Among the noteworthy people featured in the book is Malik, a former Black-Panther-turned-volunteer organizer, who founded a group called Common Ground Collective that recruited thousands of college students and brought them down to New Orleans to help rebuild communities. Common Ground also was instrumental in exposing questionable police shootings in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (featured in the Frontline special aired on PBS, “Law and Disorder”).
Brandon, Malik’s chief negotiator and aide de camp, is an athletic, white 28-year-old Texan who often waxes revolutionary by railing against the government, but who later turns coat and becomes a snitch for the FBI. Pastor Mel is a former addict who selflessly ministers, round the clock, to an ever-growing flock of ex-addicts and homeless in his Gentilly neighborhood. Mike is a white resident of St. Bernard Parish who used to fly a Confederate flag on his front lawn, but who transforms within the pages of the book into a sympathetic pillar of the community.
And Carolyn (the central figure in the complementary documentary film that Wolff produced and that Academy Award-winner Jonathan Demme directed for PBS’ POV, "I’m Carol Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful," coming September 20, 2012), who overcomes endless obstacles – from losing her insurance money to an unscrupulous contractor to living in a toxic FEMA trailer for five years to almost dying during surgery to repair both knees – before finally getting her home and family back into working order. These people, authentic and guileless and heroic all, mince no words in expressing their thoughts and feelings from start (January 2006) to finish (October 2011).