The destruction of Hurricane Katrina, combined with the failure of government at all levels, uncovered the often hidden racial, gender, and class inequities in America. The Gulf Circle, which was active until 2011, addressed two issues: the ongoing crisis of disaster response to the devastation in the region, and the long-term recovery in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast with an eye toward social and economic justice.
The WDN Gulf Coast Circle was born in the fall of 2005 as WDN members searched for a way to get more involved in the grassroots efforts in New Orleans, and along the Gulf Coast. WDN members stepped in at a critical time to intervene and support efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast. In our partnership with the 21st Century Foundation (21CF) and other funders, we raised more than $4.5 million over three years for this critical work, supporting more than 40 grassroots organizations in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast. Some of our successes include:
- A January 2006 fact-finding visit to New Orleans to meet with experts who had long experience in the region, tour neighborhoods impacted by the catastrophe, and visit grassroots organizers and local residents. We talked with representatives from various New Orleans foundations and community groups so that we could understand their grantmaking strategies, as well as their thoughts on the most effective actions for WDN.
- In the spring of 2006, the Circle joined the Gulf South Allied Funders. We made a commitment to raise $500,000 a year over three years. In 2006 we surpassed our commitment by 30%, raising $653,000.
- In November 2006, WDN held our Annual Conference in New Orleans. Over 100 members brought their business to New Orleans to demonstrate their commitment to rebuilding.
- WDN members contributed more than $200,000 to fund the premiere of Swimming Upstream at the 2008 V to the Tenth celebration in New Orleans. Swimming Upstream, produced by Eve Ensler and VDay in conjunction with the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center tells the stories of women surviving Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of their city.
- In 2008, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s National Leadership in Action Awards recognized the 21st Century Foundation “for its efforts to facilitate giving for black community change, working with donors to invest in institutions and leaders that address challenges within black communities across the country.”
- In November 2009, WDN returned to New Orleans again to host our 2009 Annual Conference.
- In 2010 WDN members contributed $75,000 to help stage a one-night performance of Swimming Upstream to the iconic Apollo Theater in New York.
Until retiring in 2011, the Circle worked consistently on a number of fronts to ensure a more equitable and just rebuilding of the Gulf Coast while addressing issues of race, class, and gender that were brought into stark view by this man-made disaster. More than 80 members contributed directly to the Circle and many members did hands-on volunteer work in the Gulf South immediately after the disaster and for many years afterwards.
The Gulf Coast Circle also provided ongoing educational opportunities on specific issues of interest to the membership.