Before he led a procession of city, state and U.S. officials, all carrying wreaths, clarinetist Dr. Michael White performed "Amazing Grace" to a crowd gathered under a white tent nearby.
In marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and elected officials held a somber memorial for the lives lost in the floods, particularly the dozens of people interred at the memorial.
"They are not unclaimed, because we
claim them," Landrieu said.
Coroner Jeffrey Rouse recalled the victims' likely final moments — knowing they would drown, in their hometown, and in their own home.
"New Orleans is on the path to a better place, (but) we can't go forward if we can't go forward together," Landrieu said, adding that New Orleans must "recommit ourselves to the notion that no American is left behind."
At the Katrina memorial on Canal Street, Landrieu, Gov. Bobby Jindal and other officials thanked people who helped New Orleanians in the wake of the storm, from the National Guard and Coast Guard to people who just wanted to help.
"The people of Louisiana and New Orleans are madly resilient and tenacious. They just cannot be held down," Jindal said, adding that "American people love each other" and were willing to help "total strangers" in their time of need.
New Orleans District A City Councilmember Susan Guidry said the city must spend the next 10 years "figuring out what needs to be done" to lift up everyone, not just a chosen few, as it continues to rebuild.
Across town in the Lower 9th Ward at the site of the 2005 levee breach, that message struck into the hearts of African-Americans seemingly left out of the recovery narrative. At a prayer and healing ceremony before a massive march from the Lower 9th into the 7th Ward
, rapper and activist Mia X told a growing crowd of hundreds that "what happened to us 10 years ago was a moral disgrace," she said.
"Our children are hurting more than everybody. ... Nobody did anything for mental health," she said, adding that young black children in 2005 are now teenagers and 20-somethings, "desensitized" to the routine violence of life in New Orleans' at-risk communities after having witnessed not only the deaths of their families, neighbors and neighborhoods but the lack of care for their well-being.
"It's time for us to stand up for our children and for ourselves," she said. "Understand we are one New Orleans and we are one family."
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of Hip Hop Caucus, which co-organized the march and rally, said the crowd was marching not only for the victims but the "next generation," and though the city prepared for the pomp and circumstance of hosting President Barack Obama and former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, "this ain't got nothing to do with (them)," he said.
"This is about the people ... (and) making sure our people are not forgotten."
Following a chant of "power to the people," several Mardi Gras Indians, social aid and pleasure clubs, dance teams and brass bands led a crowd of hundreds from the Lower 9th Ward, over the St. Claude Avenue Bridge and up St. Claude to the 7th Ward for a rally and concert at Hunter's Field. Several people carried signs that read "Still on the map." Dance teams broke off from the parade and danced on school steps. Crowds gathered along St. Claude, danced alongside the bands, carried banners of their own, or simply watched, clapped, and raised their fists in the air.