PLEASE NOTE: THE PRE-BUILD AND "BLITZ BUILD" SCHEDULED FOR JANUARY 20 IN POUGHKEEPSIE, NY AND FEBRUARY 4-11 IN PEARLINGTON, MS HAVE BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO LACK OF FUNDING. WHEN SUFFICIENT FUNDS ARE OBTAINED, WE WILL RESCHEDULE. PLEASE SEE BELOW FOR A DETAILED UPDATE.
Pearlington, Mississippi: An Update
by Angela J. Cole
Sometimes there comes a crack in Time itself.
Sometimes the earth is torn by something blind.
Sometimes an image that has stood so long
It seems implanted as the polar star
Is moved against an unfathomed force....
From John Brown's Body
Stephen Vincent Benet
On August 29, 2005, the unfathomed force of Hurricane Katrina toppled and then trampled every structure in its path in Pearlington, Mississippi. Blind to faith, it crushed Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and AME churches. Blind to hope, it crushed the walls of the school that educated generations past, present, and future. Blind to color, it crushed the cars and homes of Black and White. Blind to age, it crushed the life's work of eighty year olds and the life's beginnings of eight year olds. At best, the images horrified and called some of us to action; worse, the images never reached us at all; or worse yet, we saw them and closed our eyes to dream of things less troubling.
For, certainly, the pictures of complete devastation and utter ruin that you saw in my online photo galleries could not have been taken in 2006 to document a catastophic event that occurred in the wealthiest nation on earth in 2005. Certainly, in this land of excess we could not turn a deaf ear to the voice of a 6 year old child whose only wish a year after Katrina was for "a better life," the chilling clarity of his soft, paper-thin voice brought into our homes by CNN only 4 months ago. Certainly, foundations and entertainers and television show hosts and professional athletes could not see pictures of a twelve year old girl doing the family laundry outside under a tarp and refuse to help on the grounds of what they had done for New Orleans a year before. Certainly, those with the resources to bring hope and homes to the people of Pearlington could not walk with me and smell the sewage, march in the muck, and stare into the dulled eyes of eighty year old veterans with nothing left and tell me - tell those people - they could not sing a song, make a call, air a segment, or write a check. Certainly, this could not happen now; this could not happen here. But, certainly, over the past 4 months especially, all of these things have happened - here -within our own borders to our own people. Why? Quite simply, they are the rural poor. Geographically, they are hidden behind a wall of tall, Mississippi pines; economically, they are buried under the debris of debt and loss amost 1.5 years after the unfathomed force became fathomable. There are no bright lights of Bourbon Street in Pearlington. There is only a long, dark, seemingly endless road to where?
To those of you who have joined with me these past eighteen months or so, I say thank you. Together, we have clothed, fed, and provided temporary shelter to many. I say thank you to CNN anchor, Soledad O'Brien, CNN Senior Producer, Rose Arce, and CNN Senior Photojournalist, Ric Blackburn, for their continued coverage of the story of neglect in Pearlington, MS. I thank those of you who attended the recent fundraiser for the Pearlington Project Katrina Foundation, the nonprofit I formed to restore permanent homes to the people of Pearlington. Even though the event was sold-out with CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien as the keynote speaker, we did not raise enough funds to proceed with building even one house at this time. I have been told the Foundation was awarded a large, community development grant. However, it is part of a much larger Gulf Coast aid package. As such, all funds will be released simultaneously. There is no date given for the release of funds; and, as those of you involved with grant funding know, the larger the package and the longer the wait, the greater the opportunity for those funds to be allocated elsewhere.
And, so, the forgotten of the forgotten continue to wait. Habitat for Humanity is not in Pearlington; there is no large aid organization building homes at all. To be fair, there are some church groups in Pearlington who start homes. These houses take months to finish, if they are completed at all. There is no organization in Pearlington with a plan to start, finish, and furnish homes within a specific, tight timeframe - none, that is, except the Pearlington Project Katrina Foundation. We have the plan, the leadership, and the volunteers. We lack only the funding.
The people of Pearlington - the tax paying people of a poor Southern state - should not be at this place on this day at this time. But, these our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters remain at this awful place on this never-ending day at this crack in Time itself. The rest of the passage from John Brown's Body reads:
That force exists and moves.
And when it moves
It will employ a hard and actual stone
To batter into bits an actual wall
And change the actual scheme of things.
It is past time to change the actual scheme of things for the people of Pearlington, MS. The question is: Will we?
Continuing in Peace and Justice,
Angela J. Cole, MPH, RN
The Pearlington Project Katrina Foundation, Inc.
PO Box 127
Rhinebeck, NY 12572