Monday, August 23, 2010

Katrina Reveled Race and Poverty

Katrina Revealed Race and Poverty
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
August 22-29, 2010

Much as the Emmit Till murder did 55 years ago Hurricane Katrina pulled back the cultural curtains and revealed the intersecting roads of race and poverty in the United States of America. In both cases, America’s egalitarian myth of civility to all her citizens was shattered by the photo of Till’s open casket in Chicago (Jet Magazine) and news images (CNN) of African Americans treated as animals and “refugees” in New Orleans.

Before and after Hurricane Katrina the City of New Orleans has been a case study in the oppressive confluence of race and poverty on African Americans. Prior to Katrina New Orleans had the highest percentage of public housing residents in the nation, many of who were allowed to live poorly policed, sub-standard living conditions.

Three days before the Category 5 hurricane named Katrina came ashore from the Gulf of Mexico those who could to evacuate New Orleans made plans to do so. However, the most vulnerable citizens—nearly all Black and/or elderly—were left to negotiate the storm and its aftermath on their own. Despite the presence of a fleet of public buses no provision was made to direct poor people of pigment to higher ground. With no credible evidence city officials would later contend that the Black poor ignored directions to evacuate because the storm arrived at the end of they month and two days before government (public assistance, social security) checks arrived. Fact is, there were no buses deployed and the fleet became submerged under water.

With no plans for the poor, the days immediately following Katrina and the levees were compromised Black students at Xavier and Dillard University were stranded in dormitories. In fact, while vice president to Reverend Jesse Jackson and Rainbow PUSH Coalition I remember assisting in rescuing African American students with the help of privately funded buses.

As people found their way to the New Orleans Superdome and Morial Convention Center no guidance or direction was provided by city and state officials. Predictably, conditions worsened and over 1,300 people died (by official numbers), some African American men shot by police for attempting to flee to the higher ground of Jefferson Parrish. There was no government for the people. People were treated as animals.

In the ensuing weeks, state officials refused to utilize vacant military bases within Louisiana and forcibly removed the Black poor to 44 states around the nation.

Predictably, according to a report by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, five years after Katrina New Orleans is a smaller and richer city per capita. Duh: most of the poor were removed.

In fact, today:
• The nearly all-Black Lower Ninth Ward seems conspicuously passed over for reconstruction
• Louisiana residents remain located in 55,000 cities across the nation (59% of who are female headed families
• 75% reduction in the number of public housing apartments available (formerly 98% African American)
• 5,000 people remain on waiting list for public housing
• 28,000 people remain on waiting list for public housing vouchers
• 58% of New Orleans renters pay more than 35% of their pre-tax household income for housing
• The number of public school students (90% African American) have decreased by half

For those who contend that race did not play a major factor I say: seriously?

Truth be told, if the students, residents, and poor in need were White, the federal, state, and local government would have treated them better. Moreover, if private real estate developers had not influenced government policy decisions, more people of color would have returned to their homes in New Orleans (see Washington Post 08-22-10).

Therefore, the Black Leadership Forum, led by the Hip Hop Caucus will return to New Orleans on Sunday, August 29, 2010—the fifth-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina—to raise righteous voices of indignation for the right of return and the rebuilding of housing for the poor.

For more information visit or email Darryl Perkins at Join us.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Put On Your Marching Shoes!

Put On Your Marching Shoes
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
August 8-15, 2010

While many bankers, corporate executives, and Congressional members are preparing for summer vacation Americans left behind are losing homes, hope for employment, and help for failing farms. When all else fails people of conscience must take a public stand and petition for legislative relief.

There would be few broad-sweeping laws if not for the focused few who dared to make their pains public. For example, laws protecting workers came about because workers publicly protested unfair working conditions and wages. The 1964 Civil Rights Act of 1964 was preceded by the Children’s Marches of 1963 in Birmingham, AL. The 1965 Voting Rights Act was inspired by a 45-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, AL earlier that year. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 followed the fair housing marches of 1968 in Chicago, IL. In sum, marching matters.

Yet, public demonstrations either represent the progress or regress.

Glen Beck, for example is planning a public rally with Tea Party members on August 28, 2010 at—of all places—the Lincoln Memorial. Yes, the site of the 1963 March on Washington in which Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Historically speaking, Glen Beck’s philosophy seems diametrically opposed to those of the 1963 march organizers. For starters, he believes that increasing federal regulations to hold corporations accountable to the public and health care reform are somehow misguided. Regardless, of what Glen Beck and his cohorts think or do on August 28 the Coalition of Conscience have the moral high ground on legislation for the locked out and left behind.

Several Member Organizations of the Black Leadership Forum will hold public actions the week of August 28 to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington:
• The National Action Network will hold a prayer and rally at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC to address national issues impacting African Americans. For more information, visit or call 212.690.3070
• The Rainbow PUSH Coalition will hold a Jobs and Justice rally at the UAW-Ford National Program Center in Detroit, MI to rebuild America by enacting policy that will unleash skills and talents of the American workforce. The March… contact or call 313.926.5361
• On August 29, The Hip Hop Caucus will hold a march and rally in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, LA to refocus attention on the profound impact Hurricane Katrina and promote the ecological sustainability of New Orleans post-Katrina. For more information, visit

Those who complain about the isms (racism, sexism, militarism) must rise in righteous indignation match marching with mouthing.

Join us on the battlefield!