New Orleans children now call Natchez home

Published 12:05 am Sunday, August 29, 2010

NATCHEZ — Sporting an “N.O.” flat-billed cap, Robert Lewis Middle School seventh-grade student Rickey Wilson said he misses his hometown, but at least he gets a chance to visit New Orleans often.

Ricakey, 13, and his sister Fabianne, 12, settled in Natchez in October 2005 after evacuating to Crystal Springs and Lafayette, La., to escape the floodwaters of their house in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward.

Fabianne, who was 7 years old when Katrina struck, said she adjusted smoothly to the move to Natchez.

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The transition was not as easy for her brother, who was 8 years old at the time, according to Rickey.

Rickey said he failed third grade his first year at a Natchez school because of the trauma and change he went through that year.

“Katrina messed with my head. When everything happened — I forgot everything,” he said.

“I was scared because I thought another hurricane would come. I thought the world was going to end or something. I didn’t even know what a hurricane was,” Rickey said.

The children’s mother, Chantill Wilson, said Rickey and Fabianne evacuated with their father to Crystal Springs three days before the levees broke.

Their mother was not as lucky.

A stranger’s boat transported Chantill from her apartment east of New Orleans and brought her near the University of New Orleans campus. A helicopter then moved her to the Armstrong International Airport where she boarded a plane for San Antonio.

Chantill was not able to meet up with her children, who were now with their father in Lafayette until October, due to Hurricane Rita.

At that point they moved to Natchez and stayed with the cousins of her boyfriend, Troy Ford, before eventually settling down at their house on Arlington Avenue.

Chantill said she lost everything in her second-floor apartment except her mother’s Bible and a large framed piece of art. Her brother broke through the ceiling to escape onto the roof, so the contents of her house that were not flooded with more than two feet of water were rained on.

Both Rickey and Fabianne miss the hustle and bustle of the Big Easy and find Natchez slow-moving, but Rickey offered one thing that makes Natchez better than New Orleans.

“The killings,” Rickey said.

“The crime rate is lower,” his mother clarified.

The children’s father, also named Rickey Wilson, started a youth outreach program called Rickey’s Save the Youth Team in New Orleans. The nonprofit aims to motivate young people by engaging in activities and community service to help cater to its mission to stop gun violence among young, black men.

Rickey and Fabianne enjoy participating in the organization when they visit their father in New Orleans.

Rickey said he likes his friends in Natchez as much as his friends from New Orleans, but there are differences.

“They’re country. They’re like, ‘We’re gonna ride our horses in Sibley,’” Rickey said in a southern drawl.

Fabianne said pointing out the differences goes both ways, because her Natchez friends make her say certain words that reveal her New Orleans twang.

“They tell me to say, ‘C’mon, baby,’” Fabianne said.

Chantill, Rickey and Fabianne said another advantage of their new hometown is the schools in Natchez are better than schools in New Orleans. And the children’s grades have improved since moving to Natchez.

Fabianne’s favorite class is career discovery. She already knows she wants to be a lawyer.

“I love reading. I read at a 10th-grade level,” Rickey said.

Rickey and Fabianne received recognition for receiving some of the highest scores of the statewide achievement test, their mother said.

Thankfully for Rickey and Fabianne, they still spend plenty of time in New Orleans with their father when they have summer and holiday breaks.

Rickey and Fabianne listed other things they missed about New Orleans.

“Gumbo,” Rickey said.

Fabianne rattled off, “Crab stew, crawfish, shrimp, green beans and corn.”

Chantill said she expects Rickey and Fabianne to go through high school in Natchez.

“We’re settled,” she said.