Pat Henry of Magnolia Street wakes up every morning and looks at the obituary section in the Times Picayune before she has her coffee to see if she knows anyone listed there. She lives in Central City, a neighborhood that was dark for months after Katrina until residents began to return the following spring. It is a working-class neighborhood of rental properties and two sprawling housing projects. The houses are mainly one-story shotguns set up side by side with porches right up against the street. It’s a place where the residents are used to violent crime as an inevitable way of life.
On a warm April evening, Pat and her friend, Sophie, and Pat’s granddaughter, Deva, sat on her front porch and decided to wave to everyone passing by. Pat said, “We were so happy to be back and wanted to welcome our neighbors home.” I happened to be one of those people driving by but instead of waving back and driving on, I got out of the car.
Pat raised her two daughters in the Guste Projects around the corner and worked her way out by sweeping the grounds, advancing to maintenance, and becoming a housing inspector. She is a support to everyone in a neighborhood where someone is always in need.
During one particular week, Pat’s mother was in the hospital, her sister was having her leg amputated due to diabetes, her Reverend’s niece had been shot and killed in Houston for dealing drugs, her granddaughter needed money for her school graduation ring, her daughter’s ex-husband was arrested and needed bail money and her best friend Antoinette was still in Houston and wanted to come home. At this point too, Pat’s church, where she cooked meals for the hungry, was still in terrible shape from the hurricane and in need of repair.
Pat’s porch looks into a neighborhood with a reputation for violence and despair, but offers a refuge of kindness and love.