Kweku Nyaawie grew up in Central Texas based mostly out of Austin. A carpenter and cabinet maker, he came to New Orleans with his brother to help out with reconstruction of homes damaged by the Federal Flood in late 2005. He saw the destruction first hand and continued to work and save his money. At some point he decided to stay. He wanted to contribute to the community, buy a house, make it a home not a speculation project and found the shotgun at 616 Port Street. It needed work, but he knew he was the guy who could do it. He looked for period architectural pieces, was painstaking in his research, checked the history of the house, delighted in knowing that he'd be the one to restore this little bit of New Orleans history with the added bonus of living in it.
He got involved with the Community Garden Project in Treme and put his money and time into fixing the house. Long after the Poor Clares, the house had been purchased by a Mr. Frisbe, who lived there with his partner from 1977 until he passed away. His partner continued to live there until the storm. Kweku, or Ku as we all call him, bought it already needing repair in 2008. He loved working on the house and loved that it was exactly 100 years older than he was. When we moved here we knew him to say hello but never saw him because he was always at the Garden or working on that house.
Then came the summer of 2010. As Ku was riding his bicycle on Dumaine Street in the Sixth Ward, a black sedan hit him. Hard. Knocked completely off the bike, he watched as the car sped away without even checking to see if Ku was alright. He headed to his girlfriend's house battered, bruised and scratched badly. He didn't go to the ER as he thought he was just healing from some bad road rash and deep bruises. Knowing him now, my guess is that he also figured he'd just tough it out and he'd be fine. Weeks went by. His back still hurt. Months went by. His back still hurt. Then in December 2010 he realized that his legs wouldn't quite support his 6'3” frame. He headed off to the doctor but realized that he couldn't get the help he'd need here in New Orleans, he couldn't work so money was also an issue (given that the bastard who hit him took off, there was no insurance money coming in to help with medical bills), so he made the decision to move back to Austin and his family. Those of us who knew him were worried as we didn't hear from him.
He was busy. He spent nearly 14 months in therapy and is still on crutches with his legs still unable to support him. Although he's the most positive attitude guy in the world, he's also a proud man and a man who loves his house. He is unfortunately learning the lesson many of us learned after the storm: sometimes you gotta ask for help.
A few weeks ago he got a letter from the City. A hearing. Blight. Neighbors complaining. (We're neighbors, we couldn't figure out who would complain knowing how hard he'd worked and knowing what had happened to him.) At the hearing it was discovered that one complaint had come from a doctor (a DOCTOR? Wouldn't he know how devastatingly long spinal cord injuries can take to heal?) because some vines had overgrown the fence and were interfering with his backyard garden. (This doctor is also the owner of a lot of property on our block.) Evidently Ku's next door neighbor, an absentee homeowner and an attorney who lives in the house intermittently, wanted Ku's house demolished. Ku was given a list of things that had to be fixed or a $500 a day fine would be levied.(Although he wouldn't probably bring it up, he's one of only 2 black property owners on the four sides of this block, and some of us, though not Ku, can't help but wonder if that's a part of these complaints.)
Ku sat in an office chair for a week sanding the front of the house in order to get it ready for painting. Stand across from it and you can see how far the outer limit of his reach is, which frankly from a desk chair is impressive. Today he's working on the bricks that front the house from the sidewalk to the base of the house. Siding needs to be replaced for sure. His brother had been able to help for a while, but we heard he recently got a job so he's on his own for the moment and his next hearing is a week from today.
I am asking anyone out there who can help, who can climb a ladder, sand, paint, write a letter, anything that can toss a road block into the $500 buck a day fine that he can't afford, to get in touch.Read more here. The go-to email for NOLA Slate is email@example.com.