SLAM: What part of New Orleans are you from?
Kelly Oubre: From when I was a baby, we lived in the Magnolia Projects. It isn’t the nicest place in the city to live. That’s where all the crime was happening. Then we moved. Still Uptown, but it was more of an older crowd. Then when I was about 7 years old, we moved to the East. The East is a nicer area of the city. You got a lot of the rappers and celebrities living in Eastover—I lived about 10 minutes from them. I felt like we had made it at that point. We were living solid, in a nice house. We were there for two years until I was 9, then that’s when Katrina hit, and that’s when we moved to Houston.
SLAM: How would you describe the culture of New Orleans?
KO: A lot of the culture comes from the inner city. You have a lot of music. You have a lot of people doing second lines just randomly on different days. Just people dancing, good music, random parades. They were shutting down the streets so the people could dance. It was just a good vibe. Every day, it didn’t matter if we were in the murder capital, there was always a good vibe because people always made it a happy place no matter what. The culture, the colors, the Voodoo—people really buy into what New Orleans has to offer because that’s all they know. All we got out there is the culture. That’s the best part about my city.
SLAM: Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters ever. How would you describe it from the lens of a 9-year-old?
KO: It was tough because I had to just sit there and watch and observe a lot of stuff. Watched my dad and my family struggle. After the storm, I couldn’t support them financially. I couldn’t do anything for them other than make sure I was standing by their side. So I had a lot of tearful nights and tearful days, just watching them go through stress, depression and trauma. But I tried to give that emotional support since that was pretty much all I could do back then.
SLAM: What do you recall from the evacuation process?
KO: Actually, we weren’t going to evacuate at all. But then the night before the eye of the storm hit—it was already raining a bit—we decided to hop in the car and pack our bags and get out of there. We drove to Houston that night. I remember sitting in traffic for about eight hours. We just decided to get out of there on a spontaneous decision. We just moved on the fly.
SLAM: Have you been back to your old block to see how it looks now?
KO: We waited about a year to go back. The funny thing is when the storm hit, we had just moved into the new house. It was so brand new that the land was elevated. So none of the flooding really touched our house. But my dad decided to stay in Houston because he saw it as a sign from God and that it would be better for me to grow in a different place and environment.
SLAM: When the massive floods hit Louisiana last summer, you were involved in a relief effort through a t-shirt campaign of yours. What motivated you?
KO: I was just trying to find a way to raise money through fashion and clothes, things I’m very interested in. I just wanted to spread a positive message by letting people know that we’re one community and we have to stick together. I vowed that if anything ever happens to the city or the state of Louisiana, I’ll always be there to help. I’ll be there front and center ready to donate more money.
Photos courtesy of the Oubre family, Action photo via Getty Images