The Ms. Sarah House Project was four months old when the nation got to see New Orleans shine. That was win the New Orleans Saints won its first Super Bowl victory. Around the world, people saw that the win was about much more than football. It symbolized, among other things, the resurrection of a people whose very existence was threatened by hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Linebacker Scott Fujita explained this recently to the Times-Picayune: “It was all of us together! It was all of us in the city together for the last four years! This is the moment we’ve been working for” (February 9, 2010).
It is this spirit of determination and unity that has kept New Orleans afloat since August of 2005. Like the former “’Aints,” the city’s people had every reason to be hopeless, to give up, and to leave town; but just like the football team that rose from the ashes to win the bowl of all bowls, the citizens of New Orleans have emerged from the waters to build their home from the ground up.
The Ms. Sarah House project is proof enough. This dream has become a reality with the cooperation and creativity of many people. NOWAC, renowned international artist Wangechi Mutu, and SMFA have combined forces to build a house for Ms. Sarah Lastie. (She was forced out of her home and her community when the water levels rose too high, and had to abandon her original rebuilding effort because an unscrupulous contractor took advantage of her.) These efforts have been tremendous, but the house could not be built without the tireless efforts of Dalbert Poreé, owner of Dalbert Poreé Construction.
A life long resident of New Orleans, Mr. Poreé was practically born into the construction business. His Dad raised a family of five on a tradesman income as mason. His grandfather Lawless Honore was reportedly the first black contractor licensed in the state of Louisiana back in 1973. Poreé began his career in earnest digging foundations for his grandfather. He earned $2 an hour for his efforts and “was happy to get the work.”
Thirty seven years later, Poreé is the employer, not the employee. He is much more than a boss, however; he is a family man. Most of his crew members are related to him, his son for example, or are connected to him via a family member. He is also a community leader. After the storm, many people approached Poreé looking for work. He employed as many of them as possible to keep them from straying in the wrong direction, although at times, doing so has been a personal financial sacrifice. Just prior to beginning this project, he agreed to hire one of NOWAC’s artist, Angelamia Bachemin. He loves her work and her work ethics and has hired her full-time on a permanent basis.
Today, Poreé continues to do the work that he has always been attracted to. Since Katrina, his company has renovated and repaired almost forty homes, always doing so with a inner compulsion to do things right the first time. “A lot of cats don’t do it like that” he told me, speaking of other workers but of no one in particular. Poreé never leaves a job until it’s done right. The proof is in the pudding; he has a thriving business and has never had to advertise to attract customers. Excellence speaks for itself.
As international and cosmopolitan as it is, New Orleans is, at its heart, a fabric woven tightly of families and communities. That is particularly true in the Lower 9th ward. New Orleans is Poreé’s home; and its people are his people. Being committed to the revival of the city, and to the revival of the Lower 9th ward in particular, is in his blood.
When asked about how this project has progressed, he said that it has been “smooth, on schedule.” Pictures of the project tell the story. In early November, the pilings for the foundation were just being installed. Some four months later, the frame is up, the roof is on, windows are in place, the tile is laid, closets are built, and the porch waits quietly for those who will soon enjoy it.
Poreé is glad to be a part of this project, one he describes as “lovely” and “generous.” He sees it as one part of a collective effort to build a whole new city, a place he believes will be “a very nice place to live.” With his help and the inspired efforts of artists, volunteers, and workers, it will be, it truly will.