Monday, January 15, 2007


SJSU professor aims to help city
By Leslie Griffy
Mercury News

Five weeks ago, it was just an idea -- get college students excited about helping the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, and turn that excitement into federal legislation to improve the lives of people who live there.

Today at New Orleans' shuttered Martin Luther King Elementary School, San Jose State University sociology Professor Scott Myers-Lipton will see 150 students from around the country sharing his vision.

It's the first day of ``Louisiana Winter'' -- modeled after Mississippi Summer in 1964, a voter registration effort that brought hundreds of students to Mississippi.

The New Orleans project aims to drum up support for legislation creating a $3.1 billion public-works program, dubbed the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project. The money would put 100,000 locals to work rebuilding homes, schools and parks.

On this trip, students from 24 colleges hope to rally Gulf Coast residents behind the plan and to find out what locals would like to see included in any proposed law.

San Jose State sophomore Noelle Mundy arrived in New Orleans on Saturday, shocked to discover how little the city has recovered.

For Mundy, who helped get the word out to other colleges about the program, the legislation would be a chance for the government to make up for its poor performance a year and a half ago, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered the region.

At the time, Mundy was moving to San Jose from Los Angeles to start school.

As she settled into life in San Jose, she nervously watched the news, worrying about family members who lived along the Gulf Coast.

Getting residents excited about the plan won't be easy, Mundy said. After a year and a half of promises, she said, ``They've lost hope.''

The students, though, want to turn that attitude around.

``Once people see how dedicated we are to this, they'll have to believe,'' said San Jose State sophomore Pamela Germany, who's also on the trip.

The idea is gaining some support in Congress. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, sent a statement to be read at King Elementary School this morning. The students will report the findings from their trip to Mississippi's Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat.

The group wants to find out what residents need from a public-works project through town-hall meetings scheduled in New Orleans and Mississippi.

``We want it to be something for people, something that they want,'' Mundy said. ``Otherwise, there is no reason to do it.''

Myers-Lipton said residents already have given him ideas that could go into the proposal -- such as the unemployed musician who suggested a program for entertainers left without work after the hurricanes wiped out the economy's tourism base.

Along with the two members of Congress interested in the project, the Louisiana NAACP invited the students to march with the group in the Martin Luther King Day parade in New Orleans. San Francisco-based Color of Change gathered 8,700 signatures online for petitions supporting the legislation's introduction. And the Southern Christian Leadership Conference invited the students to its 50th anniversary celebration this spring.

``I hope this is just the beginning,'' Mundy said. ``I hope the idea catches fire here, and then it will in the rest of the country. Then it will happen.''

Contact Leslie Griffy at or (408) 920-5945.


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