It seems as though we as society forgot the meaning of social capital. Sure, technology and the demands of hectic daily expectations may overshadow this sense of connection to others, but it can also be painfully isolating. Technology is a brilliant and necessary tool, but it’s not going to provide friendship or a hug during trying times, or, in the case of New Orleans, provide sweat equity for a new place to live when a home is lost along with every single material possession a person has ever owned.
I’m finishing “Bowling Alone” by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, who paints a clear picture of what a society would lose if they are poorly connected. Losses include safety concerns due to lack of neighborhood trust, faltering educational systems, and poor health. Imagine what has happened to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. Picture a society built on strong neighborhood ties and jazz born in the streets of Treme and Congo Square. Hurricane Katrina forced people apart, severely limiting communal ties because residents were displaced throughout the U.S., and many still struggle financially to return to the Big Easy and rebuild everything they’ve lost.
I was fortunate to rebuild in New Orleans with our Berklee crew last year. I fought back tears as we witnessed not only the devastation of a city, but neighborhoods so scarcely rebuilt. Social capital? Forget it.
This year, I’m back as one of the two staff administrators on the trip, and there’s a very inspiring change. Neighborhoods are beginning to return. Abandoned houses are being razed and refreshed with a brand new, safe place to live. There are obvious signs of life, and for that, there is hope. Its amazing Berklee has cared so much for this city, and we’ve been thanked over and over for it by the people of New Orleans. We are bringing community back, one house at a time. And the best part are the connections for the faculty and staff on this trip, who are simultaneously building that very idea of community for themselves.
This is Kathryn Hencir, academic advisor and staff administrator for Berklee rebuilding in New Orleans. Thanks for tuning in; there will definitely be more to come.