“During difficult times like this, we’re reminded that we’re bound together and we have to look out for each other. And a lot of the things that seem important, the petty differences melt away, and we focus on what binds us together and that we as Americans are going to stand with each other in their hour of need.” – President Barack Obama
As Texas and Louisiana begin to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, our thoughts and prayers – as well as whatever donations we can spare – are with the people who were impacted. We pray for the families of those who lost their lives, and for the safety of the first responders and ordinary citizens who have risked their own lives to save others.
We in the Urban League Movement are supporting our colleagues in the region, Judson Robinson, President and CEO of the Houston Area Urban League and Erika McConduit, president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana, as they develop plans for the Herculean task of helping their communities recover and rebuild.
The nation has responded with concern and generosity, but also with a bit of counter-productive armchair quarterbacking. It’s natural to imagine, when confronting the horror of a tragedy, that things could have been different, of only one decision or another had gone a different way. Houston, which took the brunt of the damage, was ordered by Mayor Sylvester Turner not to evacuate. To many watching from afar – especially after scenes of rescue by boat became commonplace, this decision seemed ill-advised. Sadly, American memories can be short, but Houstonians remember. A dozen years ago, as Hurricane Rita bore down on the city, more than 2.5 million residents tried to evacuate at the same time. More than 130 people died in the ensuing chaos, more than have been lost to any storm in Texas since 1900.
Cities face many challenges day-to-day, but when a natural disaster is bearing down, all efforts should be focused on saving lives. That’s why much of the nation reacted in horror to the news that The Border Patrol would not suspend checkpoints during the storm – deterring immigrants from seeking shelter from the storm and putting lives at risk. Texas has passed one of the most stringent anti-immigrant laws in the nation, essentially outlawing Sanctuary City policies like Houston’s. Four days after the storm hit, a federal judge blocked enforcement while legal challenges proceed, but as it was in force during the worst of the crisis, Mayor Turner issued a personal reassurance that he would personally defend any immigrant detained as a result of seeking shelter from the storm.
The late children’s television host Fred Rogers said when he was a child and frightened by the news of disasters, “‘Always look for the helpers,’ she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.’ I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.”
I would challenge us to go one step further, and be the helpers.