Urban League Announces 2015 Katrina Heroes

NEW ORLEANS – Today, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans (ULGNO) announced the 2015 honorees for its Annual Gala.

         General Russel L. Honoré, Dr. Norman C. Francis, Yasmin Gabriel, Mary Landrieu, John Keller, Alice Craft-Kerney, Patricia Berryhill, Edith Gee Jones, Marc H. Morial, Cathy Washington, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans and Carnival Cruise Lines will all be recognized for their notable accomplishments and contributions to the Greater New Orleans community since Hurricane Katrina. These honorees, dubbed "Katrina Heroes," have collectively contributed to the recovery and rebuilding efforts through various grassroots and philanthropic initiatives.

         The Annual Gala is taking place during the Urban League's Hurricane Katrina commemorative conference, "RISE: Katrina 10," which is being held through Friday, August 28, at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, 601 Loyola Ave.

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         "We could not think of a better group of individuals that represent the resiliency of our great city," said Erika McConduit-Diggs, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans. "Despite the tremendous challenges that we faced during Hurricane Katrina, these 'Katrina Heroes' found ways to contribute and make a major impact in our community."

         Honoré , widely hailed as the "Category 5 General" led Joint Task Force-Katrina in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Honoré retired in February 2008, following 37 years of active service with the United States Army; he continues to speak and consult nationally on building a culture of preparedness.

         Dr. Francis is being honored by ULGNO in recognition of his selfless contributions to the state's recovery efforts and Xavier University of Louisiana. Francis, appointed chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) by former Governor Kathleen Blanco in 2005, assisted in overseeing the state's recovery. While leading the LRA, Francis was simultaneously leading recovery efforts at Xavier University as its president. In December 2006, he received the nation's highest civilian award – The Presidential Medal of Freedom – from President George W. Bush. After 47 years as president of Xavier University, Francis retired in June 2015. At the time of his retirement, Francis was the second longest tenured current leader of an American college or university.

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         "The marshaling of rebuilding and planning became the regional commitment," said Francis. "The heroes were everywhere and their respective faith in our region was demonstrative. Few people thought that New Orleans, in particular, would have improved so well, so fast." Francis added, "The lesson from Katrina is that we must continue our aggressive recovery efforts for those who continue to seek reconciliation from the Katrina disaster."

         Former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is being recognized by ULGNO for her efforts in securing billions of dollars to help rebuild the most devastated parishes affected by Hurricane Katrina. Landrieu secured more than $120 billion in recovery dollars for the Gulf Coast and worked extensively to jumpstart recovery projects. In 2013, Landrieu authored legislation that has led to the cancellation of over $391 million in loans from Hurricane Katrina for St. Tammany, Jefferson, Washington and Orleans parishes.

         "It has been a tough 10 years, but I am encouraged by all the rebuilding and redesigning that is occurring in New Orleans," said Landrieu. "Our work is not done, and I am looking forward to an exciting decade ahead."

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         Craft-Kerney and Berryhill will be honored by ULGNO for helping thousands of New Orleanians receive access to quality healthcare in one of the most devastated neighborhoods. In February 2007, healthcare professionals Berryhill and Craft-Kerney established the Lower 9th Ward Health Clinic at 5228 St. Claude Avenue. The clinic, located at what was formerly Berryhill's home, quickly became a haven for displaced residents. The clinic provided much-needed services to the residents of one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Their goal was to provide the Lower 9th Ward community with a "medical home" where all were welcome. Through their efforts, more than 2,300 patients received life sustaining healthcare services.

         "Out of the destruction of the worst natural and man-made disaster in the history of the United States, ordinary people were transformed into incredible new leaders who positively impacted the lives of the citizens of New Orleans," said Craft-Kerney. "It would be prudent to continue using their grassroots, bottom-up approach to tackle the many challenges we face after Hurricane Katrina as we create the new and improved New Orleans."

         New Orleans natives Gabriel and Keller are being honored by ULGNO because of their unwavering dedication, courage and support to the city of New Orleans. Gabriel, then a student at Spelman College, produced a documentary titled, "Picking Up the Pieces: College Life after Katrina," which illuminated the struggles for students from the Gulf Coast region and the impact Katrina had on their lives and education. The documentary was screened on college campuses across the country and was featured on CNN. "Picking Up the Pieces" was designed to prepare other academic communities in the event of a federally declared disaster. While Keller, affectionately called "The Can Man," orchestrated the safety and rescue of 244 people trapped in the American Can Apartment buildings located at 3700 Orleans Avenue during Hurricane Katrina. With no apparent help in sight, Keller decided to take action and risked his own life to save hundreds of lives.

         ULGNO will recognize the leadership demonstrated by Jones, Morial, and Washington during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As the first female President & CEO of the ULGNO, Jones was instrumental in not only strengthening the legacy of ULGNO, but in the recovery efforts after the devastation of Hurricane. Jones secured funding for a third property to house the Agency's childcare center and secured funding for the Women's Business Center, which continues today. National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial has been a leading voice in the city's recovery efforts since the beginning. Whether calling for an immediate inspection of the nation's flood control or demanding that federal officials keep their promise to rebuild New Orleans, Morial has been a pillar in the Greater New Orleans community and has contributed significantly to the long-term growth and sustainability of New Orleans.

         ULGNO's Executive Vice President Cathy Washington led the organization's rebuilding and recovery efforts as the agency's Interim CEO during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Washington was faced with broken buildings, diminished staff and reduced funding, but she took charge of a number of agency recovery efforts, including post-Katrina repairs and reconstruction of the Urban League Headquarters facility, risk assessment, organizational development and fundraising, and implementation of the Urban Empowerment Program. In addition, Washington was instrumental in assisting more than 3,500 families with essential and basic necessities needed to return home. It was because of Washington's efforts that the organization remained stable and secure in years following Hurricane Katrina.

         ULGNO will recognize the Hyatt Regency New Orleans and Carnival Cruise Lines as this year's corporate Katrina Heroes. On August 29, 2005, the Hyatt Regency became the headquarter location for city officials, emergency crews and national media. Current General Manager, Michael O. Smith, worked to safely evacuate guests and employees, while also supporting evacuation efforts from the Superdome through the hotel to buses leaving the city. In the aftermath of the disaster, the battered hotel became an iconic symbol of the city's devastation and remained closed for six years. Following an extensive $285 million revitalization, the Hyatt Regency reopened its doors in the fall of 2011 as the city's premier hotel destination for meetings, conventions and events.

         Carnival Corporation was crucial to the U.S. government's phase one efforts in filling a desperate need for shelter following Hurricane Katrina. The world's largest cruise line forewent several planned vacation voyages to answer the call to the Military Sealift Command on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to participate in the relief efforts. Three cruise ships were chartered and pulled from regular rotation to provide housing to displaced residents, emergency workers, elderly and those with special needs in Galveston, Texas and Mobile, Alabama for six months following the hurricane. And together, the chartered ships, Holiday, Ecstasy and Sensation, housed close to 6,000 passengers.

         The Annual Gala will feature performances by the Ellis Marsalis Quartet and Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs. Key conference sponsors include the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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