With the support of good people and the resilience of brave people, it seems like anything can be accomplished. Sustain the Nine. — Pamela Dashiell
Friends say community activist Pam Dashiell lived these words and was an unwavering force for rebuilding the Lower 9th Ward and the historic Holy Cross neighborhood. With her passing last week, New Orleans lost a tireless fighter who wasn't interested in just restoring her community to what it was before the federal flood, but improving it. Dashiell died Dec. 1 at her computer, working for her neighborhood up to the very end.
Kathy Muse, a longtime friend and neighbor of Dashiell's, says Dashiell was always active in her neighborhood before the flood, but afterwards it was as if she "stepped up and out of herself.
"She put the Lower Ninth Ward, along with many others, on the map," Muse says.
With Hurricane Katrina approaching the city, Dashiell evacuated to St. Louis, Mo., with her daughter, but by October 2005, she was commuting daily from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Linda Santi, a neighbor who lived with Dashiell in Baton Rouge, says Dashiell would do simple reconnaissance of her devastated community: who had returned, who hadn't, and what could be done. As president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, she enlisted others to help in the cause.
One of those was Charles E. Allen III, a former HCNA president who now chairs the association's board. "It was right after Katrina, October '05. She said, 'Charles, I'm so glad you're back in town,'" Allen says with a laugh. "She said, 'Now look, our vice president isn't coming back to the city, so I need a vice president — and you're it.'"
In the early days of the storm's aftermath, Dashiell and others worked tirelessly defending Lower 9th Ward residents' right to return when some urban planners suggested the neighborhood should not be rebuilt. After winning that initial battle, Dashiell focused her efforts on getting people back into their homes. In November 2006, she founded the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED), which helps returning residents get building materials and training to construct more sustainable and energy efficient houses.
Dashiell ran CSED out of a small office in back of the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church on Chartres Street in the Lower 9, but her expertise was recognized nationally. Just three weeks ago, she was invited to the White House to be part of a discussion group on the environment and public health with Lisa Jackson, director of the Environmental Protection Agency and a New Orleans native.
Dashiell, 61, grew up in Roxbury, Mass., but she had familial roots here. As a young girl, her grandmother would tell her stories of New Orleans, where her great-grandmother had lived as a free woman of color during the Civil War. When Dashiell moved here more than 20 years ago, Santi says, she wasn't disappointed in the reality. "She had a wicked wit, just a beautiful sense of humor, and she enjoyed the absurdity of life in New Orleans," Santi says.
In addition to her service with HCNA and the CSED, Dashiell was a founding member of Citizens Against the Widening of the Industrial Canal; a former program coordinator for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade Holy Cross/Lower 9th Ward Initiative and board member of Smartgrowth Louisiana, the Alliance for Affordable Energy and the National Center for Community Health and Research. She also was a member of the New Orleans Neighborhood Conservation District Committee.
Dashiell is survived by a daughter, Alisa Leslie Dashiell-Sanchez, son-in-law, Roland Sanchez Jr. and a granddaughter, Rianne Caelynn Sanchez.
A memorial tribute and burial service took place before press time. Donations in Dashiell's memory can be made to the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. Checks should be payable to Teagras Helping Hands, marked for CSED, 5130 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA, 70117.