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Quick Guide & Transcript: Mardi Gras spirit transcends devastation, Maya Angelou profile

SPECIAL REPORT

• Rebuilding: Vital signs
• Gallery: Landmarks over time
• Storm & Flood: Making history
• I-Report: Share your photos

(CNN Student News) -- February 28, 2006

Quick Guide

A Mardi Gras to Remember - Find out why some New Orleans residents insist that the Mardi Gras party must go on.

Mardi Gras Indians - Observe how the Mardi Gras Indians have refused to let Katrina dampen their spirit.

Mardi Gras Ruins - Travel to a Mississippi town where one Mardi Gras krewe is resolved to return to the party.

Transcript

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SHANON COOK, CNN STUDENT NEWS ANCHOR: We welcome you to this special edition of CNN Student News. From the CNN Center, I'm Shanon Cook. In the wake of catastrophe, a festive spirit steps out into the streets of New Orleans. In a decades-old tradition, the spirit of the Mardi Gras Indians" rises high above the storm. And in the eyes of photographers, New Orleans remains a city of unforgettable images.

First Up: A Mardi Gras to Remember

COOK: First up today-- a story about a hurricane-stricken city that refuses to let the music die. After Hurricane Katrina made landfall last august, 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded. Parts of the city were swamped by as much as 20 feet of water. New Orleans is still digging out from storm damage and has serious problems. But "Mardi Gras" means "Fat Tuesday"...and it's all about fun, before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. Keith Oppenheim explores the reasons why some insist, the party must go on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN REPORTER: As a brass band strolls down St. Charles Avenue, followed by double-decker floats, colorful costumes and flying beads, the crowds return to a beloved tradition.

LYLE BROWN, HARVEY, LA, RESIDENT: It's a lot smaller, but it's still a lot of fun and I love it!

OPPENHEIM: Mardi Gras is still fun, but not the same this year, in New Orleans, shortened from 12 days to eight. The city, strapped for cash, has a population less than half what it was. Many New Orleans neighborhoods -- ravaged from the flood -- are vacant. In fact, some residents were opposed to celebrating at all.

BARRETT BREAUX, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I was against it initially, but now I'm glad they having it, ya know.

OPPENHEIM: You think it's helping people?

BREAUX: I hope so.

OPPENHEIM: The main reason to keep Mardi Gras afloat? Money. In recent years, Carnival season had represented one billion dollars annually to the local economy.

ARTHUR HARDY, PUBLISHER, MARDI GRAS MAGAZINE: To not do it would be like having a sign in the Superdome saying New Orleans is closed for business. It's vital to our economy.

OPPENHEIM: But Mardi Gras may be vital in different way. In the Big Easy, this is a way of affirming that recovery -- however imperfect -- is real.

GREG LACAZE, MARDI GRAS CELEBRANT: This could be the catalyst. This could be the shot in the arm that we need to get it back to normal again.

OPPENHEIM: With all the good feelings, there are huge challenges ahead. The city of New Orleans is essentially broke - $120 million in debt and scrambling for loans. City officials are hoping that Mardi Gras this year will lure tourists and conventions to the city. In New Orleans, for CNN Student News, I'm Keith Oppenheim.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Mardi Gras Indians

COOK: Every school has its clubs: You can probably look around the room and see who's in band or who plays a particular sport. In the same way, Mardi Gras has its krewes-- the organizations that put on parades. One parade group is the "Mardi Gras Indians." Their president says they used to be violent, meeting on Mardi Gras to settle scores with those who crossed them. But as Sean Callebs reports, they're now about heritage instead of hostility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN REPORTER: From their elaborate costumes to their tribal spirit, the Mardi Gras Indians are considered the Big Chiefs of the annual New Orleans celebrations. But this year is unlike any other. Katrina, at least for now, has changed the fabric of the city - but not the spirit.

VICTOR HARRIS, MARDI GRAS INDIAN: Just because of what happened, doesn't stop anything because this is our culture.

CALLEBS: The Mardi Gras Indians are mainly African-Americans who lived in the heart of the city and were among the hardest hit by the hurricane. Victor Harris took us to his home in the 7th Ward.

HARRIS: This is one of the costumes that got destroyed.

CALLEBS: The Mardi Gras Indians say they lost their expensive costumes -- they call suits -- in the aftermath of the storm. That means using needle, thread and patience to re-create the outfits.

HARRIS: We're coming back. No wind, no rain, no storm, will keep me away from this home. Or, keep the exotic parade from going on ...

CALLEBS: The roots of the celebration go back, well over a century. Separated by racism and slavery from other Mardi Gras celebrations, African-Americans found a way to honor their heritage - and at the same time embrace Native American culture. There is a certain mystery to the origin of the Indians. Wayne Phillips is a Curator at the Louisiana State Museum.

WAYNE PHILLIPS, CURATOR, LOUISIANA STATE MUSEUM: In the antebellum era, many runaway slaves found refuge with the Native Americans throughout the South and that forged something of a bond...or at least an influence.

CALLEBS: Unlike other parades - with Krewes that follow specific routes - the Mardi Gras Indians have no pre-determined path, staying mainly in their own neighborhoods.

LEWIS COLLINS, MARDI GRAS INDIAN: It's a day of expression and giving honor, because that's the day we honor our ancestors.

CALLEBS: A day, they say, to remember history, revel in art, music,and free expression...and this year, a chance to tell the world this city won't buckle in the face of disaster.

HARRIS: There's no other place, like New Orleans.

CALLEBS: Sean Callebs, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Clack History Month: Maya Angelou

DEANNA MORAWSKI, CNN REPORTER: Maya Angelou is an American author, poet and playwright. She was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928 and spent much of her childhood in rural Stamps, Arkansas. In 1940, she moved to San Francisco to live with her mother. While working there as a dancer, she assumed her professional name, Maya Angelou. Angelou headed to New York City in the late 50's and found encouragement for her literary talents at the Harlem Writers' Guild. She moved to Cairo, Egypt in 1961 and worked for the Arab Observer before becoming a feature editor on The African Review in Ghana. Her screenplay "Georgia, Georgia" was produced in 1972, making her the first African-American woman to have a feature film adapted from one of her own stories. Angelou is best known for her autobiographical books, including "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings," but she's also written and produced several prize-winning documentaries and has been a Tony Award nominee. In 1993, Angelou composed and read a poem for President Clinton's inauguration. She's currently of professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. Honoring Maya Angelou, this Black History Month.

Mardi Gras Ruins

COOK: East of New Orleans, a Mississippi town called Waveland also suffered significant damage from Hurricane Katrina. But a theme you keep hearing from the Gulf Coast is one of determination. As Kathleen Koch tells us, a Waveland Mardi Gras krewe is resolved to return to the New Orleans celebration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN REPORTER: They sparkle in the mounds of broken debris, dangle like macabre decorations - Mardi Gras beads - tossed by Katrina. The revelers who first threw those beads found the hurricane left their floats in ruins too.

CINDY MEYER, NEREIDS FLOAT KREWE MEMBER: It was a huge tin building. All the floats lived inside.

KOCH: But Waveland, Mississippi's all-female krewe called Nereids was determined.

MEYER: We all have boxers' knuckles this year. We used paint scrapers, and literally scraped all of the fabric that was left.

KOCH: Cindy Meyer and a dozen other women spent two months repairing the wood and fabric floats for last weekend's parade.

MEYER: I never thought for a minute we weren't going to be out there. We needed to be with our community. We needed to give them something besides FEMA and the battles you do everyday. You needed to get away from that if it's just for an afternoon.

KOCH: There is a lot to escape from.

MEYER: Just like everyone on the krewe, we had Mardi Gras rooms.

KOCH: Meyer had 10 feet of water in her house.

CINDY MEYER: It was like a snowglobe inside my home. Like someone just picked up my house and shook it.

KOCH: Ruined in the process... her husband's Mardi Gras finery.

MEYER: This is a mess. Yes. I mean, these were what? Feathers? Big beautiful plumes.

TOMMY KIDD: We didn't know we had anything left until we got up here to check this out.

KOCH: But the Nereids Krewe's Mardi Gras mementos are intact - in at least one home.

TOMMY KIDD: We collected, or tried to collect, every poster from each year.

KOCH: Tommy and Linda Kidd's lower levels were ruined - but their Mardi Gras room made it through.

KOCH: You're probably one of the only people in the krewe who has this sort of memorabilia left.

TOMMY KIDD: I could well be, I could well be.

KOCH: The Kidds want to share their memorabilia... hoping posters can be copied.

LINDA KIDD: I believe what I'll do is probably donate these.

KOCH: Turning over costumes to be preserved for posterity. But for now, this Mardi Gras Krewe has no where to put anything.

MEYER: The insurance was not enough to rebuild our building. So the babies are going to have to be out here for a while. It's who we are. So, it'll be back.

KOCH: Kathleen Koch, CNN, Waveland, Mississippi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Goodbye

COOK: We're leaving you with a special portrait of New Orleans' devastation and determination. To see more, check us out online, where you'll get to watch the entire story. This is the Big Easy, through the lenses of Harold Baquet and David Gallent, accompanied by the voices of "The Blind Boys of Alabama."

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