The Unmasking of New Orleans (Final Call Documentary)
It was bad enough that Jason Williams (name changed) had witnessed Hurricane Katrina. Now, he was in the Superdome with others who had lost everything. But the worst wasn’t over yet.
While in the Superdome, he witnessed some of the criminal activity the news had reported, such as robberies and assaults. It was a nightmare that he wanted to end.
Fast forward to Chattanooga, Tenn., to the relief center where Mr. Williams was flown to from New Orleans. A place to rest and recuperate (or that’s what he thought) until he heard some men saying, “Wasn’t he at the Superdome? Didn’t he see what we did?”
That’s when Mr. Williams met Dr. Rozario Slack, pastor of Temple of Faith Deliverance Church of God in Christ.
“He told me the very men he had seen involved in criminal activity in the Superdome were now at the relief center with him, had recognized him and were planning his demise. We had to get him out of there,” Dr. Slack explained to The Final Call. “So we smuggled him out and put him on the next Greyhound to parts unknown.”
That’s just one example of the countless heroic efforts undertaken by ordinary citizens across the country that decided to step up and help the victims of Katrina.
“These are my people,” stressed Dr. Slack. “I have to do something to help them.”
His church gathered clothing and bought airline tickets to reunite families.
“We organized the congregation to donate their frequent flyer miles to provide tickets so families could be reunited,” he said.
Houston has become one of, if not the, largest second home for victims of Katrina who can now be found in 48 states. Many went from the Superdome in New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston.
One of the many unsung heroes in Houston is ACTION CDC (Accepting Challenges to Improve Our Nation Community Development Corporation). What started as a simple clothing drive and food program has turned into a comprehensive program that provides case management for 500 families.
“We provide home visits, counseling, mental health services and health care,” explained Eric Muhammad, ACTION’s director of Health and Human Services. “We provide the resources to help these people gain their self-sufficiency.”
“The transition from New Orleans to Houston has not been easy for them. This is the fourth largest city in America. They reside in far out Houston, that doesn’t have access to public transportation,” he explained. “That means no bus lines, so they can’t access the resources as readily that they need.”
The problems are further complicated because they are not around their family members.
“We see many families suffering from being away from home. Further, they are here with the stigma of coming from the murder capital of the world,” Mr. Muhammad remarked. “They are lonely, frustrated and have health problems. They are lonely for the way of life they knew. This is Houston and we’re very different from New Orleans.”
The goals of ACTION, founded in 2000 by Nation of Islam Southwest Regional Minister Robert Muhammad, are to develop programs that meet the needs of people in five different areas: Education, Health and Human Services, Affordable Housing, Economic Development and Arts and Culture.
“The response to our work has been awesome. We’re treating disaster issues while also treating pre-disaster problems,” Mr. Muhammad explained.
The group partnered with the New Black Panther Party and National Black United Front to secure a large grant from Katrina Aid Today to do this work. It also received $50,000 from Islamic Relief to fund its feeding program.
The stories of unsung heroes are numerous. Consider the families that took in relatives in spite of the fact of limited space; the people who drove to the area to rescue families that they did not know; the volunteers who left the comfort of their home to aid the needy in the Gulf Coast area; and the students from colleges and universities who spent their spring break, not on the beach sunning and funning, but providing much needed assistance to the Gulf Coast.
The Final Call salutes your efforts.