Updated: May 6, 2021
On August 28, 2005, Aisha Bacchus and 46 of her family members packed their suitcases and evacuated the Lower Ninth Ward before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. Having evacuated and returned home several times before during past hurricane seasons, they packed enough clothing for two or three days and believed they would return home within the week. Aisha filled a garbage bag full of memories just to be safe, including pictures, birth certificates, and her marriage license, but in the chaos of getting everyone evacuated, that garbage bag was left on her bed and would wash away with the storm.
The plan was never to end up in Homewood, Alabama. The family typically headed towards Texas when they evacuated, but there were no hotels that could accommodate such a large group. Aisha called hotel after hotel on their journey and finally found 13 rooms available at the Microtel in West Homewood. Within a few days, the family realized Katrina was different than past storms they had weathered, and their planned three-day hotel stay turned into four months.
Aisha’s four boys were also displaced from school, but they received news shortly after evacuating that she could enroll them in Homewood City Schools. “My sons had always attended private school in New Orleans, so we were nervous about enrolling them in Homewood City Schools. But the outpouring from strangers that we met once the boys enrolled at Hall Kent was unbelievable, and the level of education at Homewood was better than private schools back home. We quickly learned that education is taken seriously here, and the teachers and administration did all in their power to get our boys caught up if there were gaps in their learning,” shared Aisha. “People in the community would drop off supplies or invite our kids to play, which helped our family get adjusted. Everyone was so welcoming. Our boys started playing sports, and Homewood began to feel like home.”
The community that the Bacchus family received when they enrolled at Hall Kent really tied them to West Homewood, and the plans to stay just a little longer began to stretch over time. Not all of the 47 family members who traveled to Homewood stayed, but Aisha and her husband Darrin, Sr. found work in the area and began to put down roots in the community that had welcomed them with open arms. They purchased their current home on Drexel Drive in 2009, and now their youngest son Donte’ is a junior at Homewood High School.
Unique and Diverse
“Unique” and “diverse” are two words Aisha used to describe West Homewood multiple times during our conversation. She shared how there are no similarities between West Homewood and her former home in New Orleans. “Homewood is unique because it is a small community that makes getting to know people so easy. The majority of the community lives here and works close by, goes to school and does extracurricular activities together, and attend church with neighbors. When my family comes to visit, they remark how unique this community is because it’s connected and diverse.” The diversity of West Homewood was a characteristic of the community that will always remain a positive memory for Aisha and her family. Being from the Lower Ninth Ward, a predominantly black neighborhood, being embraced by a community of all colors felt special. Aisha shared, “In West Homewood, people are just people. When we first moved here, people of all races came to the Microtel. We would get invited to birthday parties, and no one cared what color we were. We would host activities at our house, and people would come. We know that other black family families have experienced racism in areas around Birmingham, but we never really experienced racism in this community. I’ve actually had to teach my boys about racism and that growing up in West Homewood is different than many other places they will experience.”
An avid sports family, some of Aisha’s favorite memories are playing kickball at Patriot Park and running alongside her sons on the football fields yelling and cheering them on. She recalls being the loudest parent on the field, yet it didn’t matter to the other parents. “Everyone here accepted that I was loud and loved to have fun. They accepted me for who I am, and I could be myself.” Sports was a bonding experience for her family, and her sons have played throughout high school and beyond. Aisha managed the local Hamburger Heaven and spent many nights feeding the entire Homewood Patriots football team.
With only one son remaining at home, Aisha loves how the bond between her four boys remains strong. The siblings are spread out across the country, so FaceTime is a regular occurrence. She attributes their strong bond to the family dinner rule she and her husband Darrin, Sr. set when the boys were little. “Every evening it was tradition that we all came together for dinner without our phones and talked as a family, and this made an impact on our boys,” said Aisha.
Sixteen years ago, the Bacchus family was changed forever when they evacuated New Orleans. Aisha never thought her family would find a better place to call home, but she remarked how ending up in West Homewood was a blessing in disguise. When asked how she has seen West Homewood change over the years, Aisha shared that she feels that the community was more diverse when her family moved here in 2005, and she doesn’t see as many people of color today. She wonders if the rising cost of living has changed these dynamics. Aisha ended our chat by sharing, “The experience my family and I have had in West Homewood may not be the same for all people with brown skin. We were so active and involved in the community and school system, and that may have impacted the way people accepted us. But our reality may not have been the reality of other brown people in West Homewood. I know several families that have left for various reasons, but my hope is that West Homewood will continue to make diversity a priority well into the future.”
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