that I would do anything to make her feel better.
Months passed and she grew stronger. The tough times we all experienced in the beginning bonded us closer together. Although she won’t remember those times, my husband and I do. We know in our hearts that she developed trust and security for us both especially because of those difficult first months.
She knows that we would and will do anything on Earth for her.
A year and a half later we welcomed our second baby into our lives. Our story seemed to be writing itself. Our oldest was able to fall in love with her baby sister just as her Daddy and Papa were. It seemed like life’s cobble stone pathway started to form right in front of us. We hopped onto each one as it appeared below us. One year turned into 2 that then faded into 3. Now we are at year 4 and something has seemed to happen. Our pathway that formed so naturally for us seemed to be getting more difficult for others to find. Life’s pathway should be accessible to anyone.
There are many people in our country that feel LGBTQ+ Americans shouldn’t have the same rights as our straight counterparts. The Trump administration is trying to allow adoption agencies that RECEIVE FEDERAL TAX DOLLARS to discriminate against LGBTQ+ families. This proposal is fully supported and praised by several people in highest of leadership positions in our country. There are currently protections in place that deny federal funding to adoption agencies that discriminate against same-sex adoptive families. Keeping these protections in place encourages more agencies to open their doors to same-sex couples. This administration is trying to do away with these protections.
I understand that some (not all) faith-based adoption agencies choose to turn away hopeful same-sex couples. While I in no way agree with this personally, I do respect the concept of freedom of religion. However, they don’t have any business being given federal funds if the funds are being used to support discriminatory practices. Any business that accepts federal funding must NOT DISCRIMINATE. Period.
When I read about this proposition I became enraged. I was literally shaking with anger. Separation of church and state is in our constitution for an important reason! How can I just sit back and personally allow this to happen? My mind suddenly became a jumbled thought machine. What can I personally do?
My first thought was write. But I was so hurt and angry! How can I write and effectively allow my anger to subside? That seemed impossible. So I kept thinking. Well, what if protested? I have never done that. Where do I even begin? Do I need a permit? Will I be arrested? After doing my research, in LOUISIANA, a permit is only needed if you march. To stand and have a peaceful demonstration requires NO PERMIT and it is absolutely free! When I read this my heart started pounding with excited anxiety. Once I felt like I was on to something, I created a slogan.
Before I knew it there was a Facebook event. I chose a place in New Orleans that I thought would be a popular spot for tourists but I also wanted a sentimental spot for us to be at. Jackson Square seemed like the perfect spot because that is where we were married, plus it's always packed with people. The night before our demonstration my husband and I made our posters to hold. Afterwards, I emailed local news outlets and any person in the public eye that may be interested. One news station ran a story about it the morning of the protest. I reached out to our beloved church family and parish priest. Father Terry is a very outspoken and admired member of our community. I was honored when he joined us for the demonstration.
Once we arrived, we were met with an overall positive atmosphere. About 12 of us participated in the demonstration. The crowd not only was accepting of our message but they also were very curious and had many questions.
If you do choose to hold a demonstration, be sure to think about your responses when people ask your thoughts on the issue at hand. This being my first protest, I was caught off guard a few times. I wasn’t expecting to answer so many questions. When you do arrive at a demonstration, be ready to answer any question thrown at you. Practice at home. That will help.
Although crowds and speaking publicly are not my strong suit, I promised my girls in the beginning of their lives that Papa & Daddy would do anything for them. That includes holding signs and picketing in front of absolute strangers. My family deserves to be treated like any other family. Just because my husband and I may interfere with someone’s deeply held religious beliefs does not give our government the right to alienate us and treat us any different. The tax dollars we pay should not be given to any business that deems our existence unworthy of the service they offer. PERIOD. End of discussion.
Being part of a marginalized group of society, it is easy to sense prejudices, bigotry and inequities that chisel away at our community. Something ominous is happening in our country today. The atmosphere is much different than a few years ago. When Trump was elected to office I was scared that his reputation of bullying would extend much further than the Oval Office. Unfortunately, I see evidence of that everyday.
Since 2017 I have published a post on my Nolapapa Facebook page. This post has over 11,000 likes and I stand behind the message. About three times a year I boost the post to share my message. Two days ago, I ran it again. Within the last 48 hours I have had to ban over 50 people from my page because of hateful and vile remarks. They not only were commenting on my post but they were aggressively and hatefully coming for my audience. A few hours ago I had to suspend the campaign because of the enormous amount of hatred coming in. Something is happening. Why are people suddenly acting so hatefully? My gut is telling me that the hateful people have always been there. They are just more audacious and brazen today. These people are not only hateful trolls and bullies, but they are menace to society. They are mimicking the President’s actions. If the leader of the free world is allowed to say mean and hateful things, then why can’t they?
They can. But it is up to each and everyone of us to stand up and speak out when we see this happen. Our future is up to us alone. If we allow to be steamrolled, then we will be. We must unite together and not allow this unfortunate time in our history to determine our beautiful future. Our lives, our babies’ lives are worth it.
New Episode Below!
Follow My Family’s Journey!
Twenty years ago when I came out, it was unbearably hard. As I have written before, I am from the Deep South. Anyone who dares to deviate from social norms was sure to be ostracized. It’s not that these people were born hateful or mean, rather, it probably was more to do with not them not being subjected to other lifestyles. Anything different from their own sparked fear and confusion. Homosexuality, interracial relationships, religious differences--these were all unfamiliar territories to the average person I grew up around. Thus, growing up was particularly difficult.
I remember laying in bed at night when I was a little boy. I would pray and beg God to not let me be gay. Every single night I would end my prayers with "...and God, please don’t let me have nightmares and please don’t let me be gay.” I remember crying myself to sleep many nights. I was embarrassed and ashamed. And I wanted God to cure me.
Growing up, I remember thinking it took a really strong person to embrace their true selves and to have enough pride to show it off for everyone to see. This was their life and they had the right to live it how they wanted, regardless of what the rest of society thought. I secretly admired that so much. I still remember hearing snide remarks about interracial couples holding hands in the mall. I remember thinking how incredibly bold those couples were to not be intimidated by anyone. I felt that it took a special kind of bravery to place their affection on public display... if only I could be like that one day.
Indeed, my time would come to rise up and embrace who I truly was. Defying social norms is risky business. All I could think about was being shunned by my family, church and friends. Well, as it would turn out those fears came to fruition and actually happened and it shattered me. People turned their backs. They said awful and hurtful things. Even some of my closest friends did this. But do you know what? Today I have grown to understand that I didn’t need those people in my life. Unconditional love isn’t something that you reward someone with. It’s something that you give regardless of any outcome or expectation. If someone doesn’t give you their unconditional love and respect, then that person isn’t worthy of being in your inner circle. THAT TOOK ME YEARS TO LEARN. There are many other people out there waiting to get to know you and give you what you deserve. You just may have not met them yet. When you do, you’ll know it.
Looking at society today, I cannot imagine what it is like growing up with social media platforms all around. I still have trouble with understanding how people can be so hateful as they hide behind their computer screen. After I came out, I thought it was difficult hearing other people’s opinions about my personal life. With today's social media, hateful people are able to stand on their soap boxes and lash out in a wide range of social groups and contexts. I remind myself daily that those hateful people will always be there and I shouldn’t take offense to what they may say. I knew trolls were around, but I didn’t know how prevalent they were until my writings started circulating around different websites on social media.
In the beginning, I felt like I needed to write about my journey. Metaphorically speaking, I like to look at my writings like I am from straying from the main road to leave a trail for others that may need hope. Helping to light a way for other LGBTQ people in our community is crucial in today’s society. I feel like it’s a personal calling and I passionately follow it, and I'm sure many of you do the same. People need to see that living our best and truest lives opens doors to so many beautiful opportunities. Young people who are questioning their sexuality need to see the beauty of what can happen when a person comes out and chooses to live their true self, boldly, proudly and unapologetically.
Unfortunately, having my writings picked up by popular websites leaves my work vulnerable to anyone that disagrees with my life. Although it’s exciting to have the exposure, it definitely isn’t without it’s share of disappointments. Hateful comments and messages from strangers still hurt. It reminds me that mean people are still out there. It also helped me realize that I needed to grow a thicker skin. Yes, I am living my best life and I am damn proud of it. Why should some hateful and repressive comment hinder my growth? Why should I give trolls the power to tear me down? I don’t even know them. Who cares what they think? What I do know is that I am a good father, husband, friend, son, and brother. I AM good enough. That is ALL that matters.
But, I am also a sensitive person, almost to a fault. I always have been. So, trying to learn how to grow a ‘thick skin’ has been rather difficult. I know I should let comments just roll off and move on, but instead I find that I overthink and dwell on them. It is super frustrating. In life, I have found that people are mean for different reasons. I don’t know why, nor do I need to know. They just are. Were they not loved enough? Who knows. The bottom line is that I must move on. That person is for some reason struggling to find their compassion and kindness. They lash out because anger and confusion are their default emotions when they do not understand something, and I need to remember to not take that personally. In fact, that's the solution--I shouldn’t take it personally. That is, all I have to do is be the better man and turn around without retaliation. I wouldn’t be able to change them with anything I said anyway. It would be futile. I Just need to be the bigger person. In doing so, I don't give the the twisted pleasure of seeing that they have elicited a negative emotional response from me. I choose to not give them what they want. You can do this, too.
National Coming Out Day is important because it allows people that are questioning their sexuality to see the support from so many people all around the world. It gives them the chance to see that it really does get better. And yall, it gets soooooo much better. Trust me. When you go to sleep at night, do you try to pray the gay away like I did? You may even cry yourself to sleep. It's okay to cry, just don’t give up. Keep moving. Just keep swimming. Life WILL get better.
If you're a teenager, you will find that it can be very, very hard sometimes. It isn’t always going to be like that. Although it may feel like nothing will ever change, trust me, it will. Have faith. Your life means something and you matter. Find your tribe. Find the people that lift you up and embrace your quirkiness. Find the friends that love you for who you truly are, inside and out. Find the places that make you thrive. Find your passions. Paint. Garden. Cook. Workout. Laugh. Watch Ellen. Be kind to one another. Kindness is everything. Remember that your kindness today can be someone else’s strength tomorrow. Life is beautiful. And it truly gets better. Just push forward, fight, and I promise, you will see that.
Our support for LGBT and questioning youth is vital.
This is a video I created many, many years ago to hopefully inspire anyone questioning suicide.
Follow My Family’s Journey!
It’s been 14 years and it still feels as if it happened a couple of years ago. Hurricane Katrina shook the entire South to its core. It single-handedly uprooted thousands of people, many of which never returned home, and affected the lives of everyone here in some way. The livelihoods of countless people were ripped away and tossed into the flooded streets glistening with oil sheen under the hot August sun.
This is my Katrina experience.
My account: a refugee’s story
Hurricanes are a way of life down here, right? I mean, we deal with storms every year. So how in the hell could this happen? How could we let our guard down? Both are very good questions. It still makes me wonder because power outages, minor street flooding and evacuations are second nature to most New Orleanians. But Katrina was different. She was a monster.
The day before mandatory evacuations, I remember waking up after a long night of partying and seeing that my mom had tried calling me multiple times. I called her back and, through my hangover, I could tell that she was completely stricken with panic. “Come home now!” she screamed into the phone. “The storm has turned and it is heading right for New Orleans!” Through the night, the storm had shifted from a northwesterly path to due north--straight for New Orleans.
I had lived in New Orleans for about 4 years at that point. My family still lived in Oak Grove, a suburb of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Like I said before, we deal with this sort of thing all the time during hurricane season. But unlike all the other times, this particular instance was like a series of unfortunate events that enabled this storm to be catastrophic. The water temperature in the Gulf and the jet stream were two of the main culprits. Usually, it seems like storms shift away from us, not toward us. And as the events unfolded, it was like the whole city of New Orleans held its breath. You could hear a pin drop. Then, once we all realized this was really happening, everyone scattered.
The silence gave way to the sounds of construction as homeowners and business owners nailed up plywood to protect their property. The people that stayed rushed to the grocery stores and the people that left sped to the gas stations. I will never forget how long the lines were. Waiting to fill my car up with gas is one mistake that I will never make again. Little did I know that waiting an hour for gasoline was a cakewalk compared to what would be in store 2 days later.
It was really tough leaving home. This was different than any other time I had evacuated. It may have been because of the ominous path the storm was on. Whatever reason it was, it was very emotional for me. I remember making sure that my house was nice and tidy as I picked up the living room, Weather Channel blaring in the background. My mom had always instilled in me that when I came home from evacuations, it would be nicer to walk into a clean house rather than having to clean when I got home. Little did I know, I wouldn’t be coming home for a long, long time. I packed my little car with a couple of duffel bags, secured my garden and lawn furniture, and off I went. It took about 4 hours to get to my mom’s house, a trip that usually took 2 hours. Given the amount of cars on the road, that seemed like a success to me.
As the next day approached, it was pretty evident that Katrina was going to hit New Orleans. However, we didn’t have any idea that there was a warm pocket of water in the Gulf she was about to churn over that would spike her windspeeds even higher. All of us were frozen. As the winds became stronger, she began to shift east. Wait, what? East? Now, she was predicted to make landfall in south Mississippi. So I left my entire life behind, and for what? To go to ground zero.
We all know how it played out. Katrina was a direct hit for south Mississippi. It literally annihilated the Gulf Coast. We were about an hour inland, but that didn’t stop the massive winds. Pine trees snapped and crashed down all around us blocking everyone in our neighborhood. I had never seen trees bend like that. It was horrifying. The rain blew sideways for days it seemed. The wind howled like rabid wolves in the night. Then, the lights went out. And they stayed out for 2 weeks.
Luckily, we had a generator to at least run the refrigerator and the a/c for a few hours. We had to really watch our generator because there were thieves that were stealing them and replacing them with lawn mowers because the motors sounded so similar. Days after the storm it seemed apocalyptic. No power, no gas to run generators, no water. There were reports of people killing their own family members over ice, food, and gas. It was 100 degrees outside and we had no electricity, no water. Seriously, what do you do?
To our amazement, it was like a guardian angel guided them to us. My parents' friends owned a furniture store in town. They called us to see if we needed somewhere safe to stay. We were so excited! This place had electricity! It had running water! We walked in and got to pick out our sleeping spot in one of the 2 different show rooms. Each show room had about 10 different room displays. I can still remember how comfortable I was with the cool air blowing on me as I lay on a big sofa. I was able to charge my cellphone and turn it on. When I did, I was flooded with voicemails. Earlier that day, the levees broke in New Orleans. Water inundated the city. Parts of the city were on fire. People were drowning. It seemed like New Orleans had fallen.
Credit: National Geographic
After a few days of sweating it out with my family, I was elated to find out that some friends of mine came up from New Orleans heading towards Memphis. They stopped by my house to see if I wanted to follow along. As quickly as I could, I threw my bags in my car and away we went.
A close friend of mine lived in Memphis and I was able to stay with him and his family for a while. They took me in as their own and, to this day, I am eternally grateful. All of a sudden I went from being a guest in from out of town to a New Orleans refugee. Memphis picked me up and give me the tightest hug. Everywhere I went, people hugged me. I couldn’t help but to cry- all of the time. All of the stores had signs in their windows reading “refugee discounts.” Every time I took my license out to show them, they hugged me. Some cried. Some would put their hand on my face and tell me that it was going to be okay. Memphis will ALWAYS be my second home. The compassion, empathy, and love that radiated from everyone there still shines in my heart to this day, as it will forever.
One week led to a month, then to two months. Then there was talk of New Orleans allowing residents back home. They implemented the return for residents by zip code only. I waited anxiously for them to call my zip code. The city officials stressed that the city was still uninhabitable. This was just to allow residents to assess damages and grab their belongings until New Orleans was operational again. Finally, they announced my zip code and away I went.
There were many detours because of roads and bridges not existing anymore. Finally, I got to New Orleans. It was like it was Armageddon. I could not believe my eyes. Floodwaters, broken trees, debris, caskets. It was overwhelming. There were military check points every half mile. One happened to be right beside my house on Saint Charles Avenue. They walked around in their military garb wielding assault riffles. It was literally like a war scene from a movie. When I finally made it to my house I had to wind my way through broken branches and slate roofing tiles.
I was frantically trying to load my life up for the next few months. As twilight fell, everything was silent. The wind had stopped. No sounds of birds, insects, people. It was incredibly eerie. There was a sunset curfew and I had to be out of the city before the sun went down. Well, needless to say, I was running a little bit late. I jumped in my car and hauled ass toward the interstate. There was another military checkpoint before I could leave. He flagged me down and I stopped. He said I was past curfew and I had to turn around and go back to my house--my dark and scary house. At that moment I lost it. All I could do was cry. Actually, I balled. I was terrified. I couldn’t even talk without hyperventilating. Thankfully, he felt sorry for me and let me pass. I felt like I was transported to Iraq. It was so surreal and overwhelming.
I went back to Memphis as quickly as I could that evening. I had nightmares for years after that. Many, many other people do too. Some, much, much worse. So many people died. Entire families drowned in their attics with no way to escape. Katrina left holes in people’s lives that will never ever be filled. The images of the rushing water flooding my city will always be burned into my memory.
Every single year, as each new storm develops, we all have flashbacks of what our lives were like after the storm. If it is one thing I learned, it’s that one event can change everyone’s way of life- in one fail swoop. Don’t take anything for granted because it can all be gone tomorrow. Every single year, hurricane season is a daunting and sinking feeling that doesn’t go away until November. The longer we go with not having a major storm, the easier it is to to go on with our daily lives. But the events of what happened 14 years ago will never ever leave me. With every hurricane season that comes, and every storm that forms, Katrina will always be in the back of my mind.
That which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger right? That couldn’t have been more true as we all began to rebuild our lives in New Orleans and all across the South.
You can’t really and truly understand the beauty of life until it’s ripped away from you. It’s when you have stared at what is heinously terrifying about life- and then overcame it. It’s in those very moments there. That is your silver lining.
It’s a single seed of hope that sprouts.
It’s watered by faith, and grown by love-
to become the blossoms of our lives.
Photo Credit: BSA Photography
Follow my family’s journey
Photo Credit: BSA Photography
"They grow up so fast!" I often heard that cliché when I was growing up. It was like a knee-jerk response to people’s comments about us, and my mom said it all the time. But, as it turns out, that cliché is soooo true. So savor every single second--good or bad--and enjoy this precious time together. Be happy and make them laugh. Guard them. Shelter them. Protect them from the difficult realities of the outside world while you can. And in this day and age, keep yourself together. Don’t let the stresses of everyday life get you down, especially in front of them. I say all of this so maybe I can do a better job of applying these things to my own life.
It is so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of the world’s social and political drama. We want to protect our babies from everything. So does that mean we have to be glued to Rachel Maddow & Anderson Cooper every night? The thing is, our news media is not what it used to be. Back in the day, our news was held to much higher standards. There were more facts and less spin. Another striking difference is that news outlets weren't constantly seeking to sensationalize the stories they were covering.
Cable news networks rely on ratings to rake in revenue. Stories like “Boy scout helps fallen senior citizen” don't make headlines, largely because that doesn’t bring in ratings. As such, that story is bumped all the way to the end of the broadcast. In fact, most national news programs now feature a single, token positive story at the end of the show. The body of news programs has become saturated with stories that play on our fears, weaknesses, and emotions. They want our anger, outrage, and disgust. But don't get me wrong, we need to be outraged at times. And at this particular time I am outraged.
I didn’t like the direction our country was going in 2016 because I was afraid, quite frankly at where we would be today. Sure, because of his poor tact and judgment the President seems to divide our country more than bringing us all together. Race, religion, sexual orientation--all these things affect us and are being used to divide us. The media takes hold of these tweets and tirades and run them nonstop on their networks. What do you think the President would do if all of a sudden no news network reported about his tweets anymore. Would he stop? Probably not, but it makes you wonder.
Here in New Orleans, we recently experienced our first “hurricane” of the season, Hurricane Barry (or “Hurricane Barely” as we locals called it). All the national news outlets flooded into our city. Even The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore came to report. The utter misrepresentation of facts that were spun into news headlines not only freaked locals out, but people around the world thought New Orleans was decimated again. When it was all said and done, HARDLY ANYTHING HAPPENED. Yet it seemed like every hour some news outlet would report a bogus headline purporting disaster and ruin. And for what? To march in here, look around, cause chaos and then leave? Are ratings that important? Of course they are!
If a hurricane is coming then of course we need for the news to report on it and keep us informed. But what we don't need is the media trying to scare the hell out of everyone with bullshit stories like "levees weeping, may crumble."
For those that didn't know, the Mississippi River in New Orleans was at flood stage for many months.
In fact, this was the first time in history that a Hurricane formed during flood stage. The levees held back the river water for a long time- so long that water began to seep (weep) in different spots along the levee system. Though, not designed to seep, many levees do when holding back water of that magnitude for so long.
We were all on edge. The last thing we needed was to read headlines like, "New Orleans' residents flee as it braces for hurricane force winds" and "New Orleans could see Possible heavier rains than Katrina."
All of these national media outlets were playing on our fears to bump up their ratings.
Shame on them for doing so!
So, yes- as you can probably tell, I am still somewhat pissed about how the media handled it. They reported on what would bring ratings, played into our fears and profited from it.
Mass shootings are an epidemic that our country needs to come to grips with. It is sickening. The truth is that they didn’t start with Trump. They've been happening all too often since I was in middle school. And what have our leaders done? I am not talking about the different presidents, rather, the ones that have worked in D.C. for decades. There is no accountability.
And speaking of accountability, you do not have to saturate your mind with the 24 hour cable news cycle. I understand that newsworthy things happen and we should be kept up to date, but only to a point.
Most major news networks now have an agenda. They present themselves as doing us a service while in reality it's just the opposite. Well, I've got news for them--as a parent I have an agenda of my own, and it starts with turning off the TV. Call your senators, your councilperson, and your state and national representatives and hold them accountable. Don't just sink into a couch or recliner and yell at the TV.
I am not suggesting people boycott the news. All I am saying is take an inventory of how much you allow into your mind and home. By all means, stay informed. Stay “woke.” But curling up into a helpless ball with cynical news programs blaring in the background isn’t going to help anything.
But you know what will?
Here is a link to the Directory of United States Representatives in Washington D.C.:
Here is the national phone number to contact your senator:
You can mail your senator at the following address:
For Correspondence to U.S. Senators:
Office of Senator (Name)
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
For Correspondence to Senate Committees:
(Name of Committee)
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
We’ve got a long road to go. But we are all getting there together. After the election in 2016, I wrote about leading by example. Today, I am writing about taking action.
I know this should go without saying, but I can't say it enough.
We have been given the privilege. Use it. VOTE.
It's now more important than ever.
I just called my congressman and senators. Will you?
Photo Credit: BSA Photography
We’d love for you to follow our journey!
A couple of months back, I posted an article about a new and progressive cartoon about a little girl and her two dads called “The Bravest Knight”. It is now streaming on HULU.
I was eager to post it to my Nolapapa Facebook page because I found it very inspiring and I wanted to help spread the word about this groundbreaking program.
In a time where ‘two dad families’ are sometimes demeaned by closed minded opinions, it is nice to see a family like mine take front and center in a mainstream media children’s cartoon.
The show centers around Sir Cedric (T.R. Knight) as he shares the story of how he transformed from a pumpkin farmer into a full-fledged knight with his adopted 10-year-old daughter, Nia, (Storm Reid) who is training to become a brave knight herself.
Knight, Bobby Moynihan, Storm Reid, RuPaul, Christine Baranski and Wanda Sykes are among the stellar voice cast set for The Bravest Knight, Hulu's groundbreaking animated kids series based on Daniel Errico's popular children's book The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived, from Big Bad Boo Studios.
Recently I was contacted to take part in a round table discussion that was to interview a couple of the stars. This is a revolutionary cartoon so I was honored to be included.
The stars that were to be interviewed were Nia (Storm Reid) and her ‘papa’, Sir Cedric (T.R. Knight). They are pictured above. (Beside the troll)
The interview was with 8 or 9 other bloggers from across the country. The round table discussion lasted about 30 minutes and each of us had our questions to ask when we were called on. Both Storm Reid and T.R. Knight took their time and answered everyone very thoroughly. I was quite impressed.
Nolapapa: Storm and T.R. Thank you both for taking the time to talk to us today. What you are apart of is amazing and I am incredibly grateful for the work you are doing.
This question is for both of you.
When you were approached with this project, what were your initial thoughts?
Storm Reid: I knew immediately I wanted to be on this project.
T.R. Knight: So did I. Being a gay man, this especially hit home with me. I knew I had to work on this, although I was a tiny bit apprehensive because it was a cartoon and I have never done that before.
Nolapapa: That’s great. I am so glad you chose to do it!
Did you have anything in your life that compelled you to work on this project?
Storm Reid: Personally, I did not have anything happen to me, but I had people close to me like friends and family that have been treated unfairly and that played a part in why I wanted to pursue this role.
T.R. Knight: Being a gay man that is significantly older than Storm, I have seen things in my life that is hurtful and wrong. Many years ago and still some today, gay people were treated terribly. I am so glad I have lived long enough to see progress like what this cartoon stands for.
Nolapapa: I completely agree with you, T.R. The mindset about being gay in America has changed but there is still
work to do.
What do you hope to accomplish with the success of this children’s program?
Storm Reid: I hope that it gives little girls... and little boys the courage and bravery to stand up and take risks- but also speak their mind.
T. R. Knight: So do I Storm, but I also hope that it helps enlighten and normalize what it is like to have two dads. I want people to take away from this program that the love this family has is no different than any other straight family. The only difference is that Nia just has two dads.
Before I am put into the ground I hope I am able to look back and feel like I helped make it a little better.
Nolapapa: Very well said y’all. Again, thank you so much for the work you are doing. It’s incredibly important and my hat is off to you. My family and I send NOLA love your way!
This Unique and Diverse Series