When I was asked by my Regional Vice-President to fly from Dallas, Texas to assist the staff at a sister hotel in Baton Rouge with the relief effort after hurricane Katrina, I had no idea what I would see or what I was getting into. I was inclined to say no, in that I’d been traveling extensively and was kind of ready to enjoy my own habitat for a minute. But something inside me said “go.” I obeyed.
Meeting the people who were evacuated from New Orleans and working along side the people who descended onto Baton Rouge to help them has been bittersweet for me. The media is showing one thing, and the stories are moving to say the least. To see it first hand is quite another experience altogether.
The first few days I was energetic. Jumping up at the crack of dawn and heading out to serve the people who were directly affected by the horrendous storm. I was overjoyed and took great pride that I was selected to help people in need. And for the most part the people I had the opportunity to help are simply grateful to be alive. They say “thank you” with such fervor whenever I did something simple as give them a bottle of water. There were some funny stories as well. One day I was helping a woman who HAD to be about 80 years old. I asked her if she needed help reading a map. Honey, she put her hand on her hip, look me square in the eyes, and with her ‘Naw’lins drawl’ said “Bebeh (that’s baby), this is my 2nd hurr’cane and 3 of my chil’ren are still missin’. It’s gon’ take mo’ than Katrina to take me outta here. And you think I can’t read a map?” Mrs. Mother got nothing but two snaps up from me. I told her to go’head wit’ her bad self! I still laugh about that and wish I could have HALF of the spunk Mrs. Mother has.
Day 4… the tide had taken a horrible turn. Here I am, for 10 to 12 hours a day, standing on my feet, fielding phone calls and THOUSANDS of requests, doing what I can to serve and help them, and they in return, offer nothing but complaints, abuse, insults, threats of violence, racist and homophobic remarks, temper tantrums… some just fare cussed me out! And was this from people who were stressed out because they couldn’t find family members? NO! Was it from people who saw their loved ones get washed away by the storm? NO! All of those people are too focused on being reunited with lost loved ones to be complaining about whether the bottle of water they received wasn’t cold enough or because there was no more ice that could be given out, or whether a light bulb went out in their suite. All these complaints came from people who really didn’t lose much (from their own admission). In fact, if I didn’t give some people what they felt they deserved (like more towels, even though we were waiting for housekeeping to get caught up on laundry), they’d immediately resort to “OH, SO THIS IS HOW YOU TREAT HURRICANE VICTIMS? I THINK I NEED TO CALL THE MEDIA!” It took EVERYTHING within me to not just go buck nutty and start snatching grills.
I mean, I understand what it’s like to be homeless and have everything you own taken away. I understand the frustration of not knowing where your next meal will come from. I know what it’s like to have nowhere to go and to have no control over your circumstances. I’ve been there… TWICE! But I wouldn’t dare break fly with someone who was trying to help me. Maybe it’s the way I was raised. I mean, so the house and the car are gone. So, the job is gone. Material things can be replaced. But to walk away from something like Katrina with your life… that’s something to be thankful for. That’s the most important thing… right?
Then there’s the media AND people in it, exploiting this tragedy to point fingers, call people out, promote their own selfish political agendas. It’s ridiculous! Some religious groups (who I’m convinced are psychotic) are going so far as to say that Katrina is God’s way of dealing with a city who has “embraced decadence and homosexuality.”
Unfortunately, I think America is about to miss ANOTHER opportunity. This is a time where we should all be asking “What can I do to help?” versus playing the blame game and pointing fingers at people. When are we gonna get it? What’s going on here in Louisiana is bigger than race. It’s bigger than sexuality. It’s bigger than a black thing. It’s a HUMAN thing! There are homeless, jobless, and sick people here! They have NOTHING! They have NOWHERE to go but to another state if they decide that’s the best way to start over. There are people here who watched their spouses and other loved ones DIE! Some shelters are hosting 800+ people, and the supplies needed are running dangerously low. And all we can do is argue about whether or not George Bush likes black folk?
We have an opportunity to pull together and show how love transcends EVERY boundary and how beautiful it is to be a human being. This is America’s chance to live up to its creed. WE have a chance to take our polarized society to a level of unity that has never been reached. And the sad thing is, IT CAN BE DONE, but it probably won’t be. What else has to happen before we see that we are all connected? A tragedy of this magnitude has an affect on every one of us. When you see the pain behind the blank stares in our brothers and sisters eyes, it doesn’t matter what race they are, or who they were sleeping with the night before…the pain felt and the need for love and support is the same.
My prayer is that America will wake up. My prayer is that nothing else of this magnitude has to happen before we seize the opportunity to rise above the petty bull and see that there are more important things than what we’re focused on. We can make a difference here. Let’s not miss our opportunity.
Activist and author Tuan N’Gai made waves with his 2001 book Will I Go To Heaven? The Black Gay Spiritual Dilemma and followed it up with Little Brown Boy’s Blues in 2008.