What do #BlackLivesMatter and environmental justice have to do with each other? Everything.
When Katrina—a Category 5 hurricane that’s part of the pattern of more frequent and severe weather events predicted by leading climatologists due to global warming—made landfall on August 29, 2005, the impact was beyond devastating. But it was not felt equally by everyone in the storm’s path.
The neighborhoods hit hardest, the people who were unable to evacuate, the horrifyingly inadequate federal response, the media coverage of the survivors, and the rebuilding efforts all point to the fact that all lives did not and do not matter to our government or to the media. Poor people, disproportionately African American people, bore the greatest impacts of the storm.
Black people lived in the lowest-lying areas of New Orleans, the flood-prone areas where banks would give them home loans. Communities of color are most often frontline communities because the places seen as less valuable are where they have been allowed to live. And in the post-flood planning, it was the Black neighborhoods that were targeted to become green areas where residents were not allowed to return.
Racism and environmental destruction intersect on a planetary scale after years of colonialism and inhumane capitalism. Katrina lifted up to the nation the brutal reality that this country does not treat People of Color—especially Black people—as human beings with inherent dignity and worth, and communities around the country continue to give proof.
In the decade since the storm, the three local Unitarian Universalist congregations clustered together to lift up UU values in the Gulf South, and formed the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, whose mission is to serve as a catalyst in New Orleans and beyond to promote social, economic, environmental, and racial justice. This is accomplished through activism, community engagement, organizing, and transformational learning.
Individually and collectively, the congregations and the Center build relationships, partnerships, and resources for justice. The Center has been hosting volunteers since its founding, inviting everyone who shows up into a dialogue about race and class, systemic oppression and solidarity before working with our frontline partners. We invite everyone who comes here to explicitly connect the dots between what has happened in New Orleans and the systems that operate in their home town.
We keep telling our stories, amplifying (but never “speaking for”) the stories of our frontline partners, showing up at protests, city council meetings, coalition meetings, the state legislature, the sheriff’s office, at court—wherever we are asked to be to stand on the side of love in beloved community.
And this week we are showing up for a week of action organized by Gulf South Rising in conjunction with the commemoration of ten years since Katrina. Here’s what we are up to:
- Sunday, August 23: “Hope and Faith in Post-Katrina New Orleans,” a worship service at First UU Church of New Orleans with guest speakers Prof. Charles and Rev. Kathy Figley
- Monday, August 24: Katrina Commemorative Interfaith Prayer Service at the St. Louis Cathedral
- Saturday, August 29: Gratitude Day at Community Church UU, and Katrina Commemoration Dinner at First UU Church, with a ritual of sharing readings, stories, and foods in the fashion of a Jewish Seder (livestreamed starting at 5:45pm Central).
- Sunday, August 30: “Reaching Beyond,” a worship service at First UU Church with guest speaker Rev. Marta Valentin, minister of First UU Church when Katrina hit, and “Rounding the 10-Year Bend!,” a worship service at Community Church centered around a water ceremony
You can join in by following #Katrina10 and #GulfSouthRising on social media, attending the livestream of the Katrina Commemoration Dinner, having conversations in your own congregations, faith groups, and/or families about race, privilege, money, and environmental impact, and forming or deepening relationships with frontlines communities in your area.
Unitarian Universalists are a people whose faith reveres actions above beliefs. In the case of Katrina, our nation’s actions (and lack thereof) revealed fundamentally broken beliefs about race and class—beliefs that deform every city in this nation. Hurricane Katrina marked a clarion call to climate justice, calling everyone to bear witness to the destruction and ultimate costs that our cheap livin’ is extracting from the planet and our children and grandchildren, as well as who is already being hit hardest.
We who covenant to respect the interdependent web of all existence must commit to respond to the call.
Rev. Paul Beedle, Rev. Darcy Roake, Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger, Rev. Deanna Vandiver, and Rev. Jim VanderWeele
Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalist cluster