Sunday, October 02, 2005

Red Cross exclusion of Black Churches as shelters signals weakness in system

Roosevelt Wright, Jr.
Monroe Free Press

There are many lessons learned when two circumstances occur: great success or great tragedy.
In either case, the “stuff” of who we are appears. When there is great success both our strengths and our weaknesses appear. Many who succeed are humble and give thanks to others who helped them. Others brag and promote themselves in a variety of ways.
Tragedies reveal strengths and weaknesses as well. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have revealed many of the strengths and weaknesses of the local community, especially as it relates to race relations.
The hurricanes brought out the benevolent spirit of our entire community. Our city government, led by Mayor Jamie Mayo opened its arms in a show of compassion that cannot be discredited, even by his toughest critics. It was a four star response by the Mayo Administration.
Churches and civic leaders opened up their purses and hearts to share their already strained resources with others.
These two hurricanes revealed our benevolent side. What we saw was a community, both and Black and white that was willing to open its arms and help those in trouble, regardless of their color.
While the hurricanes showed our strengths, they also revealed our weaknesses.
They revealed an emergency response organization that is almost completely dominated by whites. Black involvement is peripheral and insignificant.
What is emerging in the aftermath of the Hurricane is an almost unified disdain for the American Red Cross among African-Americans. Excluded from decision making in crisis, Blacks have had to watch the Red Cross assemble what is being characterized as a “plantation” at the State Farm Building. Nightmare images of the masters passing out crumbs to slaves, cramped in small impersonal tape drawn cubicles, keep flashing.
Blacks see thousands of mostly black evacuees stacked on top of each other as horrible flashback from our slave past.
As hundreds of Black churches stand ready to open their doors to house evacuees in edifices, private homes and activity buildings, the Red Cross has refused to use a single Black church as an official Red Cross shelter.
There are several large Black congregations in Monroe, Bastrop, Ruston and other areas. Some of them have facilities that are equal to and surpass those of the white churches that serve as official Red Cross shelters.
Dispersing the massive number of people at the State Farm building would be more desireable over a long period of time than crowding them on top of each other, guarded by armed soldiers, metal detectors, wired fences and check points.
Since most of the Katrina evacuees in Monroe are African-American wouldn’t it be logical to seek the inclusion of African-American churches as shelter sites too?
Since the Red Cross is mostly a white run organization of do-gooders, they don’t understand the simmering disgust among African-Americans about their response.
So, Black churches in Monroe are doing their best to respond, without Red Cross help and despite the Red Cross presence.
Without supplies, staff or other assistance from the Red Cross Black churches are developing their own response outside of the Angola style “Farm.” Working through the Ouachita Multi-Purpose Community Action Agency, most of the local Black churches have begun to raise funds, send supplies and send volunteers.
The difference: Ouachita CAP asks, even begs for their help. The Red Cross accepts checks from Black churches, but makes no effort to include them in the official response.
Many Blacks see the Red Cross as an organization of middle class whites whose volunteers at the personal level have only charity and love at heart. However, the leadership is concerned about power, control and dollars that can be generated because of tragedies.
So far the Red Cross has raised almost $900 million for Hurricane Katrina Relief. Only $450 million has been disbursed to Katrina relief efforts so far. We also remember how the Red Cross collected $564 million in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. However, it only spent $154 million of the 9/11 relief efforts. Get the picture?