Katrina’s Lesson: Self-determination for Blacks Everywhere
Amadi Ajamu San Francisco Bay View September 20th 2005
NEW YORK – In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the hard lesson Black people have learned is the need for self-determination. Hurricane Katrina ripped through the heart of the Black Belt South, and thousands have died due to governments’ inept planning and foot dragging. People in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are fighting a war of resistance to institutional and structural racism with genocidal repercussions. The vast majority of Black people in the United States still reside in the Deep South, otherwise known as the “Black Belt South.” Black grassroots leaders around the country are closing ranks and taking a position. In New York City on the Friday before Labor Day, at an emergency fundraiser for our kith and kin, Viola Plummer, chairperson of the December 12th Movement and co-chair of the state Millions More Movement, raised the stakes. “As we watch the real carnage unfold in Louisiana, we have got to do something. Our people are not refugees … they are under a vicious attack. As Black people, we have got to take care of ourselves,” she said. Plummer announced plans to send tractor trailers loaded with food, clothing, water and toiletries to independent grassroots contacts in Mississippi and Texas. The trucks would leave from Brooklyn and Queens the following Tuesday to arrive at their destinations on Thursday. “We need at least $12,000 to get the trucks and drivers, and we need to fill those trucks with food, clothes, water, toiletries, whatever our people need. That means we must spread the word and do our work, quick, fast and in a hurry.” There were about a hundred people in the meeting and by the end, they pulled together $12,390, well on their way to victory. Community outreach began immediately. Throughout the holiday weekend, while others were focused on parties, parades and barbeques, the December 12th Movement and the Millions More Movement went to work. Thousands of flyers were distributed throughout the city, emails, phone calls, radio announcements and sheer word of mouth requesting “Black Aid, from the grassroots to the grassroots.” On Tuesday tables were set up on the sidewalk on Harriet Tubman Street (Fulton Street) in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and in Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica, Queens, to receive, sort and box the donations. As people began to bring goods, many quickly volunteered to help out. In both locations, hundreds of people brought clothes, water, canned food, can openers, shoes, toothpaste, soap, diapers, books, even computers, you name it. All the boxes were labeled “Black Aid.” So many donations came in that all of it could not fit on the 18-wheeler tractor trailers which were tightly packed by dozens of men. The overflow had to be stored at a church in Brooklyn and in a community center in Queens, awaiting the next tractor trailer going to our people in the Black Belt South. Needless to say, this initial relief drive was a tremendous success. In Brooklyn, relief effort coordinator Viola Plummer led an African call and response with the people, “Holla!” “Black!” “Holla!” “Black!” As she pointed toward the truck loaded with goods, Plummer said, “Brothers and sisters look at this. We can take care of ourselves. Black self-determination is here today. “This truck will be going to our people in Port Gibson, Mississippi, and they will also get supplies to folks in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We have another fully loaded truck in Queens, headed for Houston, Texas. “Black Power. Self-determination is the only way for us!” The crowd roared “Black Power.” Pride was palpable; total strangers hugged. It was a beautiful scene. Bob Law, chairman of the state Millions More Movement, thanked all of the organizers and volunteers and noted, “We contacted all the media outlets about this historic event and none of them showed up. They don’t want to tell this story. So we have to tell our own story, and that is – Black Is Back.” Also on hand was New York City Councilman Charles Barron, who said, “This is so wonderful. In just a few days we did this, and we’re going to keep on doing it. Power to the people.” Just before the truck rolled out on its journey to the Black Belt South, the people gathered around, and Plummer poured a libation to our ancestors. While pouring the water, she said, “Brothers and Sisters, on this day, we have turned a corner. No longer do we look outside of ourselves for anything. This is just the beginning. “We will fight to repair our families, our people and our human rights. Now more than ever, it has become crystal clear. We cannot depend on anyone else. From our people – to our people. Relief, repair, rebuild and self-determination now.” The peoples’ response was a resounding, “Ache.”
Amadi Ajamu can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.