The Steps Coalition invited GRN to participate in a Katrina 10 year commemorative Potluck Dinner and Story Telling night at the Biloxi Community Center on the evening of August 24th. Around 150 people attended the event that included a 60 foot-long story wall, five inspiring guest speakers from the communities of Biloxi, good food, prayers, and remembrances for lives lost.
Fifteen non-profit and community based organizations participated. Resilience, persistence and faith were on display in shared stories of those who were faced with digging out of the debris and destruction to rebuild or move. University of Southern Mississippi professor and author, James Patterson Smith spoke of the community organizing that happened out of necessity in the wake of the storm. He spoke about a constant fight for inclusion for those who don’t have lobbyists and corporate power. Coast residents organized with the leadership of the NAACP, Steps Coalition, Mississippi Center for Justice, and other groups. Together, people could better navigate the complex bureaucratic landscape and wind/water eligibility confusion that surrounded insurance claims, FEMA, HUD and state and federal rebuilding programs.
Reverend Bill Stallworth started and still leads Hope CDA and reflected that Katrina wiped away everything, but in the wake of the storm, he said “divine appointments” were real. He witnessed how people had a way of showing up at the right time and in the right places when needs were dire. His message to everyone at the end of his address was that each person has the power to be “a committee of one” – to help others as needs are recognized. Bob Wettig spoke about the aftermath of the storm and the recovery of the Westside Community.
The Vietnamese American community was well represented and provided tasty homemade dishes for the dinner. Thao Vu, of MS Coalition for Vietnamese American Fisher Folk and Families, spoke about the experience of the Vietnamese Americans who lost homes, boats and livelihoods in Katrina. As rebuilding happens, Thao pointed out that the language barrier for this community continues to be something that cities and resource agencies don’t always accommodate. The Spanish speaking community was represented that night as well. After the storm, this community provided many construction workers who literally put new roofs over people’s heads, but did so while living in an administrative setting that continues to make it hard to obtain basic credentials such as driver’s licenses.
Overall the night revealed the strength of character and determination lived out by members of the many communities that make up Biloxi and the Mississippi Coast as a whole. People ate together, remembered those who lost their lives and homes, and looked to the future with renewed hope at the 10 year mark post- Hurricane Katrina.
Andrew Whitehurst is GRN's Water Program Director and covers Mississippi Water and Wetland Issues.