When I first learned of the devastation of life, property, and displacement of people due to Hurricane Katrina, I had an immediate identification with those impacted. After all, I had lived through several hurricanes growing up in New Orleans. When I learned my sister was trapped due to the resulting break in the levee, my anxiety and concern went beyond mere identification. During those nine days she was cut off from any type of communication with the outside world, I could not focus on any of my day-to-day activities. In retrospect, I know now that something changed radically about my depth of concern from merely commenting about the aftermath to wanting to proactively participate in the recovery process.
When I learned that a sizeable number of those displaced were relocated here in Utah, the idea of a Utah Support Group immediately came to mind. Through teaming with a local minister here in Salt Lake and enrolling the help of a local newspaper, we were able to get the word out about the Support Group. I could never have imagined the stories shared by the “new citizens” of Salt Lake about their efforts to simply survive. Their stories only deepened my resolve to play an active role in helping these individuals integrate into the Salt Lake community.
The specific purposes of the Support Group are to:
1. Assist those displaced to integrate into the Salt Lake community as quickly as possible.
2. Help in securing employment.
3. Provide short-term assistance in securing the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, toiletries, and other personal items.
4. Provide assistance in securing photo identification, dealing with FEMA, and Utah state support services.
5. Provide a supportive forum to deal with personal and emotional issues related to change and adaptation.
The overall objective of the Support Group is to to provide a proactive action-oriented approach to address the living conditions of those displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Obviously, these objectives require a team effort which we have here in Salt Lake; no one individual could make this effort work.
About one year prior to the hurricanes, I wrote a diversity fable titled, Animal Kingdom, which has startling similarities to the events in New Orleans. Some have called it a prophesy. The book provides answers to the question most of those displaced are asking; that question is the title of this Blog site, “WHERE TO NOW?” The audio version of this book is still available on this site (right-hand column) free of charge. I highly recommend the third section of the podcast if you have limited listening time.
Some of the topics discussed on this Blog site include: Being Black and welcomed to a dominantly white community. Who am I without my achievements and possessions? What does it mean to start over again with literally the clothes on my back? Do I plan to return to New Orleans or start over here? And most of all, where do I go from here? These are some of the tough questions that are proactively addressed in these discussions.
I highly encourage and solicit your ideas of proactive action-oriented steps we might all take in this integration process, whether in Salt Lake City or anywhere in the U.S.