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Black Folks’ Resiliency and the 15th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Nia-Alyese Boyd  | September 10, 2020 | 6 minute read

Black Folks’ Resiliency and the 15th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Nia-Alyese Boyd | September 10, 2020 | 6 minute read

One of the few positive stereotypes used when describing Black folks is our possession of a unique resiliency – an ability to persevere against all odds and demonstrate nearly superhuman abilities to laugh in the face of adversity. As the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approached, I reflected on the continuing celebration of the resiliency attributed to its survivors, one of whom is me. As the massive storm approached in 2005, I heard some form of this resiliency litany every day and when I believed I was falling short of that ideal, I blamed myself. A mother of four, I come from a long line of strong Black women. What could it mean that when I was most expected to be strong, so many things stayed undone – unattempted even — at the end of too many 24-hour cycles? 

Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the Gulf Coast is regularly remembered on August 29th, but I will always associate it with my son’s 19th birthday, the 28th of August, 2005; his favorite treat, lemon meringue pie cooled in the fridge waiting for him to return from work.  We hoped for a tropical storm that would blow over and not ruin our party plans. We couldn’t afford to leave and the thoughts, prayers, and reminders that I had already survived 100 percent of my worst days signaled how resilient I was expected to be.  

The wind was the first thing to come and the electricity was the first thing to go.  That beautiful pie melted against darkened refrigerator shelves as the 5 of us made the hall bathroom our fortress.  The next day, the 29th, I drove through rising waters to rescue a friend and my great-niece. He was stranded on his shrimp boat and she was stranded, with friends, at our only Black radio station.  Love and fear, not resilience moved me. In the weeks that followed, love and fear moved us all. 

Resiliency was no match for Katrina and its aftermath. Fifteen years later, it is no match for the unequal recovery efforts and other disparities that Black folks in the South and across this nation still experience. Yet, love and fear continue to move us. They serve as reasons to demand David like victories over Goliath sized problems.  

Resiliency is our double-edged sword.  It inspires us and it depletes us. The U.S. government did not respond appropriately; the kindness and generosity of strangers saved my family. A Red Cross volunteer slipped me extra water trusting I would take it to those who couldn’t get to distribution centers, people in caravans of cars and buses full of food and supplies appeared like angels from all over the country, a fast-food franchise owner served up free burgers on the sidewalk.  Motivated by fear and love, I and others journeyed into spaces the National Guard, the Red Cross and the FEMA folk avoided. 

Sometimes, all we can do is meet the needs right in front of us. Sometimes, we put small dents in the impact of situations we can’t control. This is one side of resiliency’s sharp blade.  In spite of their resilience, the poor of Louisiana and Mississippi remain poor. They continue to have the least access to what is needed for recovery. Already limited resources dwindled as attention to the social, emotional, economic, and environmental impact of Katrina waned. The irrational expectation of Black folks to be-above all else- resilient against horrific neglect and oppression is the other side of that sword. It bleeds blame onto whole groups of people whose abandonment is woven into the very fabric of our society.  

The 15th anniversary of Katrina brought with it the possibility that two major hurricanes, Laura and Marco, would hit my beloved Coast. The damage, thankfully, was minimal but in that space of waiting for news, in that space of remembrance, of love, and of fear, it wasn’t resiliency that I hoped for. It was urgency, it was preparedness, it was honesty, and it was accountability.  We are a vulnerable people; perhaps more vulnerable now than ever. We face a pandemic, increased racial strife, a failing healthcare system, a compromised natural environment, and a failing economy.  Yet, we are expected to work long after our bodies tire, to create long after our muses disappear, and to be thankful long after our gratitude has turned to bitterness. 

In this moment, attention is more important than resiliency. Holding Goliaths accountable is more important than throwing stones that bounce off their heads and strike us squarely on our own.  When tired, we must rest. When depleted, we must rejuvenate. When bitter, we must not turn justifiable anger inward. We must breathe. 

In the spaces where we embrace resiliency, our participation in communities that are consistent – not just available in times of upheaval, but also in times of exhaustion, depletion, and ordinariness is invaluable.  Balance and restoration exist most effortlessly in protective collectives that support us on our journeys. Some of the communities we rely on are spiritual ones, ones based on family, or grounded in friendship or common ideals.  Communities that support their members’ wholeness are the Davids we need to stand against the Goliaths of the world.

 

About the Author

Nia Boyd has a diverse background in education, social justice scholarship and pedagogy, intuitive counseling, and holistic healing.  Establishing and maintaining a sense of community is paramount in her work with individuals and teams seeking optimal success with work/life balance, conflict management, compassion in work-related missions, and writing projects.  Currently, Ms. Boyd works with Hurdle contributing to their original content as a writer, editor, and thought partner.

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