This post was written by Andrew Bender and originally featured on Forbes.com
It’s one of America’s great paradoxes: when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005, it left behind a level of destruction that still brings pangs of shock and sadness. Yet no other American city I’ve visited continues to inspire more passion – even, yes, love – from its citizens.
On Katrina’s 10th anniversary, I did a series of interviews of New Orleanians who returned after the mandatory evacuation, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and turned their passion into action, not just to rebuild the city, but to use their diverse talents to make it even better than it was. Here’s one of those stories.
Visit my site for more 10 Years After Katrina stories.
Name: Justin Shiels
My Katrina Story: I was a junior at Loyola University, and we had just gotten all these kids through the new student orientation when we started hearing these weird weather reports. I remember a lot of parents asking me “Should we have our kids stay here, or should we take them back with us?”
Every time we’d evacuated prior, we’d been gone for 3 to 5 days, and then we’d come back to the city, just like normal. But of course this time it was very different.
Honestly, I didn’t love New Orleans during my first two years of undergraduate school. I hadn’t really done much exploring. But I remember being in Baton Rouge during the evacuation and seeing all these intense images. It kind of felt that I was losing something that I hadn’t gotten to know well enough.
Eventually I was able to get to Memphis, my hometown, and attended the University of Memphis that semester. We got to come back to Loyola that October to retrieve our stuff from the dorms. Driving into New Orleans, with the city feeling all empty and dead, made me feel a connection to New Orleans that I hadn’t had before. I had a feeling of “I want to be a part of rebuilding this city. I want it to come back to life and be vibrant again.”
What I’m Doing Now: I started goINVADE in 2009, as a sideline. At the time, I was really fortunate to work in an advertising firm on one of the major campaigns for New Orleans Tourism: designing a new logo for the city, a really intense ad campaign, some video production… One of the things that nourished that will for me was the sense that New Orleans wasn’t doing a good job of telling its genuine story, that it’s more than just beignets and Bourbon Street.
So I started a digital publication about people to know, places to go and things to do. It grew and blossomed, and we were able to build our audience to about 10,000 readers a month, profiling a lot of people who never would have gotten media attention otherwise: artists, makers and creative types.
One of the profiles I’m super proud of is Amanda De Leon. She’s a local fashion designer who funded her first line via a Kickstarter campaign. We helped promote her, did a photo story and profiled her work, and she was able to present her work at a New York fashion show. She’s the quintessential example of someone who’s exceptionally talented but not so good at working press. I was just really happy to be a part of telling her story.
Six years later, New Orleans is a very different landscape – and media itself has changed. Many progressive and interesting people, places, and projects are finding their way to larger publications.