Saturday, September 24, 2005


Each day, I am hearing the good news that my Dillard/New Orleans friends are safe. I received this email from Mona Lisa Saloy, who captures the uniqueness and beauty of New Orleans in her poetry. She is on her way to the University of Washington to await the opening of her "fair Dillard." The book to which she refers in the quote from Ishmael Reed's blurb is entitled "Red Beans and Ricely Yours" scheduled for release this year. I am dancing as I share this email with you because Mona Lisa is safe!!! gwgayles

Gloria, I visited New Olreans on Monday. Ishmael Reed's words ["Mona Lisa's book may well be the last will and testiment of a beautiful city, murdered by stupidity"] are more than on target. My beloved New Orleans is a ghost town, like the abandoned towns of the old west, empty, dead, no grass, nothing growing, no one there. I salvaged a few clothes, some research, my Kaufman books since I'd like to finish that work and get it to a publisher. Everything is ruined, my library, even my clothes--the smell is unimaginable; already I've washed them again and again, hoping to at least recover my jeans and some shirts. Some fine things are in the dry cleaner, and because everything floated around, I couldn't get to my winter coat. All my shoes are gone, my beautiful kitchen and new bedroom. I had just renovated last year. How can we all rebuild at once? At least, in my neighborhood, our old shotgun homes are still standing. In the East, it is more of a war zone with massive damage to most every home and more extensive flooding. It was horrible. I'm exhausted, and trying to get everything in order before flying out on Friday, the 23rd of Sept. I'll get together with my sister Barbara, who lives in Seattle, one great reason to pick that place. I have so much to be thankful for since daily I see so many without jobs or a place to go. God help us all.

Mona Lisa Saloy

Friday, September 23, 2005

No Way Out: Many Poor Stuck in Houston

Wilma Skinner and grandson Dageneral Bellard

No Way Out: Tears, Anger As Some Try to Flee and Many Poor Are Stuck in Houston


The Associated Press

Sep. 22, 2005 - Wilma Skinner would like to scream at the officials of this city. If only someone would pick up their phone.

"I done called for a shelter, I done called for help. There ain't none. No one answers," she said, standing in blistering heat outside a check-cashing store that had just run out of its main commodity. "Everyone just says, 'Get out, get out.' I've got no way of getting out. And now I've got no money."

With Hurricane Rita breathing down Houston's neck, those with cars were stuck in gridlock trying to get out. Those like Skinner poor, and with a broken-down car were simply stuck, and fuming at being abandoned, they say.

"All the banks are closed and I just got off work," said Thomas Visor, holding his sweaty paycheck as he, too, tried to get inside the store, where more than 100 people, all of them black or Hispanic, fretted in line. "This is crazy. How are you supposed to evacuate a hurricane if you don't have money? Answer me that?"

Some of those who did have money, and did try to get out, didn't get very far.

Judie Anderson of La Porte, Texas, covered just 45 miles in 12 hours. She had been on the road since 10 p.m. Wednesday, headed toward Oklahoma, which by Thursday was still very far away.

"This is the worst planning I've ever seen," she said. "They say, 'We've learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina.' Well, you couldn't prove it by me."

On Bellaire Boulevard in southwest Houston, a weeping woman and her young daughter stood on the sidewalk, surrounded by plastic bags full of clothes and blankets. "I'd like to go, but nobody come get me," the woman said in broken English. When asked her name, she looked frightened. "No se, no se," she said: Spanish for "I don't know."

Her daughter, who appeared to be about 9, whispered in English, "We're from Mexico."

For the poor and the disenfranchised, the mighty evacuation orders that preceded Rita were something they could only ignore.

Eddie McKinney, 64, who had no home, no teeth and a torn shirt, stood outside the EZ Pawn shop, drinking a beer under a sign that said, "No Loitering."

"We got no other choice but to stay here. We're homeless and we're broke," he said. "I thought about going to Dallas, but now it's too late. I got no way to get there."

Where will he stay?

"A nice white man gave me a motel room for three days. Just walked up and said, 'Here.' So my buddy and me will stick it out," he said, pointing to another homeless man. "We got a half-gallon of whiskey and a room."

In Deer Park, a working-class suburb of refineries south of Houston, Stacy and Troy Curtis, waited for help outside the police station. Less than three weeks ago, the couple left New Orleans after it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

With no vehicle, and little money, they tried to get their lives together while staying at a hotel in Deer Park. Stacy Curtis, a nursing assistant in New Orleans, had a job interview scheduled for Thursday.

But most businesses had shut down because the neighborhood will likely flood if the hurricane hits Galveston Bay. The streets were empty Thursday afternoon.

"We're stuck here," Stacy Curtis said. "Got no other place to go."

An emergency official eventually sent a van to take the couple to a shelter at a recreation center.

Monica Holmes, who has debilitating lupus, sat in her car at a Houston gas station that had no gas. "We can't go nowhere," she said, tapping a fingernail against the dashboard fuel gauge. "Look here," she said. "I'm right on E."

Her husband, a security guard, had a paycheck, but no way to cash it.

"We were going to try to go to Nacogdoches" in east Texas, not far from the Louisiana border, she said. "But even if we could get on the road, we're not going to get out. These people that left yesterday, they're still on the beltway. They haven't even got out of Houston."

So she and her husband will hunker down in their Missouri City home, just to the south. "We'll be fine," she said. "You can't be scared of what God can do. I'm covered."

As always, there were those who chose to stay, no matter how dire the warnings.

John Benson, a 47-year-old surfer and lifelong Galveston resident, said he thinks his town "is going to take on a lot of water. But as far as the winds, I think here on the island, it will be a little bit less than they anticipated."

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Wednesday for the area.

Benson said he planned to use his surfboard as transportation after the hurricane. "The main thing is you have a contingency plan," he said, and thumped his board. "You got buoyancy."

Skinner, accompanied by her 6-year-old grandson, Dageneral Bellard, would settle for a bus.

"They got them for the outlying areas, for the Gulf and Galveston, but they ain't made no preparations for us in the city, for the poor people here. There ain't no (evacuation) buses here. I got nowhere to go."

EDITOR'S NOTE Associated Press writers Pam Easton in Galveston and Tim Whitmire in Deer Park contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

WHY THE PEOPLE DIDN'T LEAVE: from Lindsay Young, a Loyola Law Student and Spelman Alumna

Everyday since the SIS Blog was launched, I have read each comment posted with a desire to write something myself, but never knowing what I should say. But today with hurricane Rita approaching my hometown, I feel compelled to say something.

I woke up Saturday, August 27th, around 7:15 a.m. in an apartment I’d just moved into earlier in the week located on the first floor of my complex. I turned on the television and was surprised to see the new developments hurricane Katrina made overnight. Seeing the path the storm was taking, I decided to beat the traffic and go home to Lafayette. Last year when Ivan threatened to hit New Orleans, I waited until the city initiated an evacuation order and spent 10 hours driving (on a trip that ordinarily only takes two hours) and vowed then never to wait on the city to issue an evacuation before leaving. I called my parents to let them know I was coming home and then made a few calls to those that I knew were new to the area and encouraged them to leave the city. Thinking that I would only be gone three or four days at the maximum, I gathered all my dirty laundry and my law books together, leaving the rest of my belongings. I had only one goal in mind - beat the traffic. I left my apartment, hurriedly jumped into my car that seats 5 people and began my solo trip home. I met my goal. I was home in two hours and encountered no traffic. I had no idea.

Call after call, although different people, same message … I can’t find my parents … my cousin is missing … my sister didn’t leave … my grandmother is in a nursing home. CNN reporters continue to ask why so many people were left or why no buses came to transport people out of the city or why no water or food was dropped or why the levy broke. It was the same reason why the public school system was failing, why crime was rising and why housing projects were falling down.

Days after the hurricane, I heard anger in the voices of my peers for the inefficiency of local, state and federal government and now I hear statements such as “At least all the hoodlums are gone,” “ I feel sorry for Houston because they got the poorest of New Orleans” and, after federal aid was given, “Well, everything turned out well”. People who are not from New Orleans really have no idea what this city means to the locals. It’s not just the city of Mardi Gras, Essence Festival and Bayou Classic. Rather it is the city where your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends live within 5 minutes of each other. Now, many of them are states away from each other and the meaning of home will never be the same. Everyday I think about the people that I saw in the grocery store, in the park or at church and wonder what’s become of them and pray that they are safe. I pray that all those in the path of Rita will be safe.

Lindsay Young was among the first Young Scholars in SIS. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Spelman, she is currently in her second year of law school at Loyola University.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A response from Senegal

I have been in dakar Senegal for over a month and I've had two responses to the hurricane: the first is always "it is a horrible thing that has happened", and the second is always "now, maybe Americans will show compassion to the rest of the world when they experience tragedy". What strikes me as strange is not the comments, but the lack of comments. Maybe it was my naivete of just plan wishful thinking to believe that people would be outraged at what is happening. I have family members who where displaced by the tragedy and even an aunt we fear as dead but none seem to share my rage at what has happened. I could not figure out why until earlier today when a Haitian American student shared an experience she had with an African student from Benin and it went as follows:

Benin Student: So what is the deal with the US and Discrimination
US Student: I don't really understand what your asking
Benin Student: You know people have this perception that Blacks in the US are thieves, uneducated, and people are generally not good and you Blacks say this is wrong.
US Student: Well, there are lots of reason for this and all Black people are not the same in the US. The media shows you what they want you all to see.
Benin Student: Your the cause of why people see you this way, you all don't go to school and you do all sorts of bad things.

At this point the conversation continues, but this was the gist of it. This student is a representation of so many people I have incurred while here in Senegal. We are in the mist of a tragedy and I'm fighting a public relations war. I continually tell people that no America is not a horrible place, but it is far from perfect. I explain this over and over again, but America is still seen as a great place with people who cause problems. I am hopeful that with time this perception will change along with their opinions of Black people. Until then we are looked at as a people who have caused are own problems and have no one but ourselves to blame.

Monday, September 19, 2005

everything that goes can come

Ashes to sludge, dust to sewage? Neither Iraq nor John Roberts nor hollow presidential posturing can make me forget: faces face down and unfound floating in the mainstream. Shifting from margin to center only in death. Naked decomposition. Broadcast indifference. Starring the toxic soup bowl as cooling board, mechanized dewatering pumps as makeshift cremators.

Disasters such as these ignite mumbling ‘bout the last days but the text prophesied fire not water nor wind nor untrickled down wealth. This is not the end but maybe a profound shift of the world as we know it for this generation. We remember Rodney King but without having suffered the brunt of racism's bruising weight. Some of us can even name check James Byrd, Jr.,but the cacophony of 808’s and flurry of celluloid mean muggin' and booty poppin' drowned our senses before Katrina drowned our distant kin. Too numbingly oblivious to even drown in our own tears we revel in our mountains of things, seconds of pleasure, fantasies of fame.

Katrina triggered a temporary glitch in the matrix of domination swiftly troubleshooted by astonishingly unincarcerated Karl Rove-like spin doctors or our own dogged listlessness. Kanye West aka The Louis Vuitton Don-- hip hop, hood and black bourgeois--bravely called our sinister leadership out and inspired some indie rappers to record a rap track along the way. Hip hop thespian Mos Def expressed a community's frustrations on his own Katrina recording. My self righteous brown hands, prone to forward a petition or tote a sign for reproductive rights through the Mall on Washington are astonishingly unclean. Since graduating from Spelman I settled in Brooklyn. Shuttling back and forth between comfortable elevator building and school, or internships and assistantships, concerts, plays, even leisurely afternoons in Prospect Park and now begrudgingly to work. Confronted ill will at school in this overwhelmingly stimulating but heartless city and recoiled, relinquishing my responsibility as a human. A life in service abandoned for narcisstic malaise which isn't to diminish my own trials that have thus far gotten the best of me, a solitary soldier on my own frontline. It would help to have reinforcements. Someone to lend a hand. But how can I can expect or accept such offers while my gangly arms foolishly cling to my side.

Guiltiness is a privilege. It's patronizing. This musing is about stasis and movement, about who I am and who I need to be in the calm before the storm, in the whirlwind, in the wreckage and in good times that must soon come.

I couldn't have imagined this on the evening of August 30th pretending to write at a neighborhood Starbucks, Instant Messaging with a few characters one of whom frantically referenced a ravaged New Orleans to my confusion then sent me a link to news images of the flooded metropolis. In the days following cable news gawking replaced mainstream media aversion. My bugged eyes eventually were mesmerized by one constant loop: a young baby-dreaded black man clothed in a wife beater and beltless saggy jeans gripping some looted booty from a store in one hand and his falling denim with the other foolishly cheesing into the camera. News of the thugged out survivors shooting at rescue copters sent me reeling.

I e-mailed my mother disgusted. She gently checked me. I rethought my outrage and my shame but it wasn't until an emotional Celine Dion got on Larry King Live defending the looters and I watched video of Charmaine Neville's harrowing experience that I fully realized how smallminded I had been, how easily manipulated by 24 hours news services how shamefully I nursed a callous disdain for the poor. I own it. I don't want to hide it. I was outraged by the the black poor's abandonment on one hand and embarassed by their televised grammatical transgressions on the other. Petty, yes, but true. I may not be as bad Wolf Blitzer but that's not saying much. It feels wierd to make this confession. There is still and always was abiding love for the victims and survivors. I swallowed the wave of tears tales of rape and starvation elicited and couldn't eat for the bitterness in my belly but I must be honest about what bubbles underneath my mighty levee of compassion. Black poverty is the ultimate hell. Irrevocable invisibility and biting spite the lot of those afflicted. What's really frightening is just how easy it could be me. There but for the grace of God go I which is likely why I disdained. It created some artificial distance, an illusion of comparative status and power.


the raising of lazarus

the dead shall rise again
whoever say
dust must be dust
don't see the trees
smell rain
remember africa
everything that goes
can come
stand up
even the dead shall rise

~Lucille Clifton~