August 27, 2010

Hurricane Katrina: Five Years Later, And Still We Rise

Hurricane Katrina

By Nsombi Lambright, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.

I can't believe that five years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated Gulf Coast communities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. And although groups and advocates who were experienced in disaster recovery told us that it would take at least ten years to rebuild, I never imagined that five years later, we'd still face the same challenges. The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina; are we celebrating growth and recovery, commemorating a tragedy, or both?

As I viewed the film "Trouble the Water" this week, I was mixed up inside. The ACLU of Mississippi partnered with an organization started by Katrina Survivors who relocated from New Orleans to Jackson, called Rise Above Katrina, to show the film at Tougaloo College, a historically black college in Mississippi. I met the New Orleans natives from Rise Above Katrina and hundreds of others from the Mississippi Gulf Coast immediately after Hurricane Katrina as the ACLU began to monitor the Government's overall response to the disaster as well as the disparities between services provided to white communities and people of color communities. In 2006, the ACLU participated in a U.S. delegation to Geneva to discuss the impact of these disparities to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The ACLU also provided technical and legal assistance to Rise Above Katrina when they were threatened by law enforcement when protesting in front of the American Red Cross offices in Jackson. The group protested the American Red Cross' distribution of disaster relief funds.

As I interacted with Wilma Taylor and LaShawn Traylor and some of the other survivors, I thought about how far they'd come. Wilma is a Gulf Coast Fellow who is starting her own organization to advocate for individuals with disabilities. LaShawn is finishing her education and continuing her ministry. They've moved into new homes, celebrated births.

Life has moved on. They have risen above Katrina. However, there's still a glimpse of sadness remaining in their eyes. It's a sadness that allows you to travel into their bodies and view the pain in their souls. You hear it when they talk about loved ones who didn't make it through the storm. You hear it when they talk about their disappointment in the governments that let them down. The city of New Orleans, which did not provide transportation for people to leave; the state of Louisiana, which brought military and law enforcement in to shoot and arrest survivors; the state of Mississippi, which withheld federal dollars from everyone except homeowners; the city of Jackson, which moved everyone out of the temporary shelter of the coliseum because a Disney show was coming to town; Harrison County, the place that has not rebuilt shelters for the homeless and arrests people for not having a place to rest their heads at night.

The list of disappointments is endless. And still they rise. They rose above the storm to accomplish great things. They rose above the storm with new friends and family who were survivors too. They rose above the storm with a new sense of awareness about the importance of fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. And even though they are still rising, they don't forget; they won't forget; they can't forget. I'll be there with them, rising too; until there is true freedom and justice for all!

[Photo courtesy of Infrogmation]

Civil rights, Equality and Liberty