Carl, aged 22, had spent his whole life in New Orleans. Then Katrina came. His immediate family, family, nineteen if you count cousins, aunts and uncles, owned three cars between them, none suitable to go further than to work and back home. Which was just fine, until the Sunday night everyone was ordered to evacuate. Carl's mother, a woman of great faith, was certain God would protect them just like the other times when they were told to wait out the storm in a shelter. If it was really so serious, why weren't they asked to leave earlier in the day? But God had other plans, including filling their home with seven feet of water. Carl managed to grab just one item before everything floated off--his high school diploma, the first any of his grandmother's grandchildren ever earned. (And there were a lot of grandchildren; Carl has twelve aunts and uncles.)
They waited on a long line for many hours, and finally entered the Superdome. Here his story, as we sat listening in the living room of a Smith College dorm on the first evening of the singing workshop, became a little sketchy. His face, with wide, warm eyes wise beyond their years, seemed suddenly covered with a cloud. I saw horrible things, he said. Suicides, murders, rapes. We were there until Friday. My sister's baby had no food or diapers. Now Carl looked up, the cloud gone. But then we left, he continued, and a bus took us to Texas. My other sister was in a shelter by herself for awhile, but was able to join everyone else in Houston. I went to San Antonio.
Carl planned to go to Houston, as well, but some people heard him playing the piano one afternoon at church and offered him a job leading the choir. So he stayed, and enrolled in college. There, walking past a practice room, he heard interesting sounds. He introduced himself to the musician; they jammed for awhile, and discovered a shared love of gospel music. The friend told him about a singing workshop he'd attended as an inner-city high school student in New York, and Carl decided to apply for a scholarship. And so here he was, along with a motley bunch of twenty-somethings, retirees, a cappella junkies, and many others for whom the poor and displaced of New Orleans were, until this moment, a tragedy that had already moved on in order to make room for the next random, awful turn of events.
(To be continued.)