Sustaining Hope: Rebuilding Biloxi—Audio Clip (above)
All Photo Credits: Brett Marshall, Kertis Creative
Lora Smith, Communications Officer
Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
firstname.lastname@example.org / 336.748.9222
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Winston-Salem (NC) -- Seven years since Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast with devastating wind and flooding, low-wealth and minority communities in coastal Mississippi continue to struggle with rebuilding their neighborhoods.
The nation’s attention has turned elsewhere, but innovative social justice groups in the region are continuing to fight to make sure these residents receive the same opportunities as their neighbors.
“I think that most of America has forgotten the extent of the damage that was done along the Gulf Coast,” said William Stallworth, the Executive Director of Hope Community Development Agency in Biloxi, Mississippi. Unfortunately national attention and resources continue to dry up. So, how do you solve this dilemma? “One family at a time,” says Stallworth.
The FEMA trailers are mostly gone, but there are still more than 17,000 families in need of assistance. Some need affordable housing that is close to employment centers, shopping and hospitals. Others need help securing repair funds for their homes, that seven years later, still bear the scars of Katrina.
“These programs are not currently solving the needs of thousands of underserved, invisible, and increasingly desperate residents who want to build back their homes where they live. These citizens deserve better treatment than they currently have received,” said Reilly Morse, a policy director at the Mississippi Center for Justice in Biloxi.
Morse notes that low-wealth and minority communities in Gulfport and Biloxi have not received sufficient help in rebuilding, particularly when compared with what residents in wealthier neighborhoods have received. These residents are hamstrung by legacy zoning laws, red tape and a belief that enough time has passed since the storm to absolve funders of further assistance. In many cases, residents have just given up, tired of fighting for what we all want: a place to call home.
Social justice organizations such as the Hope CDA and the Mississippi Center for Justice play a critical role in keeping the recovery front and center long after the storm has passed. They have the commitment and knowledge to push for change, and they also have the trust of the communities they serve.
“Experts determined, in the early days after Katrina, that it would take 15 years for the Gulf Coast area to recover,” said Stallworth. “This is proving to be a very good estimate; while it is my belief that we are a little ahead of the curve, we still have a long way to go.”
For these groups to be successful, they need long-term investment in their programs and missions, not just from the Gulf Coast, but also from elsewhere in the United States. Funders, including the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation--whose mission is to move people and places out of poverty--have been important to these social-justice organizations in the Gulf Coast.
The Hope Community Development Agency was established in 2005 and works in concert with community, faith-based and civic organizations, government officials, and private entities to ensure that the citizens it serves achieve self-sufficiency and success in the economic mainstream of society. Hope CDA pursues its mission by linking clients with direct services, coordinating planning for redevelopment efforts, providing architectural design and technical expertise, and facilitating private sector and community investment. Situated at the eastern tip of a barrier sandspit in the Gulf of Mexico, largely minority and low-income, Hope’s community of East Biloxi was socially, economically, and physically exposed to Katrina in devastating fashion.
The Mississippi Center for Justice opened its doors in 2003, giving Mississippi a critical capacity for social change: a home grown, non-profit public interest law firm that pursues racial and economic justice through advocacy for systemic change. The Mississippi Center for Justice carries out its mission through a community lawyering approach that advances specific social justice campaigns in partnership with national and local organizations and community leaders. The Mississippi Center for Justice has been at the forefront of federal and state policy battles to restore safe and affordable housing to Hurricane Katrina’s most vulnerable survivors, including thousands of children.
The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, assists people in the Southeastern United States to build just and caring communities that nurture people, spur enterprise, bridge differences and foster fairness. With assets totaling approximately $154.5 million, MRBF supports organizations and networks that work across race, ethnic, economic and political differences to help move people and places out of poverty in the Southeastern United States. MRBF has a track record of helping low-wealth people build assets and transform economic conditions in their communities.
For more information and interviews, please contact:
William Stallworth, Executive Director
Hope Community Development Agency
Reilly Morse, Policy Director
Mississippi Center for Justice
Gladys Washington, Program Director and Network Officer for the Gulf Coast
Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
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Keeping Our Promise
An OP-ED by:
Bill Stallworth, HOPE Community Development Agency
Reilly Morse, Mississippi Center for Justice
In late August 2005, one day before an obscure tropical depression formed over the Bahamas, almost 3,000 Mississippi coast residents turned out to protest state plans to drill offshore for oil and gas. Within a week, that tropical depression had entered the Gulf of Mexico, intensified to a large and dangerous hurricane, and veered towards the mouth of the Mississippi River. On August 29, Hurricane Katrina directed strong winds and a particularly high and deadly storm surge at the central Gulf Coast. The eye of the storm made landfall on the Mississippi-Louisiana border, but the most severe winds and storm surge slammed into the Mississippi coast. Over one million Americans were displaced and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were damaged with losses that ran into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Almost five years later, the spring of 2010 offered Gulf Coast residents the promise of a successful commercial fishing and tourism season. The Gulf Coast region was moving towards recovery although many disadvantaged areas still struggled with barriers to opportunity. Then on April 20, 2010, a well blowout, explosion and fire occurred on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, and spewed forth over 200 million gallons of oil that washed ashore into marshes, estuaries, and beaches along the northern Gulf coastline. This oil disaster killed wildlife, shut down fishing activities, and devastated the coastal tourism industry. For coastal residents whose emotional health was already vulnerable from Hurricane Katrina, the combination of the BP oil disaster and the onset of a new hurricane season conjured up nightmarish visions of a toxic storm surge.
Today, seven years after Hurricane Katrina, East Biloxi continues its slow and persistent march towards recovery. Much progress is evident in the casinos, hotels and amenities that ring the Biloxi peninsula. In the interior residential core, where generations of immigrant and disadvantaged populations labored to achieve the American promise of opportunity, Biloxi’s African American and Vietnamese families still struggle to return to normal.
Community-based organizations have been essential partners in recovery in the aftermath of Katrina and the BP oil crisis, helping disaster victims to access programs that tend to be unfamiliar and bureaucratic. Even as public attention shifted to other crises in our nation and overseas, these organizations stuck to their objectives of rebuilding lives one household at a time, drawing on their own ingenuity and the great American resource of volunteerism. Along the way, these organizations helped broaden public participation in issues that affect the common good. Topics like climate change, sustainability, and environmental protection spread into communities that too often had been overlooked or excluded from public participation in these issues. At the same time, problems of equity and fairness in distribution of disaster recovery resources required attention in real time to ensure that our leaders directed the assistance to those most in need.
As any Alaskan harmed by the Exxon Valdez will confirm, recovery can move at a glacial pace. All the more important, then, that areas which face the risk of recurring disaster have strong community organizations to meet those challenges. Today, in East Biloxi, several community groups are working to ensure that promises are kept to restore housing to residents who fell through the cracks or were left out of prior efforts. At the same time, other groups are pressing for greater fairness and participation in the BP oil compensation settlement and the programs to restore the health of our shared natural resources. On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, may we offer once more our thanks to the nation for its support, volunteerism, and compassion, and to the organizations still diligently pursuing the goal of recovery outside of the public eye. We also ask for a promise that is easy to make but not as easy to keep - that resources raised based on the plight of our most vulnerable citizens actually be spent on them, and not after every one else’s needs have been met.
Bill Stallworth, Hope Community Development Agency
Reilly Morse, Mississippi Center for Justice