New Orleans suffered one of the worst heartbreaking disasters that has ever occurred in the United States. The city is today still attempting to recover from the unspeakable horrors caused by Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago. Many great people in the area have refused to let scenes like these kill their spirit or their optimism.
There are heroes like Norman Francis, an African American man born in 1931 in Lafayette, Louisiana. His father was a barber who rode a bike to work every day because the family could not afford a car. His mother was a homemaker. They were poor, but Norman later said he never realized it. (Further proof that money is way overrated). He shined shoes as a young boy. His parents emphasized the importance of a good education and made certain that Norman attended and took it seriously.
As it turns out, they needn’t have worried. Norman Francis did take school seriously, and he went on to attend Xavier University in New Orleans, where he worked in the library repairing damaged books. Ironic, since he would go on to be a central figure in the repairing of the whole city. In the 50s, he became the first African American accepted to the Loyola University Law School in New Orleans.
A couple of years later, he returned to Xavier University to begin his professional career, starting as Dean of Men. He was instrumental in providing dorm rooms for “Freedom Riders” whose bus had been attacked in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. He quickly moved up the ranks at Xavier and became the university’s president in 1968. He is still in that role today and is the longest tenured University President in the nation. He has spent his life working to improve the lives of those around him and is the chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, whose primary responsibility is to help the region recover and rebuild in the aftermath of Katrina.
He has received commendations from Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and two United States Presidents, among others. In 2006, he received this nation’s highest award for a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When receiving it, he said, “These are the sorts of things that happen in one’s lifetime that you never expect. I accept it for all the people who made this possible, whose shoulders I’m standing on and who helped me be encouraged to work hard and to serve the career that I chose. They all are part of this award. It’s not for me alone.”
He has loved and worked for the people of a city that has seen so much sadness and despair for the last five years and now is bristling with excitement over their Super Bowl team. Sports (though I love them) don’t matter much in the big scheme of things, but the Saints have an opportunity to bring joy to a region that deserves it right now, and I hope that they do.
Oh yeah, Norman Francis, a lifelong sports fan, was one of the initial members of the ownership group who brought the NFL to New Orleans, and one of the only minority ones as well. He’s been waiting over 40 years for a Super Bowl Championship to come to the city he loves. The Saints may be a five point underdog to the Colts, but this city has been an underdog since Katrina swept through in 2005, and they haven’t given up yet. Go Saints.