I am excited and honored to get the chance to work with the Mississippi Center for Justice. Being from Mississippi, it will give me a chance to help a yet still rebuilding community. I was not severely impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but I have family members that were. One being my cousin that had to evacuate his home and move to Vicksburg having no plans to return due to the fact he had nothing to return to. Additionally, I had a few family members that were not able to get out of the area before Katrina hit and unfortunately were never heard from again. I was selected to work with the Katrina Housing track and for the first day we discussed the overwhelming need of resources that still haven’t been provided. In saying that, I want to take this opportunity of helping those that haven’t received the help they need even years after the disaster and in a way I will be helping my family because it will in retrospect be helping rebuild their home.
If I could describe my first day at the Mississippi Center for Justice the most accurate word in my mind would be compelling. After hearing the stories of individuals who are still dealing with the impact from Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill, years after they occurred, there seems to be an immediate sense of urgency in providing relief. It is great to be surrounded by a passionate group of staff that are truly trying to help individuals that may not find help otherwise. I’m excited to get started on my track in which we are assisting the last group of individuals receiving housing relief for Hurricane Katrina. This week has nothing more than the potential to be a life changing experience and I plan to welcome the experience with an open mind.
I am always interested in going to new places. So, when I first heard about the CSL pro bono trip to Mississippi, my honest first thought was that it would be nice to visit a state I’ve never been to and, as an aside, do some good in the meantime. However, when I went to the first set of interest meetings held in fall 2014, I never expected what I heard, namely, that the residents of Mississippi were still suffering from the after effects of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. As a foreign national, of course I’d heard about those disasters when they occurred because they were international news. Nevertheless, after the first rush of the news cycle, when it became “old news” (terrible as it may sound), I, like most of the rest of the world, forgot about it. So, it was even more astounding to me to realize that there are such lingering after effects all these years later. The truth is, tragedy is only a resident with those directly affected; to the untouched, it is a mere visitor, staying longer with some than others, but always eventually moving on. I wanted to be a part of this trip because I know what it’s like to live in a “third world country”; where even just the threat of a national disaster causes fear to grip an entire nation due to the vast swath of human suffering it will leave in its wake, in a country that simply has no defenses against it and little to no resources for rebuilding. The first day really just confirmed all these thoughts. There is so much that needs to be done to dismantle the systematic injustice causing the economic and other types of disparity. Learning about the Mississippi Center of Justice and the work they have done and continue to do on behalf of the people without a legal voice . . . well, it’s beyond inspiring and I’m grateful and excited to be a part of it and can’t wait to see what the rest of the week holds!
As part of the Disaster Response Playbook team, our group’s task for the week is to interview attorneys and other key players around the area that have been involved in the disaster recovery on the Gulf Coast. Through these interviews, our goal is to gather information about the disaster recovery – what methods of the process worked and what did not. After gathering this information, we will then continue to develop the first draft of a disaster-response manual and add issues that may arise from a natural or man-made disaster. This disaster-response playbook will hopefully be a template or guide that expedites the recovery process in other areas of the world in the unfortunate event of a similar disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or the BP Oil Spill. The MCJ has done so many things in their recovery effort that worked and is still continuing to work in the Gulf Coast community. We hope to make MCJ’s response available to the world and their disaster recovery efforts the example that everyone else should follow.
Today, our group began our process by familiarizing ourselves with the Gulf Coast area’s exact response to Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill by watching Spike Lee’s “If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise.” The documentary detailed the disasters themselves and how the Gulf Coast area was affected as a whole. The documentary highlighted the problems that arose as a result of the disaster itself and also the problems that arose in efforts to restore the Gulf Coast area. The problems encompassed everything from the actual damage itself to the police corruption and educational struggles that arose from restructuring the school system. To say the least, the problems were astounding and eye-opening in that the rest of the group and I never thought all of these issues could arise along with the breath-taking devastation itself that occurred from Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill.
Needless to say, we cannot wait to start the tangible part of our process in continuing to add to the Disaster Response Playbook when we travel to conduct interviews from key players in the Gulf Coast disaster recovery!
– Will Hodge
For those who believe they know exactly the internal situation in the Gulf Coast concerning the aftermath with Katrina and the BP Oil spill, you have no idea. The political and police corruption is a lot worse than you could ever imagine. Families are still without adequate housing and only some are beginning to get back on track.
During Katrina, many moved to Houston to get away. Houses were completely destroyed. Many did not move back because the ones who did, were living in tents, FEMA trailers, or squatted in abandoned houses. The FEMA trailers were found to have formaldehyde. The ones who lived in the trailers became extremely sick and developed serious medical conditions. Also, during Katrina, people ate sewage because there was not enough food to go around.
I’m sure no one heard, because the media didn’t show this, but at open city council meetings, citizens were pepper-sprayed and tased in the room because they were voicing their opinions. At one point, the city council did not even let them in. At the front of the building, the police closed and locked the gates. After doing that, the police pepper-sprayed the citizens. Unjust to the fullest extent. This was done because the council decided to demolish apartment buildings that could still be used. This left many people homeless. How could people even think about doing this act to others?
The school system is just as bad. What would you do if there was no school for special needs children in your district? Well for the citizens here, they decided not to move back because if their child was in a regular school, the child would be held back because they were no provided the correct schooling. The parents decided not to move back because of this. In my opinion, this is absolutely absurd. There has to be a school for children with special needs. This needs to be fixed and hopefully it is fixed soon.
I was pretty nervous going into my first day of volunteering with the Mississippi Center for Justice. I was not sure what to expect. I had no idea what I was going to be doing. Little did I know I was going to be exposed to a whole lot of information that would completely blow me away.
Our day started off with a great introduction video of the Center, the town of Biloxi, and the many struggles that people in this area are still facing many years after hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. The short video was touching, emotional, and eye-opening.
I was selected to work in the “Disaster Response Playbook” track–to help develop a playbook to document the strategies that have been successful in rebuilding the Biloxi/Mississippi community after a catastrophic event. My group and I spent the majority of the afternoon watching a very emotional documentary about the many disasters that have hit the Gulf Coast and the different ways these disasters have impacted the community after the fact.
It was a long, but rewarding day! I am very excited for what tomorrow holds!
We are all here in Biloxi, Mississippi, ready to go and eager to get started on our legal tracks for the week.
Orientation this morning was nothing short of eye opening. We watched a presentation and listened to recordings of past political figures who were starting the movement that we are working on today; by trying to pull forces to help those who are underserved and create a more equal playing field for all citizens. Many of the statistics we were shown, explained how the oppression in Mississippi has been happening for decades. It is clear that there was/is a big problem here in this beautiful state in regards to underserved people.
My group was given the assignment of making a playbook for attorneys across the world, to encompass a game plan for how to help when disasters strike. We watched a documentary this afternoon which laid out the past history for everything that this part of the country has gone through. Between Hurricane Katrinathe crime and poverty that followed, the BP oil spill, the FEMA lag on suitable housing and the lack of education reform, the people of southern Mississippi have had it rough. Seeing pictures and film from these tragic accidents was moving to say the least. There were some pictures and videos that I had never seen before and it makes you wonder what else there was that rest of the country was unaware of, that didn’t air over the mass news stations, and how sad it is that people still may not know the true extent of what an awful situation was occurring here.
Hopefully, by the end of the week we can pull something together that can help guide attorneys and other legal staff in the right direction. Being able to prioritize the most important things in the community is key. For example we need to rebuild our residential areas to bring people back home before we rebuild entertainment venues. Schools, hospitals, homes, and basic needed business need to come first and not tourist attractions. While the tourist attractions do bring in money, the locals in the area deserve attention and help first. Laying out a strategy for tackling legal issues for future disasters is not only helpful but also practical and I am surprised this has not been done before.
Wish us luck.
– Molly Kight