Scan the QR code above to participate in a ten minute survey on broadband access in you community.
On Thursday, June 29, 2023, Stillman College held a meeting on broadband coverage for the campus, west Tuscaloosa area and adjoining counties including Greene, Hale, Pickens, and others. The purpose of the meeting was to gauge the interest of the community in broadband access and the need for digital skills training to make the extension of broadband to more areas accessible and affordable.
Dr. Cynthia Warrick, Stillman President, welcomed the audience to Stinson Auditorium on the campus and announced that Stillman was one of five HBCU’s in Alabama to receive a grant to perfect broadband availability on the immediate campus and surrounding areas. Stillman has received $2.7 million from the government for this purpose. She introduced members of Stillman’s staff who will be working on this imitative.
The five HBCU’s are all located in high poverty urban and rural areas. The colleges beyond Stillman are Tuskegee, Selma University, Miles, and Lawson State Community College.
The State of Alabama is scheduled to receive $1.4 Billion dollars from the Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act toward providing broadband services to those who do not have services now, with an emphasis on poor and neglected communities, as required by the statutes.
The meeting was turned over to Dr. Mark Brown, with the Student Freedom Initiative, an organization affiliated with Robert F. Smith, the venture capitalist who paid the student loan de3bt of all 2021 graduates of Morehouse College. Brown explained that his organization was providing technical assistance to the HBCU’s, li8ke Stillman College, who are part of this initiative.
Brown introduced Maureen Neighbors, who is the Chief of the Alabama Digital Expansion Division, part of ADECA that is developing plans for the statewide support of broadband. Neighbors has been to every county in Alabama, including Greene County in February, to explain the broadband initiative. Neighbors said many communities in Alabama that have broadband have 25/3 or 25 megabits per second down and 3 megabits up. This will not be adequate for the future. Her program has a goal of 100/20 to assist residential users.
Neighbors said ADECA was still taking a survey to determine the areas of the state with the greatest need and the greatest gaps in Internet services. There is a QR code, which is in this story. if you photograph the QR Code with your cell phone, the ten-minute survey, will come up, on your phone, and you can answer the questions. If lots of people in the Black Belt answer the survey, it may help in placing additional emphasis on serving these underserved areas.
Neighbors says that this means primarily fiber optic connections for each Alabama community to reach the final users. She said the state has received around $2 billion dollars for a job that may take as much as $6 billion to complete. The private telecommunications companies will be matching the government funds with $2 billion of private monies. This still leaves a gap, which will mean some communities may not get broadband in this first phase of grants.
The state plans deals with the middle mile and the last mile, while the companies will deal with the major national infrastructure for high-speed internet. Neighbors said she was working on a state plan including a ‘digital equity plan” to reach neglected areas like the Alabama Black Belt.
Some representatives of the Hale and Greene County Boards of Education were present at the meeting and expressed concern that rural people in their areas, especially the parents of student had very limited Internet services and needed this help as soon as possible.
John Zippert, Co-Publisher of the Greene County Democrat said, “Based on history, Greene County and the counties in the Black Belt have been left out of economic development initiatives like broadband and he did not trust ADECA to respond in an equitable manner to the most rural and neglected areas.” Zippert asked Stillman College to consider providing the Black Belt counties with an independent way to monitor and analyze what the ADECA plan for broadband.
For more information contact: RaSheda Workman at Stillman college at email@example.com.
On May 11, 2023 the Greene County Children’s Policy Council hosted the University of Alabama New Faculty Engagement Tour at the Robert Young Community Center in Eutaw, Alabama. The tour”s – Exploring New Places, Meeting New People, and Engaging New Communities – purpose is to encourage new community -university partnerships. Six panelists from Greene County discussed their programs making a difference in Greene County and what type of additional community-engaged research or service partnerships with the University of Alabama faculty, staff, and students would be helpful to address priorities within the County. The panelist on the program were Christopher Jones, Director, Greene County Ambulance Service, Dr. Corey Jones, Superintendent, Greene County School System, Mildred Morgan, Facilitator, Strengthening Family Program, Mollie Rowe, Director, Eutaw, Housing Authority, John Zippert, Chairman, Greene County Health System Board and Lillie Jones-Osborne, Chairman, Greene County Children’s Policy Council. This is the fifth New Faculty Community Engagement Tour to visit Greene County. According to Dr. Samory Pruitt, Vice President of Community Affairs at the University of Alabama, “ Community-engaged scholarship exists at the intersection of teaching, research, and service, the three pillars of the University of Alabama’s mission. The tour plays an important role in advancing that mission by providing opportunities to connect, and for the community members to become the teachers while members of the University community embrace the role of learner.” Judge Lillie Jones- Osborne served as the facilitator and site coordinator for the group. She stated, “We are always happy to host the group and to sit down and have new dialogue with the faculty and staff to encourage new partnerships.” She further stated that several partnerships have developed over the years because of the engagement tour. The tour visited several other areas in the Black Belt and in West Alabama over a three-day period.
On Saturday, September 3, 2022, the Eutaw Elderly Village(EEV) dedicated an outdoor pavilion for the residents at the elderly housing site on Tuscaloosa Street in downtown Eutaw. Funding for the pavilion was provided by the TS Police Support League, Inc., a charity associated with the Palace Bingo facility. The pavilion will provide an outdoor place for residents to relax, mingle, bar-b-que and meet with their friends. The pavilion was dedicated to the late Eloise Brown, a faithful church and community worker, that the TSPS League wished to recognize and Evie J. Ebbinghouse, wife of Attorney Rick Ebbinghouse, who died of cancer early in life. Ebbinghouse worked with Alabama Legal Services and helped the Federation, PLBA-HDC and others in establishing affordable housing for low income people. EEV had previously planted and dedicated a tree to Mrs. Ebbinghouse. The tree was hit by lightning and destroyed. In the photo from L. to R., Eutaw Mayor Latasha Johnson, James Otieno, EEV Board, Thelma Palmer, EEV Board Member, Emma Jackson, Sheriff Department Carrie Fulghum, EEV Manager, Miriam Leftwich EEV Board Member, Sheila Smith, President TSPS League, Inc., Attorney Rick Ebbinghouse, John Zippert, EEV President, at cutting ribbon to officially dedicate the pavilion.
A coalition of Alabama voting rights advocates held a press conference in front of the Shelby County Courthouse in Columbiana, Alabama to decry the lack of progress on voting rights on the eighth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby County vs. Holder case. The Supreme Court’s decision gutted Sections 4 and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which provided for pre-clearance by the U. S. Department of Justice of changes in voting laws, rules and regulations by state and local jurisdictions in the Southern statesThis decision unleashed a torrent of laws and regulations which made it more difficult for Black, Brown, poor and young people to vote around our nation. Benard Simelton, State President of the NAACP said, “We are here today in Shelby County on the 8th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s putting a knife in the back of the VRA, to call for unfettered access to the polls for all people and an end to voter suppression which is designed to depress the votes of Black, Brown and other disadvantaged people. We are not sitting back. We are actively working to fight voter suppression in all of its ways. “Laws like the one passed in Georgia to prohibit people from giving snacks and water to people on line to vote. The curbs on drop-boxes and curbside voting must be changed. The changes that affect how votes are counted. The purging of voters must all be changed,” said Simelton. Jessica Barker, Coordinator of Lift Our Vote from Huntsville, said, “We are demanding a change to end voter suppression and support our voting rights. We are here today to support the national efforts to support voting rights by passing HR 1 and S1 – The For the People Act and HR-4 The John Lewis Voter Advancement Act, in the United States Congress.” Pastor McMillan of Shelby County, said, “We are here today to try to rescue democracy for all people in Alabama and the nation. Access to the vote is not just reserved for the rich and powerful but for all of us.” Dr. Adia Winfrey of Transform Alabama spoke on her efforts to marshal the power of hip-hop culture to involve young people in the fight for voting rights and civil rights. John Zippert, SaveOurselves Coalition for Justice and Democracy linked the struggle for voting rights with other social change campaigns that SOS is working on including Medicaid Expansion, Criminal Justice Reform, Economic Justice and Worker’s Rights. Rachel Knowles, a white staff member of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said she was a native of Shelby County, grew up there and went to public schools, however, “Now I am ashamed and disappointed to be from a place that is opposed to voting rights for all people.” Rev. Carolyn Foster of the Alabama Poor People’s Campaign said, “Voting rights is a moral and systemic justice issue. We are concerned with restrictive voter ID laws, redistricting problems and the myth of voter fraud. The only way to change things and get what you want is to organize to take it.” After the Courthouse Rally, the groups moved to Orr Park in Montevalo, Alabama and held a ‘voting rights fair” with booths to register people, including the previously incarcerated, get vaccine for the coronavirus, music, food, and fellowship.
Members of SOS rally and press conference on May 14, 2021 in support of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act at the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama (photo by K. C. Bailey, Selma, AL)
The SaveOurselves Movement for Justice and Democracy (SOS) held a rally and press conference on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery last Friday, May 14, 2021. The focus of the event was to support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and other steps to combat racial profiling and brutality by police in Alabama. The rally also expressed opposition to Governor Ivey’s multi-billion plans to build three private prisons, in response to Federal complaints about unsafe conditions in the state’s existing prisons. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is a critical step to address the pandemic of police injustice and killing of innocent Black, Brown and poor people in Alabama and across the nation. This act, HR 1280 has passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting action by the U. S. Senate. The act includes provisions to prevent and remedy racial profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. It also limits the unnecessary use of force and restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds. The act would limit the use of ‘qualified immunity’ for the defense of police who hurt unarmed civilians. It also creates a national registry—the National Police Misconduct Registry—to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct. It also establishes new reporting requirements, including on the use of force, officer misconduct, and routine policing practices (e.g., stops and searches). At the rally, Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of the Ordinary People’s Society in Dothan, Alabama, an organization committed to serving incarcerated people both in prison and after their release, said “The same communities with high rates of poverty, health conditions like diabetes, low educational levels are the same communities that are providing the inmates to fill our prisons. All of these problems are inter-related and need solutions that reduce the numbers of people in Alabama prisons and provides more opportunities for the inmates.” Morgan Dunkett of the student group, Communities Not Prisons, who opposes Gov. Ivey’s plan to borrow funds illegally to build three private prisons, said, “ We oppose the Governor’s plans to build these prisons and we oppose the laws and conditions that feed people into the prison system. Adoption of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act will make a difference in reducing the number of people from our communities that are sent to prison.” Yogi Gillbey of Yogiesmedia and mother of an incarcerated son, said, “Too many innocent people have been sent to Alabama prisons. People are being raped and tortured in our prisons. Guards in the prisons should be required to have on cameras at all times to cut down on the violence in our prisons. More people should be released on reasonable bail, rather than spending months in prison because they cannot afford bail.” William Harrison, an SOS member from Montgomery said that reform of the criminal justice system was linked to voting and voter suppression. “We must encourage people to vote to elect people who will support the George Floyd Act and other legislation to reform the system. Too many states are adopting voter suppression measures which will make this situation harder to turn around,” he said. Danielle Chanzez, from Jacksonville, Florida, asked to speak and unfurl a banner about the case of Diamond Ford and her partner Anthony Grant who were arrested by police exercising a “no-knock warrant” at their home one night last year. Diamond and her partner said the police broke in their apartment, without identifying themselves. Diamond and her partner fired back and were arrested at which point they found out that they were not the subjects of the incorrectly drawn warrant. Because they tried to defend themselves – they are now in jail. John Zippert, SOS Steering Committee member said, “The case we just heard about in Jacksonville, Florida is a clear reason why we are here today to ask people to support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would curtail no-knock warrants and work to get it passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden.” “SOS is also concerned about abuses of criminal justice and prisons in Alabama which the George Floyd Act would help to resolve which is why highlighted these issues at the May 14 rally,” said Zippert.
The Save Ourselves Movement for Justice and Democracy (SOS) held a rally and press conference on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at the State Capitol to urge Governor Ivey to approve Medicaid Expansion because there are new financial incentives available in the American Rescue Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Biden. These incentives will provide $700 to $940 million in additional Medicaid reimbursement, over two years, to the State of Alabama for its current Medicaid participants if it Expands Medicaid to the working poor, who have incomes up to 138% of poverty. This would cover 300,000 or more Alabamians who are not covered now by health insurance coverage. The incentives raise the reimbursement level on all existing Medicaid recipients from 78% to 82% of allowable costs. This 5% increase translates into the millions of new revenues for the state based on calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D. C. think-tank. “Governor Ivey has a second chance to cover the cost of initiating Medicaid Expansion for Alabama citizens, because of the incentives in the American Rescue Act. These incentives were provided to encourage states that had not adopted Medicaid Expansion in 2014, another opportunity to avail themselves of this health care benefit, especially in view of the health challenges of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Johnny Ford, former Mayor of Tuskegee and Co-Chair of the SOS Health Committee. Martha Morgan of the SOS Steering Committee said, “ It is a shame that Federal taxpayers in Alabama have been sending millions of their tax dollars to subsidize Medicaid coverage for working poor people in other states – when we have so many people in Alabama who need this same coverage. Governor Ivey, please act now to Expand Medicaid!” John Zippert, SOS Health Committee Co-Chair, explained “ Seven years ago, Alabama could have expanded Medicaid at no cost for three years, Governor Bentley did not take advantage of the offer then. Now Alabama has a second chance to get incentives for expanding Medicaid. We urge Governor Ivey to take advantage of this new opportunity. The Federal government is paying Alabama to get all of its citizens covered for healthcare. Now is the time for Alabama to Expand Medicaid.” Zack Carter, SOS Steering Committee member said, “ We cannot understand why Gov. Ivey will not accept this program to save Alabama lives. A Kaiser Health study showed that before the pandemic, three people in Alabama were dying every two days, 700 a year, because we did not expand Medicaid coverage. This is the same Governor that is using state funds to pay for state tropers to lead strike-breakers into the Brookwood coal mines, in yellow school buses. She has funds to break a strike but not to Expand Medicaid!” At the close of the rally, Johnny Ford warned, “ Gov. Ivey we will be back with hundreds of people, every week, to push you to Expand Medicaid!” WSFA-TV in Montgomery in its report on the SOS rally said they contacted the Governor’s office for a comment and her staff said they were still studying the American Rescue Plan to see what benefits it contains to assist the state in dealing with the pandemic. For more information on how you can join with SOS in the fight for Medicaid Expansion, contact Shelley Fearson at 334-262-0932 or visit the SOS website.
87 U.S.-based groups delivered a solidary statement to Indian farmers, calling for action from both U.S. and Indian governments
Mineapolis—Today, 87 farmer organizations and allied agroecology, farm and food justice groups in the United States delivered a solidarity statement in support of Indian farmers’ historic protests to Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a united front of over 40 Indian farmers unions. In the statement, U.S. groups express respect for the unified struggles of the farmers and farmworkers and urge both U.S. and Indian governments to support independent family farmers and localized food systems to protect food sovereignty and the livelihoods of millions. India’s farmers have mobilized to create one of the world’s most vibrant protests in history against unjust farm laws that will increase agribusiness’ stranglehold over their food system. They have rallied around a cry for the repeal of three laws — passed without farmers’ knowledge or consultation — that aim to liberalize Indian agriculture and food sectors, not only at the cost of farmers, but also the food security of India’s poor. One key demand of the protesting farmers is for farmers to receive a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all crops to limit the market power of buyers in highly unequal markets. The U.S.-based signatories of the solidarity statement recognize the role the U.S. government has played in creating the conditions that led to these repressive laws. The U.S. has been a key opponent of India’s limited use of MSP at the World Trade Organization, arguing that it represents an unfair subsidy. Yet, the U.S. government spends tens of billions of dollars on its agriculture, much of it in programs that directly contribute to low prices and commodity dumping in international markets. Under the Biden administration, the U.S. has a powerful opportunity to shift U.S. trade policy to allow other countries to support fair markets for their farmers and shift its own agricultural policy to ensure parity and environmental and racial justice in the U.S. The signatories are concerned by several additional factors not included in this statement, such as the unconstitutional ways in which these laws were passed without following proper parliamentary rules and the Indian government’s use of authoritarian tactics to deny farmers’ right to dissent democratically. The solidarity statement was co-sponsored by members of U.S. farm, food and racial justice organizations, including the National Family Farm Coalition, Rural Coalition, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, as well as diasporic Indians who continue to work with farmers groups in India. “Liberalizing markets without taking into account farmers’ political voice and protecting against concentrated buyer power makes a mockery of what markets should stand for; we denounce the three farm bills, the lack of consultation with farmers and their organizations, and stand in solidarity with the brave stance India’s farmers are taking,” says Sophia Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). “A majority of India’s farmers are hurting, and the draconian steps that the Indian state has taken in response to peaceful farm law protests (demanding assured returns on farm produce) and against those supporting the strike (such as the detention of 21-year-old Disha Ravi, co-founder of Fridays For Future in India) is making the fault lines of Indian democracy visible to the world. India is at a turning point: it can decide to honor the demands of its farmers or continue to stand by Indian billionaires who would benefit from these farm laws,” says Shiney Varghese, senior policy analyst at IATP. “The Rural Coalition, which has fought for four decades for the civil and human rights for all producers and farmworkers in this nation, sends our strong support and deep respect to the heroic family farmers and farmworkers of India as you stand united together to protect the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and stop government policies that destroy the livelihood and future of family farmers, farmworkers and rural peoples,” says John Zippert, chair of Rural Coalition. To read the statement and view the full list of signatories, please follow this link: https://bit.ly/3pA3adJ.
Shown L to R: Eutaw Police Officer Tyler Johnson, Asst, Chief Kendrick Howell, Chief Tommy Johnson, Mayor Pro Tem LaJeffery Carpenter, Officers Robert Geter and William Smith displaying their new uniform. Chief Johnson stated he has an open door policy. Look professional and act professional. We are here to help our citizens.
At its regular meeting on January 26,2021, the Eutaw City Council dealt with several outstanding issues including naming people to city committees and boards, reviewing continuing problems with the water system, support for E-911, reviewing an agreement for joint work with the County Commission and Industrial Board, setting lease rates for space at the Carver School Community Center and paying bills. The Mayor and City Council appointed members of the following boards and committees: • Eutaw Zoning Board: John Zippert, Broderick Fulghum, Cynthia Cooper, Corey Cockrell, and Shirley Eubanks • Eutaw Housing Authority Board: James Powell, Jonathan Lewis, Jacqueline Allen, and Isaac N. Atkins • Eutaw Medical Clinic Board: Judy Jarvis, John Zippert and Joyce Cotton • Eutaw Historical Commission: Evelyn Davis, Gilda Jowers, Diane Liverman, Carol P. Zippert, Sharon Trammell, Johnnie Mae Knott, Sandra Walker, Judy Jarvis • Eutaw Cemetery Board: Nicolas Wilson, Joseph Fritz, Suzette Powell, Sharon Trammell, and Connie Tyree The Council took up the issue of setting a rental payment for use of rooms at the Carver School Community Center. The CRFD, a non-profit agency has had a space for a year and Liberty Tax, a business. is requesting a space. Councilwoman Tracey Hunter raised the concern that the monthly charge includes utilities. Mayor Johnson said it was a community center not a business, so the city was not likely to recover all costs for the facility, but needed to charge a fair rate for non-profits and others. Hunter then moved to table the issue until more research and information was available. The Engineers of the South (EOS), the consulting firm that is currently contracted to monitor the operations and quality of the Eutaw Water System was present and stated their interest in supporting efforts to improve the system. The spokesperson for EOS said that they would provide a proposal to increase time on monitoring the system, help in auditing and correcting faulty meters and replacing meters that could not be repaired. EOS is also answering an ADEM complaint about the water system, which was sent to the past Mayor but never answered. The City also has a proposal from Kathie Horne of Water Management Associates for improving and repairing problems with the water system. Her agreement is for three years and charges $6 per meter, per month. Mayor Johnson said the city has 1,400 water meters, which means that Horne’s contract is for $8,400 a month or more. Johnson said she wasn’t sure if the city could afford this contract and welcomed other proposals, like one from EOS. The Mayor said this would be discussed in more detail at a Council Work Session on Tuesday, February 2nd. The next agenda item was a pledge by the City since 2004, to provide $30,000 a year for the operation of the E-911 emergency assistance and dispatching services, which has never been paid. Johnny Isaac, Chair of the E-911 Board was present and said, “In 2004, I was the Sheriff and Reginald Spencer was Eutaw Chief of Police, we agreed to transfer dispatching services to E-911. This is saving the city between $200,000 and $300,000 a year. We hope you can support us with $30,000 that was pledged but never paid. The monies we get from the phone bill tax of $1.86 per customer is not sufficient to operate E-911” Mayor Johnson said the City should pay $30,000 a year to support E-911, from bingo funds. The Council agreed and supported this expense. The Council reviewed an agreement between the City, County Commission and Industrial Development Authority for development of the Interstate 59/20 Exit 40, especially the location of a motel and other projects to improve the county. The Council tabled this issue for further discussion at the upcoming work session. The Council received a listing of outstanding bills for the months of November, December and January, which they approved for payment.
The Alabama Department of Public Health (ALDPH) says it has not received enough doses of the coronavirus vaccine to serve the 325,000 frontline health workers in the state, much less the over 300,000 people in the age group over 75, teachers and other essential workers who are in the next group scheduled to be vaccinated. The ALDPH has asked people in the State of Alabama to be patient as it seeks to increase its delivery of vaccines and their distribution around the state. In a January 9th press release the ALDPH said “As of January 18th, the Health Department will offer vaccinations to the population ages 75 and over. You may call 1-855-566-5333 from 8:00AM to 5:00PM, seven days a week to schedule an appointment.” Three days later ALDPH issued a press release saying over 1.1 million people in the state had called the number, most without reaching anyone to schedule their appointment. Later ALDPH warned that calling hospitals directly to inquire about vaccinations was tying up phone lines needed for emergency calls. Several persons connected with the Greene County Health System Board of Directors report calling the toll-free line numerous times without success. Most received a busy signal or a voicemail which records their interest in a vaccination but there has been no call back with an appointment for vaccination. A GCHS staff member who did receive their first vaccination shot was having trouble reaching the ALDPH to schedule their second shot which is due soon. Dr. Pugh, CEO and Administrator of the Greene County Health System says, “I have been working to secure vaccines for our facility to be able to vaccine various priority groups. The best information so far is that we will get supplies of vaccine by the end of January. We have had some of our medical and support staff vaccinated at the Health Department. We do not have a date yet for the vaccination of the nursing home residents and other vulnerable groups, who are on the priority list for vaccination.” John Zippert, Chair of the GCHS Board of Directors says, “The muddled vaccine delivery and distribution problems in Alabama arise from the failure of the national administration in Washington to develop a national plan for coronavirus vaccination and to provide the resources to implement the plan. We may have to wait until after the Biden-Harris Inauguration, to have people take charge who are concerned and really want to stop this damaging pandemic. In the meantime, I guess we are forced to accept the Alabama Department of Public Health’s prescription of patience.” “We have so many people desperately seeking the vaccination when the state of Alabama is having difficulties getting us a supply of vaccine,”. said Dr. Pugh. The problems of vaccine distribution come with a backdrop of increasing and record numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths attributable to the coronavirus in Greene County, Alabama and the nation
Katrina survivor and activist Barbara Robbins and her 95-year-old mother are forced from their home of 52 years, because they never received rebuilding assistance!
News Analysis By: Zack Carter Preparing for the 10th Anniversary of Katrina the Poor People’s Campaign held a Truth Commission in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. The organizer’s report cites the community’s action items, and the testimony of Barbara Robbins, with whom I had the privilege of working with for ten years, fighting for a just recovery after Katrina: “From the testimonies of these community leaders, the Saving OurSelves Coalition identified the following issues for action: • “Recover and repair the homes of Snows Quarters: Alabama Fisheries Coop leader Barbara Robbins was forced out of Safe Harbor after she became disabled. ‘We [in Snows Quarter, the African American community of Bayou La Batre]…Out of some 100 homes, only four of us received meaningful assistance. Since Katrina many of our homes flood after a hard rain and we can’t even flush the toilet. My living room floor is rotting. I am afraid my 90-year-old mother will fall through any day…”. (“A Truth Commission Begins in Bayou La Batre, Alabama”, by John Wessel-McCoy, Nov. 7, 2014/Kairos). https://kairoscenter.org/truth-commission-bayou-la-batre-alabama/
The Truth Commission also referenced a 10-page report submitted to the United Nations, five years after Katrina, authored by Louisiana and Mississippi activists which concluded on pp. 7-8:
‘The hurricane damaged communities in Alabama are the most overlooked areas by the U.S. Government, and are not mentioned in the U.S. Government’s reports to the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination regarding Hurricane Katrina” (Prepared by Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (Louisiana, USA),and The Gulf States Human Rights Working Group (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana) https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/gulf-coast-activists-report-the-un-human-rights-committee/
Barbara Robbins was one of the thousands overlooked, but she refused to give up on getting their home repaired. With years of savings from her meager wages as a seafood worker and with a lot of borrower’s debt, Barbara hired a contractor to repair the floors. But it was a scam, like that suffered by thousands of other Katrina survivors. A photo shows the problem of the floors separating from the walls, which forced their recent departure from where they lived since 1968. Barbara Robbins, now disabled, cares full-time for her mother in a small low-income housing apartment.
Floors separating from walls in Barbara Robbins home, photo by Barbara Robbins 8/29/20
On the 15th Anniversary of Katrina, Aug 29, 2020, Barbara told me their heartbreaking story:
“When I take Mother out, the only place she wants to go, and the only safe place where we can avoid the virus, is the driveway of our home in Snows Quarter. This is where she and my father raised six children in the 1960’s and 70’s. Mother wants to go into our house, but I have to remind her it is not safe anymore. So, we just sit there in the car and reminisce for an hour or so until she finally says, ‘Okay, I’m ready to go now.’” After an emotional pause in our interview Barbara continued: “Recently the bank approved me for a trailer to put next to our home that I still hope to rebuild. I was about to rush to our apartment and give Mother the great news, but I was then told the City of Bayou La Batre will not allow trailers, even on the property we have owned for 52 years!” “We never received any Katrina rebuilding assistance, like most of us in our Black Community. And that goes all the way back to our homeowners insurance agent who refused our claim, saying we were only covered for wind damage and not water damage even though Katrina’s 130 mph winds pushed the huge surge of water through our house, and on its return to the Gulf the surge sucked all our furniture out except the large freezer that jammed in the doorway.” The powers that be in our state tried to deflect Alabama Katrina survivors’ demands for justice with the coded racist-based lie that ‘all the aid is going to New Orleans.’ Then, less than two years after Katrina, an Alabama investigative reporter revealed: (”Katrina aid goes to condo buyers near the University of Alabama’s football stadium”, by Jay Reeves, AP, August 14, 2007, Tuscaloosa News,) https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/DA/20070814/News/606118146/TL
The previous month the same newspaper published my Op-ed based on testimony and data provided by neglected Katrina survivors collected by Mobile County, and supported by a strong legal opinion from a national Civil Rights organization: “……more than 2,000 Katrina survivors in Alabama still stuck in FEMA campers, and hundreds more doubled up in single-family homes, desperately waiting for Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds — allocated last summer — to be released. “ The state’s failure to provide for these citizens contradicts the federal funding program’s intent to assist low- to moderate-income people and violates Alabama’s own stated objective to address unmet needs,” said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. (“MY TURN” by Zack Carter, Tuscaloosa News, July 15,2007) . https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/DA/20070715/News/606117785/TL We had also received a legal boost from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law who, on June 6, 2007 wrote a 4.5-page letter and shared their logo with three Alabama groups, and co-signed by hundreds of organizations and individuals. https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/lawyers-committee-on-civil-rights-under-law-al-activists-letter-to-state-of-al/
Thus, our coalition countered the racist propaganda and policies by uniting with Civil Rights organizations and historic African American communities in north Mobile hard-hit by Katrina, as well as Katrina survivors in Louisiana and Mississippi. See for example one of our brochures that includes several pages of riveting photos of destruction, and survivors testimonies, from north Mobile along a 30 mile stretch to the “Bayou” : (“Tour of Mobile County Katrina Survivors”. https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/flyer-for-tour-of-mobile-county-victims/
On the 2nd Anniversary of Katrina, Barbara Robbins, along with several carloads of Alabama Katrina survivors, Blacks, Asians, and Whites, attended the August 28, 2007 GULF COAST REBUILDING PROGRAM at the HBCU Dillard University in New Orleans. A featured speaker was Representative Maxine Waters. In the first two minutes of the CSPAN user video clip cited below, Representative Waters commended a Mississippi panelist for documenting unjust homeowner’s insurance companies’ schemes. She received a loud ovation after strongly stating: “it will take a revolution” to end these monopolized insurance companies’ corrupt refusal to pay claims (such as that suffered by Barbra Robbins!). Just after Rep Waters thunder, Derrick Johnson (now president of the NAACP) introduced me and the inhuman treatment of people in our state: “Zack Carter, Alabama has been largely ignored as it relates to Katrina damage you all suffered. What do you see the federal government’s response should be?”.https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4901931/user-clip-rep-maxine-waters-zack-carter My response was based on the, detailed evidence Alabama Katrina survivors had initiated, and then collected from licensed housing inspectors and summarized in a letter a Mobile County Commissioner, co-signed with us activists on July 7, 2007– documenting that there was only enough federal funds to repair or rebuild 15 – 20% of 1200 CDBG applicants who were accepted; and thousands more who missed the unjust two week, and barely publicized, deadline. (Mobile County and AL activists letter to Sen Shelby documenting Katrina damage) https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/mobile-county-and-al-activists-letter-to-sen-shelby-documenting-katrina-damage/ Barbara Robbins helped lead a Multi-Racial Coalition of Alabama Katrina Survivors
On the 4th Anniversary of Katrina Celebrating a Victory: Barbara and Gertrude Robbins are pictured with several other activists in an article on the award-winning blog Bridge the Gulf : “…in front of one of the 300-plus homes that were repaired or rebuilt in south Mobile County because of the grassroots advocacy and determined unity of all cultures, races, and creeds in The Bayou’ “.
Pictured left to right: Earl Presley; Stella Mae Smith; Paul Nelson, Zack Carter, Becky Barbour, Ernest Montgomery, Gertrude Robbins, Neece Presley, Donna Hunt, Danielle McKenzie, Phyllis Johnson, Barbara-Jean Robbins, Michael Robbins, Rosie Robbins. (Photo by Stefanie Bosarge, August 29, 2009)
“Struggle for a Home Struggle for a Home in Alabama’s Bayou”
The 15-minute video “Struggle for a Home Struggle for a Home in Alabama’s Bayou” documents how black, white, and Asian Alabama Katrina survivors joined in a decade-long active struggle for their human right to rebuild after Katrina. https://vimeo.com/55330965
Barbara Robbins is seen often in the video — including the above photo of the blistering speech she gave to the corrupt director at Bayou La Batre’s Safe Harbor in 2012, for rent gouging and evicting residents from this 100-home neighborhood built with $18 million from HUD and FEMA for homeless Katrina survivors. The “Safe Harbor” director’s response was to call the police on all of the Katrina survivors and activists gathered at this public meeting. Now in 2020, the same director and co-director recently resigned and are under investigation by the local sheriff’s office who told the press: ‘There is a substantial amount of money that comes in and not a dime has been used to improve or maintain the houses. there certainty appears to be a misappropriation of funds to put it nicely.’” (“Safe Harbor Landing raises concerns as MCSO launches investigation”, by Gaby Easterwood, WKRG, Sept. 20, 20.https://www.wkrg.com/local-news/safe-harbor-landing-raises-concerns-as-mcso-launches-investigation/ Ms. Robbins’s activism continues to this day, see the letter cited below to the present Mayor of Bayou La Batre from, Barbara Robbins, John Zippert, and me asking that he allow Ms. Robbins to place a trailer on her property as she continues to seek rebuilding assistance; and proposing a plan and for a housing cooperative that would restore the promise of affordable housing and rent-to-buy at “Safe Harbor”, dated Oct. 13, 2020. https://alafishcoop.wordpress.com/2020/10/25/letter-to-mayor-of-bayou-la-batre-from-barbara-robbins-john-zippert-and-zack-carter-oct-13-2020/
Barbara and Gertrude Robbins story is emblematic of the one million people who were displaced by the inhuman and racist policies that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which also and yet to be accurately calculated, greatly increased the initial death toll of some 2,000. And today, as we are hit with disasters from Coronavirus to Gulf Coast hurricanes Laura, Sally, Beta, and Delta to forest fires in California and Colorado, our human rights are increasingly trampled under Trump and the extreme racist influence of his senior advisor Steven Miller. By April of this year Trump and Miller had already cut FEMA’s budget in half — our country’s main relief agency – as they increased funding for their southern border wall and war on immigrants and their children, even separating nursing babies from their mothers! See: “FEMA Joined Coronavirus Fight with Posts Unfilled and Parent Agency Shifting Funds to Immigration” (Wall Street Journal, April 2020); see also “In the Midst of a War on the Coronavirus, Trump and Stephen Miller Redirect Funding to Their War on Immigrants”. (yuba.net, April 20, 2020) Trump and Miller are determined that survivors and victims of recent Gulf Coast Hurricanes will not be able to return to their homes in the same way that Hurricane Katrina survivors in Bayou La Batre and other Gulf Coast towns have not been able to return after a decade and a half. Many properties of Katrina survivors ended up in the hands of wealthy developers and casinos, a phenomenon documented in Naomi Klein’s 2007 book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”. Indeed, at the end of my interview with Barbara Robbins she told me a developer shamelessly offered a paltry amount for their property. Barbara rejected him and said: “I would rather see my home remain in ruins commemorating unjust Katrina policy”. ACTION ALERT: Please call Bayou La Batre Mayor Terry Dowdy at 251 824 2171 and ask that he allow Barbara Robbins to place a trailer on their property so she and 95-year-old Gertrude Robbins can return to the home she bought and loves.
About the author: Zack Carter is a community organizer who helped bring national attention to unjust Katrina and BP recovery policies. He was trade union activist in Mobile during the 1980’s and advocated for Labor to speak out against the Klan lynching of Michael Donald. He currently serves on the Steering Committee of the SaveOurselves Movement for Justice and Democracy.