New Orleans has seen lots of reasons to feel down on its luck in the past 15 months. But we've also had a lot to be thankful for. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused billions in property damage and took more than 1,300 lives -- but the storms also brought some badly needed focus to our collective political prism and taught us the overriding importance of friends, family and community. Part of New Orleans' task in the wake of the storms has been reminding the rest of the country that we are at heart an American city -- and that Katrina was an American tragedy. This week, we join the rest of the nation in celebrating an American holiday, and therefore we pause to give thanks for the blessings we still enjoy. Among them:
• Volunteers from across the country have poured into south Louisiana, bringing hope and comfort where it's needed most. Their overarching generosity and compassion have served as a constant reminder of the great strength of the American people. Our government may let us down at every level, but our fellow Americans have helped us not to lose faith in the notion that things can and ultimately will get better. Thank you.
• New Orleans neighborhood leaders and volunteers have rolled up their sleeves to gut, scrape, demolish and haul -- and then help plan the larger recovery of New Orleans. The planning process has taken longer than anyone would have wished, but it wouldn't have gotten even this far without the hundreds of neighborhood leaders and participants who are literally planning the city's comeback from the ground up. Thank you for not giving up.
• Faith-based charities have raised many millions of dollars, gathered countless truckloads of supplies and goods, and sent hordes of wonderful volunteers to our area to gut homes and otherwise help us recover. Never before have people from so many different faiths joined hands to do God's work here on Earth. Thank you.
• Former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who first bonded in their efforts to bring relief to tsunami victims, turned their hearts homeward with the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund in the wake of the storm. Since its inception, the fund has raised approximately $130 million from more than 60,000 donors for various forms of relief in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In addition, both former presidents have visited the city repeatedly to deliver hope and aid. Thank you.
• The national and international media have not forgotten us, even if some of our national political leaders have. In particular, The New York Times (thanks to correspondent Adam Nossiter) has literally kept Katrina and the Gulf South on the front page and uppermost in the minds of America's readers. As we struggle to recover, holding onto Americans' attention is one of the toughest assignments of all. Thank you.
• Several major conventions confirmed their plans to come to New Orleans after Katrina, despite fears that the city might not be ready. We were ready, and conventioneers had a great time as well as successful meetings. In particular, we thank the American Library Association for being the first major convention to return to New Orleans in June, the various medical conventions that returned in October, and the National Association of Realtors for bringing the largest post-Katrina convention yet. Thank you for giving our hospitality industry the chance to stand itself back up.
• The Saints and the Hornets are off to winning starts, providing not only great entertainment but also a needed boost to our collective psyche. A host of new players is making a huge difference on both teams, and their willingness to relocate to post-Katrina New Orleans continues to inspire us as much as their performances during the games. Thank you.
• Churchill Downs is reopening the historic Fair Grounds this week, bringing thoroughbred racing back to New Orleans. Best of all, the coming season offers the highest purses in the history of the track and promises to bring the best crop of horses ever to run at the Fair Grounds. Thank you.
• Local businesses struggled to reopen after the storm, but each new opening brought another ray of hope to the area economy and to residents who missed their favorite coffee shop, dry cleaner, barber shop or hair salon, gas station, retailer and restaurant. Thank you, local business owners, for not giving up on New Orleans.
• Citizen activists turned their anger into action after the storm and helped enact major reforms that many thought would never happen. In particular, we can thank the new activists for convincing lawmakers and voters to consolidate local assessors, levee boards, clerks, sheriffs and courts. Thank you -- but don't stop.
• Last but not least, the men and women of America's National Guard came to New Orleans days after Katrina to restore order and to help begin the rebuilding process. And, months later, the men and women of the Louisiana National Guard returned to help our local police patrol areas that have been hard-hit by violent crime. Many are still here, wishing they could instead be with their families. We can never thank you enough.
This Thursday, let's all give thanks for friends, colleagues and family. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.