Among the glitz and glamour of the Emmys Sunday night, the highlight for me was George Clooney's intelligent acceptance speech
for his humanitarian award. Named after Bob Hope, who brought comic relief to American troops in wartime, the award honors those who harness the power of television to do good. Clooney, not just a pretty face, has used both television and stardom to bring attention and raise money for victims around the world, from Darfur to Haiti.
A self-effacing kind of movie star, Clooney hardly basked in the accolades. Instead, he took the opportunity during the Emmys to remind viewers – and his very wealthy live audience at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles – that they should be thoughtful in their charitable giving and not forget "these heartbreaking situations that continue to be heartbreaking long after the cameras go away."
A couple of months ago, when I went back to New Orleans as an environmental reporter for the New York Times to cover the oil spill, I was surprised to see the ravages of Hurricane Katrina still so obvious and fresh. Whole blocks of boarded-up houses. Residents just getting back to their rebuilt homes. Mental-health clinics overwhelmed with cases of oil spill-related depression while tending to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome cases from the hurricane.
Some Louisiana families, in fact, still suffer from what one counselor referred to as "FEMA trailer mentality" and had trouble moving back to their rebuilt homes or getting the kids to sleep in their own rooms. One resident, the counselor said, didn't move back to her renovated house for more than a month because she said she couldn't bear not seeing a picture of her deceased grandmother on the mantle. The picture, just like the rest of her belongings, had disappeared in the flood. A family with children who were 13, 9 and 5 years old couldn't get used to bigger space, so "at night it was five in the bedroom," the counselor said. "They were so close together for so long."
The community mental-health center where the counselor worked, of course, hardly had adequate funding to keep up with the cumulative damage.
But Katrina, another Clooney cause, has long been gone from the public's radar, replaced by many other emergencies that eat up crisis money. That's why Clooney's message was so relevant. As we give, he was saying, we should revisit old cases. "Keep the spotlight burning," he said.
In other words, our generosity should help completely heal old wounds.