On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. Within hours, it became one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. As a Southern funder, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation recognized that while Katrina was an equal opportunity destroyer, it was not going to be an equal opportunity recovery due to the economic and racial inequities present before the storm. Seven years after Katrina, low-wealth and minority communities along the coast continue to struggle with rebuilding their lives and communities.
In response to the devastation, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation decided to continue its mission of helping to move people and places out of poverty through a strategic focus on rebuilding efforts that included the voices of Gulf Coast residents and those most directly affected. With the support of many funders, from both in and outside the region, the Gulf Coast has been able to build a stronger nonprofit infrastructure than was present before the storm.
However, recovery remains an ongoing challenge for coastal communities. Many funding sources have suffered from what has been termed “Katrina fatigue.” In the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, that means nonprofits working on continued recovery issues now face the task of doing more with less. It is too early to know the full impact Isaac will have on the same communities still suffering from Katrina, but as I watch the nightly news coverage I am struck by a question: Who defines when recovery is complete for a community?
If the notion of a full recovery is to be realized by the people of the Gulf Coast, then that recovery must be defined by the people of the Gulf Coast. Sustained, long-term investments are needed to support a true recovery. One that moves from rebuilding from a temporary crisis brought on by a singular event to one inclusive of healing the historical inequities that have marked the American South.
The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation will continue to support recovery in the region with grantee partners like Hope Community Development Agency and the Mississippi Center for Justice that have worked tirelessly for the seven years since Katrina on efforts that not only address hurricane recovery, but economic and racial equality. We applaud these organizations and their myriad partners for the work they continue to do. Will you help them define when recovery is over?
Gladys Washington is the program director for the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.