Called to Sankofa

Leading In, Through and Beyond Disaster—A Narrative Account of African Americans Leading Education in Post-Katrina New Orleans

by Tammie M. Causey-Konaté (Volume editor) Margaret Montgomery-Richard (Volume editor)
©2018 Textbook XXVIII, 126 Pages


Called to Sankofa is a collection of Hurricane Katrina survival stories by African American education leaders in New Orleans. It draws upon the West African concept, Sankofa, which loosely translates to "return to the source and fetch." The griots, through their stories, fetch salvageable and knowledge-laden valuables linked to their resilience and rebuilding efforts. Thus, the Sankofa concept serves as a lens for examining leadership in the aftermath of disaster; it serves as an intense magnifier and illuminator of lessons considered relevant and profoundly valuable to guide one’s understanding of how to lead in, through and beyond disaster. Past experiences yield teachable moments. The lessons excerpted from these moments reveal the sources from which the leaders draw the resilience to recover from trauma, the vision to guide others, the courage to challenge the status quo, the imagination to make a way where there is none and the stamina to press beyond peril toward an unpromised future.
Called to Sankofa rejects the assumption that "all was broken" in education—either before or due to Katrina, and through the storytellers, we are reminded that to rebuild things better than before, one must take stock of, extract meaning from and be guided by what constituted the "before." Hence, Called to Sankofa documents the leaders’ acts of resilience, optimism, strength, passion and resolve and details the support structures and sources of inspiration that enabled within them the capacity to adapt to the chaotic and uncertain environments and to be moved to action and leadership.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Called to Sankofa
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword: Mending a City of Broken Hearts and Lost Treasures (Norman C. Francis)
  • Preface (Tammie M. Causey-Konaté)
  • Chapter One: Efforts to Return to Normalcy: Lessons Learned and Value Added in the Aftermath of Katrina (Matthew Causey)
  • Chapter Two: Sankofa Crossing: To Katrina and Back (Tammie M. Causey-Konaté)
  • Chapter Three: Leading In, Through and Beyond Disaster: An African American Woman’s Account of Leadership Pre- and Post-Katrina (Margaret Montgomery-Richard)
  • Chapter Four: Beyond Disaster: The Journey of an African-American Woman’s Leadership Experience at a Two-Year Postsecondary Institution and a Historically Black University (Toya Barnes-Teamer)
  • Chapter Five: Orleans Parish School Board Politics and Policy Post-Katrina (Torin T. Sanders)
  • Chapter Six: A Community of Survivors (Darlene Morgan Brown)
  • Chapter Seven: When Absence Is Sufficient (Elenora Mackey Cushenberry)
  • Afterword: A Storm by Any Other Name (Tammie M. Causey-Konaté)
  • About the Editors
  • About the Contributors
  • Series index

← vi | vii →


Mending a City of Broken Hearts and Lost Treasures



What happened to New Orleans represents the greatest disaster
this country has ever had. That we were able to come back in such a short period of time
is a credit to the faith, commitment and passion of our staff and faculty, who put aside their personal losses and problems
to make this miracle happen.


As I revisit Called to Sankofa, I am reminded of the words of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ (1974) A Streetcar Named Desire: “Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour, but a little piece of eternity dropped into our hands—and who knows what to do with it?” (p. 83). I am re-experiencing Hurricane Katrina as “…a bit of eternity” (p. 83) dropped into my hands. The angst, the urgency and uncertainty, the loss and longing, and yes, the hope that defined Katrina emerge as timeless in that disasters are a constant presence and will continue to occur, whether here or in other parts of the world. So too are the lessons of Katrina, in that a major experience defining the human condition is grappling with the terrible toll of disasters.

These Sankofa narratives serve as an exhibition of the human condition, defined with clarity and complexity by the cadre of New Orleans first-responder leaders in education, who are the authors of the stories in this volume. In recounting their lived experiences, they have managed to re-present the perpetuity of Katrina’s manifold lessons. Intriguingly, these stories summon us to revisit the past, excavate its lessons, and see those lessons as remedies for healing broken ← vii | viii → hearts and lost treasures and as endowments and implements for navigating what lies ahead.

For more than forty years, I had the honor and privilege of serving Xavier University—the nation’s only historically Black and Catholic university—in, through, and beyond challenging times. During my tenure at Xavier, we experienced many ebbs and flows; none of those prepared us for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As the fall semester of 2005 began, the university was in the best shape ever. The semester’s enrollment was at an all-time high; Xavier had been recognized by The Princeton Review and the US News and World Report as one of the nation’s best institutions for undergraduate/graduate education, particularly in STEM curricula fields. Then on August 29, 2005, along came Hurricane Katrina. She devastated the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi and tested leaders at every level across the entire region.

Katrina left her mark on Xavier University—as she did so many other educational institutions. The entire campus suffered extensive damage. The first floor of every building on campus was deluged by floodwater. The impact of the storm and its aftershock reverberated across the city, state, and region—challenging leadership collectively and individually. During this time, I met frequently with local and state elected officials and leaders of various higher education institutions, systems, and government agencies regarding the rebuilding of New Orleans. Every leader’s vision, passion, decision-making, character, strength, resilience, and courage were tried. At times, even the most experienced leaders paused and questioned their ability to lead. Yet, these leaders served as first responders.

On January 17, 2006, after five months of intensive cleanup and reconstruction, with FEMA trailer parks still on campus, I made the decision to have Xavier University reopen its doors. I often joke that my decision to reopen the university in five short months would be recorded in history either as naïve and stupid or bold and visionary. Nevertheless, I was determined to see the university rebound. Today, I am proud to say Xavier University has more than recovered, with not only refurbished buildings but also with several newly constructed facilities, including a chapel. I am grateful for the collective strength and leadership demonstrated by Xavier University staff, faculty, students, and board.

Writing this foreword more than ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding region created an opportunity for me to experience the disaster anew from the perspective of other first responder leaders. This work guided my reflection of not only the educational enterprise as a whole—from Pre-K to postsecondary education—but of humans being, in preparation for, during, and following a crisis. The stories shared and the lessons learned by the leaders highlighted here both affirm and dispute perceptions held by many about disaster preparedness and recovery, in general, and about the great city of New Orleans, its residents, and leaders influencing education in this metropolitan area. ← viii | ix → We were determined to seize the circumstances of a disaster to rebuild New Orleans—not back simply to where we were pre-Katrina, rather where we needed to be post Katrina and beyond. We wanted to be visionaries for a new beginning based on a faith and passion to bring peace and justice to everyone.

This work offers a multiplicity of perspectives and views. Moreover, it captures the manner in which leaders exercise their leadership in a range of settings—from complex state agencies to smaller colleges and universities, to the elected office, and to the church and the home. The breadth of experiences shared here reflect the ways in which people lead through a disaster and illustrate and illuminate what provides for resilience in the face of disaster. The narratives crystallize the intersection between the professional and personal and the tension between the call to duty to one’s organizational home and the call to duty to one’s family, between the legal obligation to one’s institution and the moral obligation to one’s family. These accounts of leadership lay bare the ways in which leaders navigate those competing claims on their time, energy, and headship.

While some of the narratives speak to the authors’ official roles as leaders and their reflections on leadership before, during, and after a disaster, others speak more profoundly about the personal and spiritual journey that unfolded for them leading up to and following the disaster. In all cases, the stories offer us a compelling vision of what it means to be a leader. They extend the discourse on leadership beyond words and translate leadership into specific and tangible actions colored with humanity, conflict, and choice.

Matthew Causey, former associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern University at New Orleans, in his chapter titled Efforts to Return to Normalcy: Lessons Learned and Value Added in the Aftermath of Katrina, gives us a solid overview of the broad issues faced by New Orleans related to disaster, preparation, and recovery; more specifically, he speaks to contextual considerations, including geography, culture, and public policies at the federal, state, and city level, that acted as barriers during the execution of plans for disaster preparedness and disaster recovery. Causey also speaks to a number of the personal decisions educational leaders had to make given the inadequacy of existing structures and policies.

Similarly, Margaret Montgomery-Richard, the first African American female Chancellor of Louisiana Technical College (LTC) and Toya Barnes Teamer, a former district vice-president in the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) respectively, speak to the sweeping state bureaucracies, policies, and procedures that had a major impact on the entirety of state systems and leaders. New Orleans was the hardest hit area, but communities and systems across the state were affected as well. In their chapters, Montgomery-Richard and Barnes Teamer illuminate how people in leadership positions in those state systems had to think beyond their individual concerns and act for the good of the larger whole. Both of these authors share their perspectives as women of color in leadership and ← ix | x → reflect on how they dealt with disaster-related challenges sometimes heightened by nuances of race or gender, if not both.


ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXVIII, 126 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Tammie M. Causey-Konaté (Volume editor) Margaret Montgomery-Richard (Volume editor)

Tammie M. Causey-Konate is Deputy Director of the Southeast Comprehensive Center and a Senior Technical Assistant Consultant at American Institutes for Research. Previously, she served as a tenured associate professor of educational administration at the University of New Orleans where she earned her Ph.D. Margaret Montgomery-Richard is principal of DMM & Associates, LLC, a Louisiana-based organization that specializes in the delivery of technical assistance and other services at the local level. This former Chancellor of the Louisana Technical College earned her Ph.D. in educational administration at the University of New Orleans.


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156 pages