A Project for Students and Citizens

Bayou La Batre: Week Three

In Bayou La Batre on June 21, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Angela Cleary is living democracy in Bayou La Batre, Alabama.  Originally from Birmingham, she is a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies at Auburn University.  Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

I am collaborating with Boat People SOS and local citizens to address some complicated, wicked problems–problems that are difficult to solve. One prevalent problem they are facing is a low morale in the community atmosphere. There have been hardships and disasters, one after another, that leave citizens feeling hopeless. They feel like they cannot catch a break and are victims of their circumstances.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina not only left physical destruction and holes in the community, but also emotional destruction and holes in the morale of local citizens. Stores, homes, trees, and boats were destroyed by this natural disaster. The people of Bayou La Batre were left to pick up the broken pieces and attempt to physically, mentally, and emotionally rebuild.

A few years later, before fully recovering from Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill shocked the fishing industry in 2010. This disaster kept the fishing and tourists industries from making a significant income. Boats were told not go out and business off the Gulf of Mexico was paralyzed. The effect wasn’t simply while the oil was spilling, but also hindered the entire season. There is still a lack of consumer confidence that has hurt the amount of business Bayou La Batre sees. These two major catastrophes have had direct and indirect contributions to pessimistic attitudes around this coastal community.

The loss of homes, stores, and industry business and support has caused negativity in the community. Unemployment and loss of commerce causes citizens to be mentally stressed, have high anxiety, or become depressed.  They cannot afford to pay their bills, get groceries, or make ends meet, much less afford luxuries that most people have become accustomed to. This financial stress leads to drug and alcohol abuse, higher crime rates, mental illness, and other problems. These compound the low morale of a community.  These problems and their symptoms are the epitome of a wicked problem. They have no clear cause, and no clear solution.

Wicked problems require innovative approaches since they have multiple causes and effects. It is important they are handled on a local scale in order to empower a community rather than handicap it. People from outside the community have brought service providers to the Bayou, but there are also local grassroots organizations that are working to solve the problem of low morale.

Bayou HOPE’s purpose is to “empower youth, empower community.” The program facilitates conversation among middle school and high school students for project ideas that would better their community. The youth are achieving a voice in the way their actions contribute to the bigger picture of community development. It boosts their confidence and morale to have them take leadership positions.

The project engages and partners young and old community members in positive and productive activities. They are working together and collaborating to bridge the generational gap. These activities make people see that they need to be the change they want to see.

Bayou HOPE has been concentrating their efforts on getting approval for a beautification project in the heart of the Bayou. This will create a visual of inspiration and pride for the citizens of the city. Even the actual community events to create the project will boost social capital and therefore create a more positive morale.


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