By Jennifer Golum, 15, Notre Dame HS (Sherman Oaks)
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Arthur Booker, Marcus Stewart, Heather Bozant and her brother, Ian, all 17, whose schools were shut down by Hurricane Katrina, are grateful to be able to finish high school at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.
Photo by Jennifer Golum, 15, Notre Dame HS

My high school, Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, has always had a close relationship with our sister school, Holy Cross New Orleans. Many of the staff have visited Holy Cross or worked there in the past. Immediately following Hurricane Katrina in late August, Notre Dame began fundraising to help Holy Cross, which was destroyed in the storm. During an assembly in the gym a few days after the hurricane, our principal announced that we would be taking in some students who had been displaced by the storm. Everyone instantly started cheering and clapping. They were more than happy to take in new students, especially from New Orleans. It didn’t matter to the freshmen, sophomores and juniors that they were all in 12th grade; they were just as excited as the seniors.

By the end of September, seven new students began attending our school, tuition-free. In an interview with four of the 17-year-olds, Marcus Stewart, Arthur Booker, Heather Bozant and her brother, Ian, they spoke about the hurricane and what it was like to go to school in Los Angeles. Marcus and Arthur had attended Holy Cross New Orleans along with Heather’s brother, Ian. Heather attended St. Mary’s Dominican. Although their families all evacuated before the storm hit, they said they understood why many people didn’t leave at first. Marcus said, "It’s become a part of life. Like how you all [in California] deal with earthquakes. It’s just something that we deal with."

L.A. YOUTH: What did you do to prepare in the days leading up to the hurricane (evacuate, board up the house, stock up on supplies)?

Marcus: Actually, I wasn’t aware that the hurricane was actually coming. Um, that Friday we had a football game, so you know, we went to the football game and he [Arthur] was playing, I was cheering. The next day me and my friends went, she was getting a car for her 18th birthday, so we went looking for cars and one thing that made us aware that something was up was because they were boarding up all the dealerships. And they were moving all the cars to different buildings or whatever and once we got to the car dealership we were like "Let’s go to the mall or something, there’s nothing else to do" and the mall was closed. This was like 2 o’clock in the evening on Saturday. So we got on the Interstate and I’m driving home and I’m like, "With all this traffic, what is going on?" So, I called my mom and she was like, "There’s a hurricane coming, when you come home. We need to pack up and leave in the morning." That’s how I knew about it but besides that, I didn’t even read anything about it.

L.A. YOUTH: Did you guys stock up on food?

Marcus: No, because we left the next day. We just got gas.

Heather: We did prepare because we were actually gonna stay … So we got, like, a bunch of gallons of water, and snack foods and cans, you know, canned foods, and we had gotten a couple pairs of shirts and pants for our second-story floor because we had planned on staying and if the water would get that high we’d at least have something. … Sunday we were gonna stay until 2:30 when my mom got really scared because it [the hurricane] was supposed to turn and it didn’t and my mom was really scared so then we just left with a big box of food.

Ian: We were gonna actually stay for the hurricane, so Sunday at around 2:30 we decided we were gonna leave and at that point we packed up 2 to 3 pairs of clothes and some valuables. We didn’t board up the house or anything.

Arthur: Well, like Marcus said, that Friday I was at the football game and usually the football team, on Saturday morning, we work out and run and stuff like that and when I walked into the locker room, they was talking about it and I was nervous, I didn’t know what was going on. But I was actually there for our ring ceremony [when seniors are presented with their class rings] on that same night so everybody was getting ready for that and there was football practice the rest of the day where we found out the ring ceremony was cancelled and everything. So that’s how basically I found out. I didn’t get school clothes, I didn’t take bottles of water and everything because I thought we were maybe only gonna be gone two days so I just brought two pairs of jeans and some Holy Cross shirts, I didn’t think it was gonna be that big.

Marcus: I was actually in the barber getting my hair cut for our ring dance. I was student body president at my old school, so they called me and told me.

L.A. YOUTH: Where were you guys during the hurricane? Did you evacuate?

Marcus: I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Arthur: I was in Mississippi.

Heather: We went to Mississippi, but it was gonna hit there, where we were in Jackson, so then we went up to Hattiesburg, to Alexandria [Louisiana], and then we went to Houston [Texas].

Ian: We were going into Mississippi and then we found out that the hurricane was going to go towards Mississippi so we decided to go to Houston, and we got a hotel room there. But it took two days to get to Houston. So for two days we were stuck in the car, which was uncomfortable. My home was actually three inches higher than the other houses on my street so the water was three inches from coming into our house. But the door blew in so rain got into the house and then we had some roof damage but not a whole lot.

Arthur: Well, I went to Macon, Mississippi and after the hurricane hit we didn’t have any electricity, just cold water, so we had to be moved to another part of Mississippi, like Memphis, to an apartment in Memphis, and after that we went to like a shelter at Oak Front Church of God in Mississippi, that was in South Haven, Mississippi. So it was like on the borderline of Memphis, and we stayed in the shelter. Then we moved into an apartment with the help of Red Cross and my other family members went to Texas.

L.A. YOUTH: How were you feeling during the hurricane?

Marcus: I wasn’t really worried about it as much but the thing that really got me nervous was I didn’t know where my family members and friends were because communications were down, I guess. I had already accepted the fact that my house was under water, all my possessions, my clothing, my portfolio, I had already accepted that that stuff was gonna be gone, so I was thinking about what am I gonna do next? I already knew everything was destroyed so I was just trying to accept that and move on.

Heather: I was scared because we slept in our car, so we had, you know, our parents and our dog and we had found out that my grandma actually stayed behind. We didn’t know where she was, and I couldn’t get in contact with any of my friends, so I was pretty scared about that.

Arthur: I was constantly on the phone with Marcus, not talking but text messaging, because that’s the only thing that was working. So we were text messaging back and forth, and stuff like that. We stayed in the hotel with no electricity for like, three days, or whatever. It was really scary. All my family members got out but we had to find my cousin’s stepfather, because his real father didn’t leave, he never leaves the hurricanes, and he got caught up in his basement, and the water kept rising, but they rescued him. Everybody else got out and went to either Memphis, Mississippi or Texas.

L.A. YOUTH: And you guys probably couldn’t watch the news either.

Arthur: Yeah, ’cause all we had was radios, that’s all my family had.

Marcus: We had like a little portable television that we were watching for like, six days. It was a little black and white television. So, we knew how bad it had hit, once it actually did, but a lot of my family didn’t because they didn’t have a television or anything. They thought they could just go back home the next few days. They didn’t see how bad it actually was. So, you know, we couldn’t have hot food, stuff like that. The lights were out, I couldn’t charge my cell phone. Stuff that you take for granted, we couldn’t do. We were virtually homeless.

Arthur: Yeah, I mean, we were text messaging and stuff, but it hadn’t really set in.

L.A. YOUTH: Was it crowded at the hotel?

Arthur: Yeah, it was crowded. There was like, a lot of people in there. But they couldn’t get the electricity on everything had to run off electricity, like cooking and everything, so every morning we would have muffins and doughnuts and milk and we’d have to eat sandwiches for like lunch and dinner. When we moved into the new hotel, in Memphis, we saw what actually went on, it was really shocking. I really didn’t think it was that big. Because there was a lot of, you know, rumors going around and stuff was actually happening but you know, we didn’t really believe too many rumors.

L.A. YOUTH: When I visited New Orleans a week before it hit, everywhere we went, all the people, you know, waiters and waitresses kept saying "Oh we’re not worrying about it, we’re not going to leave."

Marcus: It’s become a part of life. Like how you all deal with earthquakes. It’s just something that we deal with. It’s just like, when a hurricane’s coming, you either leave or you don’t. Some people don’t leave but we have always left for hurricanes.

L.A. YOUTH: Have you kept in touch with family and friends?

Marcus: I’ve kept in touch with my immediate family, like my mom, dad, brothers. I talked to some friends, but I still don’t know where all our friends are. I could probably tell you where about 20 to 30 of them are but I don’t know where everybody is. But my family, we’ve all kept in touch, my cousins, stuff like that.

Ian: Our family is fine.

Heather: I kept in touch with my parents, and my grandma, but I have no idea where any of my friends are.

L.A. YOUTH: Why did you move to Los Angeles, of all places? How did you feel about coming here?

Marcus: Prior to the hurricane, like two weeks prior, I came out here to look at a college and I have family out here already, so I’d been out here and knew that I liked it. And I want to stay within the Holy Cross tradition of, you know, educating hearts and minds, so that’s why automatically I wanted to go to a Holy Cross school, not just any school. But then, I mean, everything I want to do, as far as career choices, this is the capital of fashion and acting and modeling and entertainment and that’s what I want to do with my life. So I see it as kind of being a blessing. I’m here a year early so I have to ask myself, "Am I going to use this time to do something positive or am I going to just use it to sit back and relax?"

Heather: Father Joe had actually contacted my brother [Ian], since he went to a Holy Cross School, and so did St. Francis, but I’m not sure where that is. Anyway, St. Francis wasn’t going to accept me because I didn’t go to a Holy Cross school back in New Orleans and my brother didn’t want to leave me behind. So Father Joe said Notre Dame would accept both of us. Before this I had never been to California, so this all new to us.

Ian: Father Joe used to teach at Holy Cross for a little while and so he knew me. And he offered it to me when he found out the hurricane had hit and I had gone on the immersion trip, which is a trip for all Holy Cross schools and some of the kids here went on it so I knew some people. That made me want to come to this school and I knew it was a Holy Cross school as well.

Arthur: I had never been to Los Angeles, and California but I was looking at a college. And if I didn’t get into the college I wanted to, I was looking at more than one college in Los Angeles, so I was definitely going to come out here. But now I’m out here earlier, and I have extra activities after school, stuff like that, so I can focus on what I want to do. But I really like it out here, it’s a really great school, very accepting and warm. It’s like Holy Cross but with girls. It was an all boys’ school.

L.A. YOUTH: What colleges were you looking at?

Marcus: I came out to see FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising).

Arthur: Me, too, I came to see FIDM and Otis College of Art and Design, Woodbury and Brooks Institute of Photography.

L.A. YOUTH: Where in Los Angeles are you living now?

Heather: I’m living in Sherman Oaks.

Marcus: I’m currently living with [my classmate] Stevie Jay, and we live in Toluca Lake. Actually, Stevie Jay’s parents contacted me before Notre Dame came up with this little idea of adopting families and taking them in because I had stayed with them previously. They actually contacted my parents as soon as they found out what had happened. They wanted to help instead of just donated to the Red Cross or something they wanted to actually do something and contacted me to see if I wanted to come out here.

L.A. YOUTH: What has been the most surprising thing about Los Angeles?

Ian: What surprised me was actually the weather because I didn’t realize how cool it got and there’s much different temperature from the morning to the middle of the day. But I don’t have any disappointments with it yet.

L.A. YOUTH: How do you guys feel about Notre Dame? How did you feel coming here? Scared, anxious, curious?

Marcus: I like Notre Dame, I had a lot of other choices to go to other schools, and they were all offering the same thing, you know, free tuition, I wouldn’t have to worry about money and stuff like that. But I was already attracted to the school because I went on a student council retreat before this with this school and I just saw how warm and inviting they were so it kinda made me want to come to this school and, you know, I think that it’s important to go to a school that believes in the same morals, that has the same morals and traditions that you believe in. That’s why I wanted to come here, I mean, it’s just like our school but with girls but I still feel a close attachment to my old school. It was called a brotherhood, it wasn’t just a school. So, of course there’s an adjustment issue but people here are nice, you know, and inviting. I don’t have any problems socially with anybody and it’s just a cool place to go to school. And good teachers.

Heather: I can’t really compare to Holy Cross, because I didn’t go there, but Notre Dame’s been very welcoming. But Marcus and Ian knew people and I didn’t know anybody, so I kinda freaked out about that whole thing but people have been really nice and they actually wanna, like, talk to you and help you.

Ian: On the first day of school we met a whole bunch of people who had made me feel special, I guess, and made me feel at home because at Holy Cross everybody knew each other and so they were trying to get to know me and also it was a Holy Cross school so I felt more comfortable.

L.A. YOUTH: How would you compare Notre Dame with your school in New Orleans?

Ian: Well, my school in New Orleans was an all boys’ school so that’s a major difference because Notre Dame is a coed school. And Notre Dame’s also larger than Holy Cross, because Holy Cross was a school that went from 5th to 12th grade and had 1,000 students so the high school only had about 700 or 800 students.

L.A. YOUTH: What are your opinions on the news coverage of the hurricane and its aftermath?

Marcus: The news coverage was informative, I learned a lot from the news coverage but also I had a problem with it because they always showed the bad side of what was going on. They described the guys walking around, you know, with guns being thugs, but they didn’t say those guys walked around with guns to keep order. They were trying to keep the people from hurting the elderly people and trying to rob and rape these girls. They weren’t just walking around with guns to be like, "Oh, I’m big and bad." They were actually trying to, you know, they started a government, a system of authority. That was the only way to get people to listen to them and things would only go well if they had somebody who stepped up and was the leader and said, "Hey listen, this is what we’re going to do." So, I think the news never really tells the truth. … The media is still saying that the deaths are only up to 1,000 and I know for a fact that it’s well over 1,000. In the area we lived in they had two schools that were hit. One school had about 300 and almost everyone died and they haven’t talked about that yet.

Arthur: Yeah, what they were showing, all the people looting and everything, it left a bad impression on the city of New Orleans, that’s not everybody in the city of New Orleans. You can’t judge the city of New Orleans off a few people’s actions. We all come from, you know, pretty good communities but there’s crime, there are bad things everywhere.

L.A. YOUTH: Do you feel the disaster is overexposed, underexposed?

Marcus: I think it’s done it justice. I think that it’s gotten the exposure it needs. I don’t think the response has been sufficient. It’s kinda one of those things where it will never go away, but it will die down. But I think that, you know, it’s gotten the attention it needs.

L.A. YOUTH: What have been the best and worst things about this experience?

Arthur: The worst thing, I mean my house and my clothes, those are just material. Actually right now, I have many donations from people, the worst thing is not being able to see my friends. It’s like, I got disconnected from everything. You know, everything was supposed to go a certain way, I was supposed to graduate, have a good senior year, but it wasn’t like that. I never had a chance to do that. Once you sit down and think about it, you know, you say "I wish I could have done this, I wish I could have done that." But the good thing is I’m here, in Los Angeles, this is where I wanna have my career, what I wanna do, I have my best friend, my family’s safe, and everything is well. I’m not the kind of person who’s gonna sit back and let this bother me, I’m gonna move on.

Heather: The worst thing is the whole disconnected idea and how far we are away from our family and not being able to talk to them. And I also think that, what struck me first, was the fact that I lost my house and I thought, like, "Oh my God, I’m never going to have my own room again," that kind of thing. And then I started thinking, like my brother and I after a couple of days, we started thinking how ruined our senior year was, how it was supposed to be special. Or I’m not going to have my ring ceremony. So I thought that was pretty bad. And the best part, I think, is that if this never happened I would have never come to California, and I would have never gone here and met all these people. It opened up a world I would have never even considered coming to. So, I thought that was pretty cool.

Marcus: I would have to say the worst thing of this entire experience is the feeling of displacement. I come from a very tight-knit family, I have a newborn niece, who’s about four months, no, five months, and I love her so much, and the feeling that, you know, I’m not going to see her walk, I may not be able to see her walk, I may not be able to see all those moments, where she goes swimming for her first time, things like that. That really hurts. I was so actively involved in my school community, and just in New Orleans I was like so involved in so much stuff like I was student body president and captain of the cheerleading team. I was really looking forward to a great year. We had a plan for everything. Everything was supposed to go like this or that, you know. And it feels like somebody just took me, took everything in their hand and threw it up and wherever you land, that’s were your gonna be at. But it has made me stronger, it’s made me more independent, and it’s made me see that everything happens for a reason. And out of every situation, God has a plan for everything. And it’s just made me wanna pursue my dreams even more and know that I’m gonna make it. I mean, I’m staying with somebody who’s been in the [fashion] industry, who’s still in the industry I’m trying to get to so it’s like, it’s just positive everywhere.

L.A. YOUTH: Do you think this will throw you off academically or while you’re applying to colleges?

Ian: I think it will be more of an experience to learn from. Like you’ll be able to learn more about yourself and on the application for college they might give you, I don’t know, an added bonus. Most of the classes that I’m taking here I was going to take at Holy Cross so the classes aren’t really different. And I’ve already started my college applications.