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MSNBC's Ed Schultz returns to scene of post-Katrina relief airlift on Astini News

It's the time of year when locals share Hurricane Katrina evacuation stories, and the McKenzie family has a beauty, thanks to MSNBC prime-time host Ed Schultz. Schultz will be in town to host a free medical clinic Monday (August 29), and preside over a live remote broadcast of his cable-news show.

But his relief efforts immediately post-Katrina relocated the 9th Ward's Larry and Yolanda McKenzie and their college-age daughter Brittany to a land where snowballs are much less flavorful.

With their New Orleans home flooded and immediate prospects looking grim, the McKenzies had made their way to temporary shelter at a church near Gulfport, Miss., when someone there walked into a roomful of evacuees and asked, "Does anybody here want to go to Fargo?"

As in North Dakota. Larry said yes.

"I was just looking for some stability and some normalcy," he said during a recent interview.

A bus mechanic at home, Larry McKenzie was placed in a job, and his family was found an apartment. To ensure only a minor interruption in her education, daughter Brittany, at the time a University of New Orleans student aiming for a career in medicine, was enrolled at North Dakota State.

When Katrina struck and the levees failed, Schultz was hosting his daily syndicated radio show from his North Dakota base. He watched, like everyone else, coverage of New Orleans flooding and Gulf Coast devastation, and felt he had to act.

His listeners began building a relief fund, which would eventually top $100,000. Schultz headed down, to both broadcast his show live from the scene and serve as a witness.

"It was total devastation," Schultz said in a recent interview. "You got the feeling, 'How in the world will these people ever get back on their feet?' It seemed like such a heavy lift at the time.

"We knew we couldn't help everybody. But we knew that if we could help a few people and change a few lives, it would be worth it."

The first airlift moved a total of eight people, including the McKenzies, to Fargo. Eventually, 20 in all would be temporarily relocated and cared for.

Schultz joined MSNBC's prime time lineup in October 2009. "The Ed Show" will originate from New Orleans at 9 p.m. Monday. Clinic details:

Did Schultz's evacuees experience some culture clash? Sure. (We, and our emergency hosts in reciprocity, all did.)

But they also got a big dose of the normalcy that Larry McKenzie was yearning for.

Normalcy, Fargo-style.

"They had ice storms," said Brittany McKenzie. "There was snow from October until April. It was extremely cold, like bone-chilling."

Today, though, the family's memories of their Fargo airlift are all about warmth.

Brittany is back in a Louisiana school, Our Lady of the Lake College in Baton Rouge, with plans to become a podiatrist. (She's volunteered to help out at Monday's clinic.)

Larry is back fixing buses in New Orleans.

But there was a day, six years and a few days ago, when a homeless, flooded-out New Orleans family landed nearly 1,500 miles away from home to be met by a large welcoming committee of total strangers.

"Several hundred people met that jet at the Fargo airport," Schultz said. "I just felt moved. At that point, I knew we were doing the right thing."

"They understood what had happened," Larry McKenzie said. "And they reached out."

Dave Walker can be reached at or 504.826.3429. Read more TV coverage at Follow him at

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