The path toward creating NOLArize! all started with a Spanish assignment.

A little over two and a half years ago, Marissa Davis, in her sophomore year at Swarthmore College, had the task of summarizing a current events article and then presenting it to her class in Spanish. Unbeknownst to her, Katrina and the breeching of the levees had devastated New Orleans only two days before. As she perused different online news sources and sifted through various articles on the tragic event, she was overcome with emotions of sadness, anger, and disbelief. Before her eyes unfolded a story of a people, forgotten by their government, the majority of whom were of a low economic status and identified as African American. While the media characterized the victims as "refugees" and "looters," she saw humanity suffering.

After the government had taken five days to respond to the needs of several thousands of its citizens in New Orleans, it was clear that whatever Marissa’s following actions would be, it would be one that involved addressing the injustice she had witnessed. She was determined to transform her emotionally charged response into passionate action, not because the victims were black, white, rich or poor, but because they were fellow human beings in need of a helping hand.

That passionate action first manifested itself through her first efforts as the Katrina Direct Relief Committee Chair, an ad-hoc organization created on Swarthmore College's campus one week after Katrina, to respond to the most immediate needs of the people in New Orleans. Through this committee, and generous financial support from the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, the college's hub for student-led community activism and social action, she planned the college's first student trip to New Orleans during the Winter Break of 2005.

It was four months after Katrina, yet upon arriving there, it seemed as though Katrina had ravished the city just a day earlier. After the week had ended, she left with deeper feelings of sadness and anger. Yet she remained hopeful in the city's recovery because through the spirit of the people of New Orleans and their determination to return home, she could she could envision the light at the end of the tunnel with them. It was that feeling of hope that led her to continue her efforts on campus, but next time, with a greater vision and a deeper focus on engaging with communities in New Orleans.

As each semester progressed, she planned more week-long trips to New Orleans, with continued support from her college, generating a greater interest from students, faculty, and her college's administration. While the focus at the time of the first few trips was focused on short-term relief, primarily gutting homes and coordinating food drives, she had become increasingly invested in initiating more long-term initiatives. The following summer in 2006, she accepted an offer to be a Dean at a summer camp in New Orleans for the city's youth between grades 5 and 8. The ten-week long program was nothing short of intense and challenging, but the experience gave her the impetus to continue efforts on campus with a greater vigor and determination. By this time, numerous efforts focused on New Orleans had been initiated on campus, but she continued with the vision of engaging herself and the campus community with specific communities in New Orleans.

2007 marked the year that Marissa and numerous other Swarthmore students began their efforts with a specific community, the Cutoff community on the Westbank of New Orleans in Lower Algiers. She had learned of the youth and Manager of the Cutoff Community Center, Carlette Washington, through her work with the summer camp the year before, and was encouraged to begin forming a relationship with the community. The first initiative was the Cutoff Comeback Project in the spring of 2007, which consisted of 18 students from Swarthmore who conceptualized and executed a successful week-long program of after-school tutoring sessions, arts and crafts workshops, and African Dance and Hip-hop Dance workshops at the community center.

While the first day of the program only attracted about 8 youth in the community, by the end of the week, parents and youth alike had learned of the Swarthmore students' efforts and had spread the word about the "new and fun" after-school program at the Cutoff. By the last day of the program, over 30 youth were present, only confirming to Marissa and other Swarthmore students that their work in New Orleans was not only appreciated, but welcomed. They knew from that point on, their work in New Orleans was far from over.

It was out of this trip that Marissa joined forces with five other like-minded students: Mara Phelan, Nabta Idries, Marsha-Gail Davis, Kylah Field, and John Boucard, who were committed to taking Marissa's efforts in New Orleans to the next level. It was through the mobilization of these six Swarthmore students that the organization and movement we now call NOLArize! was born. Since its founding in the fall of 2007, NOLArize! has remained committed to fulfilling its two-fold mission.