Expert Available to Speak About 10-year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

UC Riverside Ph.D. student co-founds museum in Lower Ninth Ward and is available to talk about neighborhood’s recovery efforts and challenges

museum sign

UCR graduate student Ian Breckenridge-Jackson co-founded the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( – Ian Breckenridge-Jackson, a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of California, Riverside, first went to New Orleans in May of 2006 and witnessed the devastation Hurricane Katrina left behind as a volunteer gutting flood-damaged homes. The experience altered the course of his life, he explained, and in 2011 it led to his co-founding of the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum.

“We heard residents say their story was not being told, and they were afraid of being forgotten. So, we wanted to do something other volunteers weren’t doing. We decided to start an oral history museum, so generations of stories, culture, and rich history would continue to live on,” Breckenridge-Jackson said. As one participant in the museum’s oral history archive puts it, “A lot of the people that’s coming here now, they really don’t know the heritage of the Lower Ninth Ward. They really don’t, you know? And I’m just afraid that it’s going to get lost.”

Ian Breckenridge-Jackson

Ian Breckenridge-Jackson

He and another volunteer, Caroline Heldman, started the museum, which they hope will stand as the centralized voice for the Lower Ninth Ward. The mission of the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum is to promote community empowerment through remembering the past, sharing stories of the present, and planning for the future.

The Living Museum was opened in 2013 to remember and celebrate the neighborhood’s vibrant history and culture through oral history interviews and exhibits. Admission is always free. Since opening, the Living Museum has welcomed over 2,500 visitors from 39 states and 12 countries; gathered over 50 oral history interviews with residents that are available online; hosted community events, including neighborhood barbecues, and book readings; established an after-school program that serves local kids six days a week; and hosted drawing, painting, and poetry workshops for local kids. It has become a popular hub for community events and children’s programs.

“The Lower Ninth Ward was, and still is, a very unique community,” Breckenridge-Jackson said. “Prior to Hurricane Katrina it had one of the highest rates of home ownership by African Americans in the country, and many of those homes went back generations. This was a very family-oriented place where multiple generations lived near each other.”

It was his time spent in New Orleans that got him interested in going back to school. Breckenridge-Jackson explained that he felt connected to the people of the Lower Ninth Ward.

“It was the first time I truly was forced to see race inequality,” he said. “The people of the Lower Ninth Ward taught me how the world works, through their trauma and experience. Seeing the kindness and resilience in those who did decide to come back home, I felt indebted to them – that I owed them at least this.”

Recovery in the Lower Ninth Ward continues to lag behind the rest of New Orleans, even 10 years later. It was one of the hardest-hit areas after the levies failed and muddy floodwaters roared through the neighborhood. Fewer than one in four residents has returned, many planting roots elsewhere after being displaced because of the hurricane and its devastating aftermath.

The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum in New Orleans.

The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum in New Orleans.

“For many, the lack of resources in the Lower Ninth Ward makes returning home difficult. For example, there’s only one school and it’s a charter school, so children are bused elsewhere. There’s no grocery stores, no infrastructure, no jobs – there’s so much uncertainly that even though people want to come back, they don’t,” Breckenridge-Jackson said.

In terms of recovery, Breckenridge-Jackson explained there’s a visible mix in the neighborhood — a third of the homes are gone and only empty lots stand in their place (some maintained, some not), there are blighted homes, and the rest he describes as “back to normal.”

As a co-founder and co-executive director, Breckenridge-Jackson volunteers his time working on the development of institutional infrastructure, managing finances and fundraising, and coordinating the collection of oral histories. Breckenridge-Jackson is partnering with the Living Museum to run focus groups with current and former residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, an effort that is funded by the American Sociological Association’s Sydney S. Spivack Program in Applied Social Research and Social Policy Community Action Research Award Volunteer. Staff at the museum are planning a 10-year anniversary event that will include a mural unveiling, poetry readings from children in the neighborhood who partake in their poetry club, and talks by various speakers.

MEDIA: Breckenridge-Jackson is available for interviews. He is currently in New Orleans and will be there until mid-September. He is available to do in-person interviews there; he is also available via email, phone and Skype. Please contact Mojgan Sherkat, senior public information officer at UC Riverside, (951) 827-5893, or for inquiries and additional details.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-5893
Twitter: mojgansherkat

Additional Contacts

Ian Breckenridge-Jackson

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