A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
Two hurricanes that have tragically impacted changed Anthony Mitchell have completely changed his life and are seen as a blessing in disguise.
Mitchell, a senior majoring in political science and minoring in communication arts & sciences and civic & community engagement, is from New Orleans, Louisiana where he describes it as a “vibrant” place “rich with culture and history” and great community.
From Bourbon Street to the Garden District, the city has a lot to offer.
Although it can be a great place to be, it has suffered a lot through many hurricanes and disasters. Mitchell says that most of the touristy parts have been restored but “there are still some places that haven’t been touched after Katrina.”
Mitchell grew up in the projects in New Orleans and was only 9 years old when Katrina hit.
His family was one of the many that stayed while the hurricane hit as they thought this one wasn’t going to be much different from the others.
But everything was fine until the day after the hurricane.
The water at first was about two and a half feet and quickly became higher overnight to about five feet. His family stayed home for about three days after the initial storm. It was about 25 people in one house with more family up the street.
There was a lot of wind and rain, which was expected, but the next day the power went out. By the second night his family realized they needed to leave. There was a newborn baby and elderly at this house, so it was not an ideal situation to be in.
His family quickly moved up the street to his aunt’s house where there was no water. They were able to get food and clothes there, but still the water came up even higher the next day.
The adults of the family realized it was time to leave the city once they heard reports of the levees breaking. They considered going to the superdome but after hearing bad reports they decided to go to Baton Rouge to stay with family.
Mitchell’s mother and aunt worked at a parking garage and decided to “borrow” three cars to cram in and leave. On their way there Mitchell described how he didn’t realize how bad the hurricane was. On his way to the garage he started seeing things such as a dead bodies floating in the water, which is something a young child should never have to see. He says “it was wild because death was so close to [him].” During this time of “borrowing”, a police officer decided to stop them but soon realized that this wasn’t a time for an arrest and let them go.
Mitchell and his family successfully made it to Baton Rouge and stayed there until they got on their feet. From that house he watched what was going on in his city by T.V. and was just in a “surreal moment”.
There were still so many people that were on rooftops and were suffering. He “didn't realize it was to that extent.” He says he was “fortunate and blessed to have family that could take him in.”
Although he did have a place to stay, he didn’t have a house he could call his own for a month. His mother was “praying that [they] could leave the city-- so in a way her prayers were answered through hurricane Katrina.”
Fast forward to 2016, it seems that Mitchell’s family just couldn’t catch a break. His family had to move again because of another flood that struck his house.
Last August, Mitchell came back to Penn State for resident assistant training. That week he kept getting notified from his immediate family about how there’s constant rain and floods.
The draining in Baker, which is where they moved to, isn't the best so the water had nowhere to go.
The water kept rising and rising, and eventually came into his house. It was so bad that Mitchell’s family had to rescue one of his elderly neighbors.
Luckily, one of his mom’s friends had an extra house on the other side of the city. Since he wasn’t using it, he was able to transfer it to Mitchell’s mom's name.
His family ended up moving 3 weeks into the fall 2016 semester. Throughout this entire time “life was still happening.” Mitchell had to still attend class and be a Penn State student, while his immediate family had to go to work or school themselves.
While Mitchell was here at Penn State it was extremely tough for him as he couldn't do much. He could only provide support.
For his mother it was too much like Katrina. She was having panic attacks and sometimes couldn’t function. She always thought about how she lost so much in Katrina and that it had happened yet again. Mitchell says it was a lot “for a single mother of four kids, whenever she tries to do right, something happens”.
Fortunately, his immediate family had a lot of support from the community, the church and other family members.
But not many people knew what was going on with Mitchell. If you saw him on campus it seemed as if it was a regular day. Mitchell only told a few people who could be his emotional support as he was to them.
Some of those people were his coordinator, Ramon Guzman (SP’16 Sovereign Cover) and a few people like, Christina Walker, and his brothers from Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He didn't feel like telling people because they are “dealing with their own demons and own trials and tribulations,” and didn’t “want it to seem like [he’s] trying to get pity.”
Mitchell made a hard decision and never went home. He had a conversation with Dr. Moses, Director of the Multicultural Resource Center, about intent vs. action.
If he would’ve gone home, what could he have actually done besides helping them get out of the house? Mitchell’s entire family and community did all of that and more.
He said, “What could have I done … besides the physicality of being there?” It challenged him.
Though he did his part by sending money, love and being a source of refuge especially for his mom, it still bothered him.
All of these tragedies have shaped him to who he is today. It was a learning experience and in his opinion, “Katrina was a blessing.” Mitchell says, “who knows where I would've been if I didn’t go through that. I was in a really bad environment and God answered my mom's prayers. After that our lives have been on a whole different path.”
Mitchell says, “the hardest part is getting out of a sense of denial of a situation. For a long time I didn't accept what was happening. Closed mouths don’t get fed, and you can do more with an open hand than a closed one. Getting over that was hard and asking for help was hard. There’s so much strength in knowing that you don’t have all the answers and that’s okay. There are people that want and can help you if you let them know.”