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July 21st, 2010
09:53 AM ET

Letter to the President #548: 'Welcome to Waveland'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Pres. Obama, Come down to Waveland in private, and see how a government and its people really can work together

Dear Pres. Obama, Come down to Waveland in private, and see how a government and its people really can work together

Reporter's Note: I suppose I should send a postcard from Waveland, Mississippi, because it’s the prettiest place I’ve seen in a long time.

Dear Mr. President,

Sometimes even battle scarred reporters meet people who change the way they see the world, and I have to tell you I have found them in Waveland, Mississippi, this week. Waveland, as you no doubt recall, was picked up, chewed, and spit out by Hurricane Katrina. All of the town’s businesses were lost, almost all of its homes, and the residents scattered like leaves across the nation.

But as we approach the anniversary of that horrible storm, I am happy to report Waveland is still steadily coming back on the unbreakable and remarkable tenacity of its leaders, its citizens, and good people from all around who have taken an interest in their cause.

I met a man, for example, down at the Civic Center (which was one of the first buildings restored after the storm) busily tending to the unending details of recovery. He seemed relentlessly busy: Taking calls, talking to people, making decisions about contracts, and regulations, and all manner of important things. And yet, while we talked, he went around the room straightening chairs and nameplates, dusting ledges, making sure windows were properly closed.

We walked down a street with a few of his children, and as he saw a bottle on the ground he instantly asked one of them to pick it up. She did so with the same natural sense of community service that her father exuded at every moment. Not once did he seem to be self-important or posing; but rather he appeared to be purely a man doing difficult work day after day because it needs to be done; because his neighbors need him to. His name is Tommy Longo, and he’s the mayor. No kidding; a politician and one of the most impressive men I’ve met in a long time. He made me want to live in his town.

But he wasn’t alone. There was the tireless woman named Tish who answered our every call instantly, putting us in touch with survivors and rebuilders and librarians and church leaders and pretty much anyone we needed. There was a church volunteer named Beth who is helping revive a youth group. There was Caroline; only 16 but like so many of her friends standing ready to take up the reins any adult hands to them so that they too can do their part. And there were so many others.

Tonight I stood on the shore watching the light fade on some distant clouds as the sun went down. Behind me, still ravaged trees loomed over still vacant lots. Before me, some untold amount of oil looms. I know, and the people of Waveland know, that they are traveling an exhaustingly long road to the better days they all crave. But this week they showed me why they will absolutely make it; because they are carrying each other.

Come down again. But leave the press, leave your aides, leave everyone behind. Come down in private, and see how a government and its people really can work together.

Regards,
Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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