NEW ORLEANS – Like tens of thousands of others, Hurricane Katrina changed the course of Wendell Pierce’s life.
“If the levees ever broke, the city was going to be in peril,” said the award-winning actor. When that happened, Pierce’s hometown was devastated.
“It looked like Armageddon,” he said, remembering the moments when he first came to his New Orleans’ neighborhood – Ponchartrian Park.
Pierce, who has appeared in nearly 50 films and 40 TV shows, is perhaps best known for his work on HBO’s The Wire.
“The first line of my obituary will be, ‘Wendell Pierce, who was known for playing Bunk Moreland, a detective on ‘The Wire,’ died today at 110,’” Pierce joked.
The artist and activist is also well known for his work on HBO’s “Treme,” a series about artists rebuilding their lives in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Pierce, born and raised in the Big Easy himself, played the salty trombone player Antoine Batiste.
But it’s one of his latest roles that Pierce says was a perfect fit. He’s recently starred in “Brothers from the Bottom,” written by Jackie Alexander, a play about gentrification in New Orleans – an issue he’s passionate about offstage, as well.
“We have to always remember what happens to one part of the city happens to the whole city,” he said. “That’s why it is very dangerous to celebrate the thriving nature of downtown New Orleans or central New Orleans without being upset with other parts of New Orleans coming back.”
After the hurricane ravaged his hometown a decade ago, Pierce went back to the neighborhood he grew up in, to pick up the pieces. What started as a promise to rebuild his parents’ home quickly expanded into a full-blown effort to transform the neighborhood he still calls home. He founded the Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation, a group committed to building 125 affordable, energy efficient homes in the multi-generational neighborhood of mostly black residents.
Recovery after the storm has not been easy. Ten years after Katrina, blighted and abandoned homes still sit next to the new, flood-elevated homes his group built.
But Pierce won’t stop fighting for his city and his community.
“When it's happening to you, it's hard to ignore. I live here. I live in this neighborhood. My parents live here. My friends live here” he said. “It's just a piece of who I am.”