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Family displaced by Katrina returning to New Orleans with fond memories of Bloomington

By Andy Graham 331-4215 |
August 4, 2010

Gwyn Richards helped Ebonee Davis put her bed together when she moved to Bloomington in September 2005.

“The dean of the Jacobs School of Music, in his suit and tie, came straight over from his office and put up my bed,” Davis recalled Tuesday afternoon, a note of wonder lingering in her voice.

Now Ebonee’s bed is headed back whence it came, to New Orleans. That was home for Davis and her mother, Precious Davis, before Hurricane Katrina devastated their Ninth Ward neighborhood —  and is home, again, after they move back today.

But they’ll leave with fond memories of Bloomington, which proved a hospitable haven after their family was scattered by Katrina’s devastation.

“If you have to go through a disaster, we at least had a great place to recover in,” Precious Davis said. “Bloomington was so welcoming. The people were amazing. They helped us make a home here.

“So it’s kind of bittersweet. I’ve been in this place since I drove in from New Orleans, and it’s been a terrific place to be. If I could afford a billboard, I’d put one up just to say, ‘Thank you, Bloomington.’”

As they head home, Ebonee Davis is taking along her Indiana University master’s degree from the Jacobs school, and Precious Davis is certified as having completed a pair of three-semester programs at Ivy Tech Community College, as a licensed practical nurse with an associate of science in nursing degree.

“My daughter was pursuing her master’s at the University of New Orleans, and I always said that once she went off to college, I’d be a nurse,” Precious Davis said.

“Well, the family got scattered to the four winds by Katrina, but then IU took Ebonee in and Ivy Tech took me in.
“My daughter didn’t want to be up here without her mama —  without her mama’s cooking. So she found Ivy Tech, with its nursing programs, here for me and enticed me to come up.”

Precious Davis chuckled and added: “Now, you know, parents don’t usually go to college with their children. And Ebonee can cook, too, but why should she do it when her mama can?

“She’s an only child, so she can get away with that.”

The foods that helped make New Orleans famous weren’t readily available when the family first returned after the hurricane. “That city was always a 24-hour city,” Precious Davis said, “But the first time we came home, we couldn’t find anything to eat after 8 p.m. We couldn’t believe it. This is a city known for food, obviously, where you can get as good a meal as you can get anyplace, and get it at 2 or 3 a.m. if you need to —  but not then.
“We had to go to a 24-hour Walgreens and get frozen food.”

The family had evacuated a couple of days before Katrina arrived, figuring they’d be back “when the electricity came back on, after a couple of days,” as is customary in the wake of most hurricanes. Not Katrina.

“The authorities wouldn’t let anybody come back for a long time, and when I finally was able to see our house for the first time after the flood, when we went back for the holidays, oh, my,” Precious Davis said. “You had to shrink away from the walls, all covered with black mold. You couldn’t touch anything. It was so awful. My sister, who lived in the Lower Ninth, couldn’t salvage so much as a spoon.

“We couldn’t recognize anything. The businesses, entire neighborhoods —  most especially the people — gone. And there are still hundreds of thousands of people displaced.”

Davis family members — and there are a lot of them, with Precious the last of 15 kids — were scattered to other parts of Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee in addition to Bloomington.

IU took in about 80 university students cast adrift by Katrina, including Ebonee and her friend Tyrone Hayes, who knew Jacobs professor David Effron. They rented an apartment at 3162 E. Covenanter Drive.

The Davis family is religious, members of the Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church in New Orleans, and with Ebonee a licensed minister since she was 18. But Precious Davis wasn’t just going to take it on faith that her daughter could come north without her. “When Ebonee was first considering the move up here, I wasn’t in a position to come with her, and I don’t send my daughter into the unknown,” she said. “But after talking with Anne Vaught (at Jacobs), I was comfortable with it. She was great.”

Precious Davis came north herself in the last week of October and soon knew Vaught, Richards, and other IU and Ivy Tech personnel firsthand. She expressed her gratitude to them and many others, such as Inger Nemick (“everyone needs an Inger Nemick”), Ivy Tech’s Neil Frederick and Debra Vance, Malibu Grill manager John Bailey and “the entire staff at the College Mall Kroger” for helping Ebonee and her feel at home.

As for IU’s Mark Phelps, Ebonee’s vocal coach, Precious said, “I told Mark, ‘We love you, so we’re going to back the car up to your place, pack you and take you with us.’”

Back in New Orleans, they’ll stay for a while with Davis’ nephew, Robert Westley, a law professor at Tulane. “It’s getting a little better back home, now,” she said. “We went home for Christmas and it was showing some signs of getting better.

“But we’ll be back to visit Bloomington. There are a whole lot of people here, who are family to us now.”
MORE: Read more about Ebonee Davis and her family in the 2005 story, "Student evacuees begin classes at IU music school."

Precious Davis offers her friends, La Tanya and Fredrick Bennett, some items she doesn’t have room to move from her apartment in Bloomington Monday. Davis and her daughter, Ebonee Davis, were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and are moving back to New Orleans after spending the past five years going to school in Bloomington. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

Ebonee Davis

Ebonee Davis and her friend Tyrone Hayes are pictured in September 2005, shortly after arriving in Bloomington after fleeing New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Katrina. The two voice students transferred to IU’s Jacobs School of Music. David Snodgress | Herald-Times

Copyright: 2010