Brandi Holmes and Secunda Joseph, both native Houstonians, discuss their experience of Hurricane Harvey. Holmes explains that she is no stranger to floods as her family’s neighborhood would flood regularly as a child, and she notes that this experience is where she learned about the devastation of floods.
In preparation for the storm, Joseph recalls buying a lot of junk food and preparing to hunker down, while Holmes made several trips to pick up supplies than she needed before the storm. When the flood waters began to recede, Holmes began to distribute her extra food to people in her neighborhood. Neither Joseph or Holmes’s homes flooded, but the women, both community organizers, helped the disaster response and rescue efforts. Joseph explains how she first tried to help relatives and friends who needed to be rescued, and then how she and Holmes monitored social media and provided information to rescuers about those who needed help because they realized people in some North Houston neighborhoods were being overlooked. Holmes mentions that her faith drove her desire to help others. After several days, Joseph and Holmes left their homes for the George R. Brown convention center to assist with the shelter operations. Holmes explains how the news media treated those who were arriving at the shelter and talks about the services offered at the shelter. To end the conversation, Holmes and Joseph discuss the fact that minority communities are often affected to a greater extent by natural disasters than other communities.
Interviewee: Brandi Holmes and Secunda Joseph
Interview Date: October 11, 2018
Interview Location: Smith Library
Interviewer: Bernice Tsao
INTERVIEWER: Hello, today is October 11, 2018. My name is Bernice Tsao, and I’m here today at the Smith Neighborhood Library with Secunda and Brandi as part of the University of Houston Center for Public History’s Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project. We will be talking today about these two lovely ladies’ experience with Hurricane Harvey.
BT: So are you ready?
SJ: Yes, we’re ready.
UNKNOWN 1: One second. I just want to — can I ask a quick question about the camera? I just want to like not record on.
BT: Okay, technical difficulties.
UNKNOWN 1: I just wanted to get that full part. When I press record and the camera has a little skip button — you know, an uno. It has like the skip — like this.
UNKNOWN 2: That’s recording.
BT: What are we talking about?
UNKNOWN 1: Okay.
UNKNOWN 2: Maybe that means you can’t take a picture?
UNKNOWN 1: Was it on [0:01:00] there when you recorded?
UNKNOWN 2: I believe so.
UNKNOWN 1: Okay, then — okay, we’re good. That’s it.
UNKNOWN 2: Let me double-check.
UNKNOWN 1: Sorry.
BH: That’s okay.
BT: I guess we’ll continue. Okay, so —
SJ: I think she’s going to check with her first, yeah.
BH: She went to check. I was talking to Ben at West Street.
SJ: I figured you was talking to Ben.
BH: He be going off.
SJ: He does.
BH: Did you meet him?
SJ: Yes, many times. Ben is crazy.
UNKNOWN 1: Okay, we’re good. Go ahead, sorry.
SJ: That’s on camera.
BT: Do you mind stating your names and telling me a little bit about yourselves? I guess we can start with Secunda.
SJ: Okay, my name is Secunda Joseph. I am born in Houston by the way of south Louisiana. I got to represent. That’s where my family’s from. Like most of the people in northeast Houston, which is where I lived for most parts of my life [0:02:00], and I am a community organizer with — really a community person, servant with BLMHTX and Project Curate. And yeah, that’s — is that good? You want to know anything else?
BT: Thank you. What about you, Brandi?
BH: My name is Brandi Holmes, and I am a native Houstonian as well. I grew up in Missouri City, but my family is from the north side of town and southeast — so South Park and the Nickel — anyway, 5th Ward. Let’s see about me, so I also do community organizing work as well with the same organizations as Secunda mentioned. And our work in community organizing is what brought us to transition to other work around Harvey [0:03:00].
BT: I see. That’s an excellent segue. We will be talking about Harvey today. I just wanted to ask you, though, have you guys had any experiences with storms in the past? Like you mentioned that you lived in Louisiana. Were you affected by any previous storms?
SJ: No, my family is from Louisiana. Louisiana is like being from Jamaica. It’s a culture, so you got to say it. I’m not, but being in Houston — being in Houston, I’ve experienced every storm or flood. I mean, my car was flooded out a couple of years ago. That didn’t really make the news. Only a couple of streets flooded, but it sort of put me out as far as — just bought the car. And although I did have like gap insurance or whatever, like you know, I was in a little trouble, because I didn’t — gap insurance doesn’t mean that you can get a new car. It means that you don’t owe for that car [0:04:00], which was great.
But then I was stuck in the position where I had to — I wasn’t in a — just a place where I had like a lot of savings. So it was — it was a little hustle trying to get another car. And just I experienced flooding many times within the city. I, myself, have never lost all of my belongings in a flood, but very close family members of mine, and friends, and even churches that I belong to have been a part of the flood and have been affected. My whole community, yeah.
BT: Thank you. Have you had any experience with flooding in the past like Secunda?
SJ: You did good. That was perfect.
BT: Did you experience your friends or family losing anything in the flood?
BH: So I hadn’t had personally [0:05:00] — I mean, we’ve had flooding happen around in like Missouri City, but South Park, my grandmother’s neighborhood, used to flood. I mean, it didn’t matter how much it rained. It would flood out every time. And I can remember as a young person. Like we would get out of school early sometimes if it was like really bad rain and they knew it was going to flood. And I went to the elementary school around the corner from her house. So I can remember several times. We would be excited that we got to get home early. But then when you got off the bus — my grandmother, you know, was elderly — great-grandmother. And so she usually would meet me at the bus stop. And I can remember several times where it was just — the water was so bad where she couldn’t meet me, and she had to wait for it to kind of recede. And so I remember just walking — like figuring out how to walk — and I thought it was fun.
SJ: Me, too.
BH: I mean, jumping in the puddles and stuff like that, my clothes would get all wet. But then hindsight, as you’re watching — as like you’re watching ant piles float by and all these other things, you’re like, “You know what? Maybe this is not as fun as I thought.” And so I can remember several times having that as an experience. And then also like in middle school and high school when it would flood really bad, and my school flooded. And we [0:06:00] couldn’t go to school, and I was really excited about that. But then I also learned that other people lost things.
So it’s like this kind of this strange — this kind of strange relationship with it, right? Where it’s like, “Oh, yay, we don’t have to go to work and school,” but then you learn, “Oh, well, I just lost everything in my house and all my personal belongings.” Like, “Oh, I should not be rejoicing about this flood.” So I’ve never had a loss of all my items but have had known people that have lost like homes — and especially people who live in southwest off of Braeswood. Like that — Braeswood flood — I mean, it didn’t matter what was happening — you know, just watching people who live off the bayou flooding. And I’ve had some family members that have had some minor flooding but nothing where they completely lost everything — or friends that completely lost everything.
BT: Thank you. Now, let’s talk a little bit about Hurricane Harvey. Sorry, I’m really awkward at [0:07:00] this.
BH: No, you’re doing great.
BT: With Hurricane Harvey, when you heard it was coming, how did you guys prepare for the hurricane? Or what did you feel when you heard that it was coming?
SJ: Generally, when these things happen — because I think when you’re from Houston, then you have like a process. And usually what happens for the hurricane is that most of — like when I say my family members, my grandmother — I have some cousins, first cousins or whatever, my aunts and uncles, the ones that are here, like we would go to one particular home. And this time, for the hurricane, it was really odd. I had one of my cousins. Her husband was in the hospital. And her children — she just had a brand-new baby. And — no, she didn’t. She was pregnant. And her mom was at — one of my aunts was [0:08:00] at her house with her children. It was kind of far out. But my mom, my aunts — my other aunts, and my grandmother, they stayed at another aunt’s house.
And because of that game, most of my male cousins — first cousins, they were all at some game, right? They were all — so they were all stranded either leaving the game — either leaving — it was a fight that happened that night. They were either leaving the fight, stuck in the street because they were trying to get home, or there were a few of them that went to the same party. But for some reason, this time — you know, and people thought I was crazy. I was like, “I’m going to stay at home.” But I just felt like this time that’s where I kind of needed to be.
And I’m glad that I made that decision, because generally, it’s like — you know, like what Brandi said. There’s relationships, so you know, lights go off. And we eat so much. You know what I mean? All kinds of food, and it’s — it’s really a — it’s weird [0:09:00], because there is a time of like you’re huddling in this together. But I — instead of doing what I usually do, I went to Family Dollar. Y’all don’t do this. And I bought all the junk that you could keep. I had no food. I had chips and drinks and just stuff that made me sick eventually. After like two or three days, I had a migraine headache.
And my cousin, I don’t know how she found some kind of way. I know y’all ain’t asked this yet, but I got to tell y’all. I don’t know how she found a way. The one was pregnant. She found a map on the internet that was letting you — she lives way in Jersey Village, right? I live right outside of downtown, but she was going back and forth to the hospital with her husband, who was in the medical center, right? He had been burned really bad. Nine months pregnant, she found some meat market that had like real food — stopped at the meat market, brought me [0:10:00] some food. The hospital had no food, so she was getting — taking care of her children, getting some food for her husband, because — people didn’t talk about this, but there wasn’t enough workers in the hospital — in Hermann Hospital, where he was at. So they wasn’t serving. So she had to find some stuff for him, so she also found some food that I can cook, so I can get out of my probably diabetic coma for me. But yeah, I was unprepared as far as the food is concerned, yeah. Hold it down, but my phone was charged. My phone was charged.
BH: That’s exactly right.
BT: You were prepared in that aspect.
SJ: That’s right.
BH: And you had a back-up battery.
SJ: I had a back-up battery thanks to Brandi.
BH: Yeah, I feel like —
SJ: You made sure I had my — you was like, “Make sure you charge up that battery.”
BH: I sure did. I said, “Make sure you charge your back-up battery up, because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
SJ: That’s right.
BH: Yeah, I did the — I mean, I did a similar thing where like I stayed — so my mother, at that time lived in — lives in — she lived in Missouri City [0:11:00]. And I’m close to — was close to downtown, too. And I asked her — I was like, “Do you want me to come over there?” She was like, “No, I think we’ll be alright.” You know, because it typically doesn’t flood in her neighborhood. I mean it does a little bit, but not something that is just like terrible and you can’t get out. She did get affected like during Ike, where the electricity was out for like a week and a half. I had to come pick her — I forgot about that. I had to come pick her up from Memphis. I came and picked her up, because they didn’t know when they were going to have electricity. But anyway, that was a real privilege.
But this time, I was just like, “Okay, well, I’m going to just hang out at home.” I live in the second floor. You know, I was like, “I should be cool.” So the first couple days, I remember they were talking about Harvey. I was like, “Okay, let me just go get some water and a couple things,” you know, crackers and tuna fish. You know all the little stuff that you can get. And then they started talking about it more and how bad it was going to be. I was like, “Okay, let me go back to the store, because I don’t have enough meals,” right? And so then — so then I remember I went to the store — like I kid you not, I went back to the store as my like anxiety started to grow. I went back to the store like four or five times. And I got like more water and I was like [0:12:00], “Well, what if, in my apartment complex, that person didn’t get enough food, and they need some salads, so I’ll get the –” So I got like all kind of — any stuff that would survive outside the refrigerator. I had all the food. Like at the end of the storm, I still had food left over. I had way too much food. So then I started — then when we —
SJ: Plus, the lights didn’t go off.
BH: Plus, my lights didn’t go off. So my food was fine. I had all kind of meat. I had — I had way too — I had — I bought way too much. Like it was ridiculous. I had treats. I had food. I had other stuff. I had stuff I could take with me. I had a cooler. I bought all kind of crap. And so the thing that ended up happening was I had all this food and stuff. And as I started — and I know this is not part of your question. I’m sorry. Maybe it will go into another one, but —
BT: Don’t worry.
BH: I remember — like there’s some folks who live, you know, on the streets around my neighborhood. And so one of the guys I’m pretty familiar with — because he walks around the neighborhood or what have you. And I was like, “I wonder what they doing,” you know? And so I remember as soon as it — like the water started receding, I drove around. And I saw him, and I was like, “What are doing out here?” And he was like, “It was okay to be out here,” or whatever. I was like, “What are you eating [0:13:00]?” He’s like — because nobody was driving. He’s like, “Nobody’s coming around.” I was like, “You’re in luck.” So I went back to the house. And I was like — I got like — I did. I had like six salads — like prepaid — pre-prepared, HEB-style, that you can just kind of like keep out. I was like, “Here you go.”
SJ: Some good food, too.
BH: I was like, “Do you like tuna fish packets?” I mean, because what was I going to do with all that mess. You know, you have to give it away.
BH: So it ended up being something where it’s like, alright, I had way too much. And I’m not — I’m not trying to be like, “Oh, let’s give way –” fed the hungry, but I mean, it was like — it was something that you could — you know, that some way that you can kind of give back, you know. Because I had way too much food. But she lived too far for me to bring her food.
SJ: Yeah, you couldn’t get across that way.
BH: I couldn’t get across, yeah. Because I was like, “I got enough food.” She’s like, “You’re not going to be able to make it over here.”
BH: So anyway, that was my relationship with shopping. That was my preparation. Then I watched a lot of documentaries.
BT: Thank you for sharing that.
BH: You’re welcome.
BT: You guys weren’t [0:14:00] personally affected by the storm, as in your electricity didn’t go out and your houses were fine. You didn’t receive any —
SJ: Well, I mean, just working — at the time, outside of doing community organizing work, like I was hustling. I was Ubering. And like I couldn’t like earn any of that income during that time. So like, you know, I thought about how — and I had another job. I had plenty gigs at that time, which I wasn’t at work at that time either. So although I wasn’t affected as far as like I didn’t lose, you know, my things and get flooded — at that time, my car didn’t flood. Thank God, because it had just flooded, right, some months prior. But I did lose income, yeah.
BT: So you were an Uber driver?
SJ: I was an Uber driver. I was a community organizer. I still am. I was an [0:15:00] assistant at a church doing some administration work, yeah. I was doing a bunch of [unclear, 0:15:06].
BH: You got to make them ends meet.
SJ: You do, you know.
BT: Woman of power. So you are both community organizers?
BT: What do you do outside of community organizing? So she mentioned she was Uber driving, working in her church. What else do you do outside of –?
BH: I would with young people at an oil and gas company at an internship program. And I’ve done that for the past four years now. And so yeah, we didn’t have any program and what have you. The young people were excited about it, because they didn’t want to come to work. But yeah, we didn’t have any program. And we basically were at home, so that was kind of — and that didn’t necessarily directly affect my income, you know, but it was — you know, I didn’t — I didn’t go to work.
BT: I see. Uh-huh, so [0:16:00] in the aftermath of Harvey, watching so many people get affected by the storm and all that stuff, financially and with their homes and all these losses, would you mind telling us a little bit about your work during Harvey and after as community organizers?
SJ: Well, even before it was over — you know, the reason why I said — and even Brandi was saying that it kind of worked out for us staying at home. Had I been with my family, I would have been focused on whatever that is we would have been doing, right? Like shooting a dozen, like whatever crazy thing we would have been doing. But because I was at home, we were on this text line a lot of times — like you know, keeping each other company. But also, we were paying a lot of attention to social media. And one of the things that I start paying attention to was that people in northeast Houston were not getting the assistance.
Like there was no [0:17:00] firetrucks sitting out there. In that area, everything was flooded. I mean, everything was flooded everywhere, but neighborhood after neighborhood, after neighborhood, after neighborhood, right? So church after church, and I was like, “Well, why?” And not only did I notice — so people that I knew, distant relatives, cousins, older — like some of my grandmother’s first cousins, elderly people that I knew who were stuck, right? And then I seen people that I didn’t necessarily know them like on social media. But I saw that they were saying, “My family –” Because you know, everybody was sharing zip codes. I saw that they were saying, “My family in ‘such-and-such’ zip code –” And these are similar — I know these zip codes are in northeast Houston. And I’m like, “Wait a minute. No one’s going out there,” right?
So by God’s grace, you know, by some kind of power — I guess, thank God for [0:18:00] social media as well. Like I — some kind of way, we began to — first we were doing what most people were doing, which was like calling the — these lines. Was it the National — not the National Guard — one of the — one of those people, but no one could get through. And then finally, because we were putting stuff out of people who were saying — like I literally got a call from one of my cousins, who said that there’s an apartment complex in east Houston where a lady was stranded. It was a relative of hers. And she was trying to get her help. And the lady kept saying people drowned in her complex. And this was like east Houston. And then another person I seen saying that, you know, nobody is helping these people in this area. And at that time, someone shared with me because of the “Hey, y’all, you know, [0:19:00] did y’all see this?” Somebody send somebody here. People were saying that the — what was that army?
BH: Cajun Army.
SJ: Somebody, you know, send this to the Cajun Army, but somebody shared with me that there was a group of people, young men from these communities, that were helping people. Send them their names, right? So I began to send the people I know and then start sharing with other people that I know. At that time, I didn’t know if he was getting the information. I didn’t know if he was picking them up. And then after that, someone reached out to me and was saying that someone had created an app so that we can add our people to this app. And it would help organize different efforts of the folks who were doing rescue. So it wasn’t just one particular rescue service but, you know, a few of them. And that way, we wouldn’t — like five of us wouldn’t send one [0:20:00] to the same person.
And Brandi, like we was all — while we were on the phone, we were discussing these things that were happening. And we was — we were sharing this information. And yeah, so before the — before it was over, we had actually began to — yeah, do kind of the — I guess, the legwork from our couches and our electricity, yeah. And the news, I even watched how the news, once we start sharing all this information, like Chauncy — Chauncy and Ted Oberg, right? They began to say, “Hey, there’s people in northeast Houston who need help.” But prior to that, like — it’s like they were forgotten about, you know, yeah.
BT: So you just heard about people who needed help and started to get to work right on your couches.
SJ: Well, you know, it wasn’t just I heard about people who needed help. I heard my community needed help [0:21:00] — the community I was familiar with. And I think that’s where the difference kind of lies sometimes with us. I think that, you know, a lot of times if people are not familiar with folks, if they don’t love people there, if — you know, if it’s not — if they didn’t hear about it or if it’s not a community similar to what they grew up, a lot of times, they forget about it. But if it feels like home to you, whether you’ve been there and lived there or not, and you see something happen, then you like, “Hey!” It’s — it’s — it helps folks to have more empathy. So I think the connection that I had to that — I think I — I mean, I want to help anybody who’s hurting, right? That’s — I think that’s any person who has empathy period. But I do think that that accelerates when it’s like — when you see yourself, when you see people you love all around [0:22:00] you, so yeah.
BH: I think Secunda touched on something important, too, earlier around like, you know, faith, right? And my faith practice doesn’t allow me to turn a blind eye to somebody in need, right — particularly when I’m able to — you know, I’m sitting in this position. Like I think — like at some point, it was like, you know, after folks started to communicate, it was like, “Okay, I’m sitting here with lights and water and all these other things. And there are people around in the city that need help,” right? So I mean, I could continue to watch Netflix and chill out. Or I can take this phone that’s fully charged that I can use an app and now Discord and now I have a walkie-talkie. And I can use my phone as a walkie-talkie and start connecting people who need help.
You know, and then it became to the point where it was like, you know, you just weren’t sleeping, because you were like — found a new address. Type it into the computer, so you can add [0:23:00] somebody to the list or on the walkie-talkie. But it was just — that was the need, because you were hearing real people’s voices on this app like, “I am in — you know, the water’s up to my chest now. Please get somebody to come and find me and help me.” And then, you know, to know and to see then that that person — like a rescue, right? Like do you know how — this was — that whole piece of like — that social media piece and that Discord app and just people who were engaged all over — and with texts and everything else. I mean, that saved people’s lives.
You know, so if you know it’s — you know, people talk about social media and all these other kind of things. I mean, it’s got — everything’s got its plusses and its minuses, but like that was a tool. And these different apps and these people who really responded and used their talents to respond and address needs, I mean, that was really incredible to watch. And so I couldn’t just sit there and be like, “Oh, well, they’ve got it.” You know, it’s like, “No, I mean, I got some fingers that can work for right now, so let me get on shift.” You know, and they it even became where were like on shifts. You know what I mean? It’s like, “Okay [0:24:00], I’m going to stay up to about whatever. You go to sleep, and we can do whatever.” And you know, just tracking it or whatever.
And then people became — you know, you also start to watch people rely on you to be like, “Oh, can you help?” And then she mentioned, groups like Lakewood SOS came out of it. Like those guys who started rescuing folks out of boats. And these are just people in the community were like, “Alright, let’s find us a boat.” You know, West Street Recovery came out of that and started rescuing people in boats. Different folks like — then we had friends who were like, “How can we find us a boat?” Like they found somebody who had a boat. And they started going on and rescuing. So it’s just like — folks just said, “You know what? We can’t just sit idly by and allow people to die,” you know.
SJ: Yeah, and even before, like I remember you like when we were — so like after — I mean, like we were doing the help folks right now, you know, in the midst of that. But I remember you sending us something like, “Hey, y’all. What’s the plan? What we going to do after this? Like we here now, but there’s some work that needs to be done. [0:25:00] So like what’s the plan?” I remember you saying that like at least — “This is what we probably need and such.” And I was like, “Wait a minute.” You know, but like just — there was like this energy of — we have to — like there — there wasn’t even — it’s not even like we had like even a choice. There was like this urgency that led us to like — nothing at that time mattered, because Houston was devastated, right? And we know — and I think it’s important for us to say. We have to continue to say this — that if nobody else shows up for these folks, like we were going to do that. Like and I think like that urgency and what you were saying when you sent us that text and that — no, you didn’t just send a text. It was a Google doc. Like this is — who going to do this, and dah, dah, dah. There was a Google doc. While — now, this is happening while half of Houston lights [0:26:00] were off. And we wasn’t able to get out yet, yeah.
BH: Uh-huh, and they we got out like that — I want to say it was a Thursday or Friday. It was a Friday, I think, when we finally were able to get out.
BH: And we went to George R. Brown, because that’s where we heard, you know, where they were taking folks — and watching like national news coverage and everything else — and that they needed to go and volunteer. And I remember us going in there, and it was just like, “Whoa.” You know, we saw a lot of folks that were going to help. It just was — I mean, you know, it just was a — it’s a disaster situation, right? Like it was just folks who were coming in and wet and needed blankets. And there wasn’t enough cots at that time we had went. And it was people on cardboard.
SJ: And the older people who was [unclear, 0:26:45]. And it’s a lot of black and brown people there. And look, that food that they had was like — it was like, “What is — what are they feeding us? Like this is –“
BH: The little box meal was not satisfactory. I mean, it was just — but it was just — it was just crazy, because it was just like you saw all these folks [0:27:00]. And then the other thing that I would comment on is like media and media’s desire — the desire to get a story versus like being compassionate and empathetic with what people are going through. Like folks were entering into the door, and I don’t know who allowed this to happen, but media was like right there at the door as people were entering. So folks — everybody was going in the same entrance essentially, volunteers and people who were coming off of busses or what have you. And the media was just like right there. You know, and it was — there was young lady who was interviewed. And I think she ended up being on CNN. And I remember watching people like comment about like, “Why she so — why she so rude? And she talking to –” And she cursed at the lady.
SJ: Her daughter was right there.
BH: And her daughter was right there and all these kind of things. And we go back and comment on this story. It’s like, “Hey, just so y’all know, this lady just sat on a roof for like four days,” right? Like she’s been through all of these traumatic events. And then somebody comes and shoves a microphone in her face and asks you, “How do you feel?” You going to tell them how you feel.
SJ: And you can see her, when she was speaking [0:28:00], like the acceleration of — first she tried to ask questions and then was like, “What the hell is going on? I just — I’m trying to — like this is my life.”
BH: She just — she literally had just got off that bus. Like you get off the bus and you went to intake. And then from intake, they would direct you to whatever kind of service you need. Like if you needed medical service, you go there. If you need a blanket, they give you that. You need clothes, you go over here. You need this, you go over here. And she literally just got off the bus. And I mean, it just — you know, can you imagine? Like you don’t have nothing. You just get off the bus. You tired. You been sitting on the roof. You know, her case, she was up in water and all these kind of things.
And then somebody’s like, “So –” And they would come up to you like, “Oh, hey, how are you?” Kind of like helpful, right? And she approached us like, “Hey, how you doing?” Like I watched it — not that particular woman, but just in general. “Hey, how you doing? Oh, okay, did you have a second?” And then they’re like, “Oh, okay.” You know, you just get bombarded, “Okay, I guess I do.” “Alright, I’m live at the George R. Brown.” You know, and it’s just like, “Ma’am,” or “Sir.” And it was just really — it was just really — it was really something [0:29:00]. It was really crazy to see that for people who — and it’s like there was so many people to interview, like volunteers, or different perspectives. And I understand you want to get the perspective of someone who’s — but find somebody that’s been there at the George R. Brown for a couple days and actually had a chance to take a nap and ate more than some type of ramen, you know? It just was so — it was so crazy to see that.
And I think when we went to George R. Brown and like tried to figure out some way to contribute — because we were thinking like, “Hey, we’ll just –” There was a different organization than the city had started fundraising and had decided they were going to do this. And there were some groups that we had done work with in the past. We was like, “We’ll just direct people to them, you know. We’ll just direct them that way.” But then after we were talking in the car, I remember, we were like, “It’s still not going to be enough.” You know, like we got to figure out something to do. And like really quickly we were like, “Alright, let’s call some people.”
I mean, all of this stuff, too — the other thing is like all of this stuff just kind of comes as a response to what you — what we were seeing, right? Like what we were seeing. It wasn’t like we were sitting here going like, “You know what these people need? They’re going to need this.” It came as a direct response to seeing like people like, “I don’t have anything [0:30:00]. I need my house this.” “Okay, let’s figure out how to meet that need.” And so that was where our work and our organizing work is really essential to our principles of organizing — is we’re not saviors for a neighborhood. I don’t have all the answers. The people have the answers. And I’m supposed to listen to them. And if I have resource, I’ll match resource with them and try to empower them so they can advocate for themselves.
So it’s all about listening to folks. It’s all about meeting them where they’re at. It’s all about trying to meet their needs if we can, so that they can be able to advocate and do the work that they need to so. So instead of just being like, “Oh, you look like you need some socks,” “Hey, is there anything you need?” “Yeah, I could use some socks.” “Okay, cool, I’ll get you some socks.” You know, versus like, “Here’s some socks. Here’s some Top Ramen.” “Oh, I have sodium issues. I can’t eat Top Ramen.” “But take it anyway.”
SJ: “It’s free.”
BH: “It’s free.” So what? And the other thing I think about — you wouldn’t want to take stuff — like you know what I mean? Like treat these people like you want to be treated, right? Like, “If I don’t need a pair of socks, why you going to give me some socks? I told you I needed pants [0:31:00].” “Well, here’s some socks anyway.” “Okay, girl, that’s not — I mean, I don’t have on any pants.”
SJ: Because you ordered 20 —
BH: Right, you know.
SJ: Your church gave socks. Well, great.
BH: And people gave underwear and things like this, but that’s a whole other story for another day. When you tell people, “Excuse me, we’re only taking packaged underwear,” and they bring you gently — they talking about, “Well, these underwear are gently used.” It’s like, “Ma’am, how do you gently use — ma’am or sir, how do you gently use a pair of underwear?”
SJ: Ma’am, please don’t.
BH: Ma’am, sir, put these underwear back up. “They’re gently used. They’ve only been worn once.”
SJ: It’s so sad.
BH: It’s like that’s okay. Would you want to wear somebody’s gently — “Well, they may need it.” No, they don’t need it that bad. I don’t know anybody that is willing to wear somebody’s gently used underwear.
SJ: Nuh-uh, I’d go without.
BH: You’d just go with your pants. Wouldn’t you?
BH: Right? It gets that bad? Somebody, “Well, here, take my gently worn –” “Girl, I’m just going to rock these pants.”
SJ: This is important. This is important with these disasters, you know. And with thinking about people’s needs. Like [0:32:00] you know — like that’s — it’s not just a — it’s not just like — it’s funny, but it’s also true. Like a lot of times people feel like they can give people anything. And that comes with the like — the little person who’s like trying to give and help. And that also comes with organizations who come together and create and plan for people that doesn’t fit the people’s needs, right? So great, you got — you’re willing to help. You’re got these people. You’re doing Harvey work. But all your plans — and I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if it’s FEMA. I don’t care if it’s us, right? All your plans — it’s not serving people. So it’s not right. Go back, and let’s start over. And let’s make sure that our good deeds, you know, are beneficial.
So I think, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this, it’s that — and that’s even going back to Adrienne Maree Brown [0:33:00]. Like the — our mentalities, whether we are — you know, like again, whether we’re a volunteer or if we are a, you know, CEO of some non-profit who’s, you know, getting millions for doing this — but sometimes we’re still just as warped as far as just being considerate, you know.
BT: Thank you. Before we wrap up the time, is there any question that I didn’t ask? I didn’t really ask you guys much. But is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that we weren’t able to talk about?
SJ: I like — I don’t know.
BH: Well, I mean, I would say that — so a lot of people have kind of packed their bags and moved on from Harvey. And the effects of Harvey are very real and still felt today while — like recovery is not over, right? There are some communities that have recovered and rebounded. People have rebuilt, and folks who have resource, and access to money and [0:34:00] all these other things, and access to other resources have found ways to rebuild and reestablish themselves. But there are other folks who live just 15, 20 minutes away from where we are right now, this library, that still are in homes that don’t have walls or are living in homes that are full of mold and much because they weren’t able to get any sort of repair assistance. And so — or they’ve tried, and it just hasn’t turned out well or whatever circumstances.
There are people who lost income and now are new homeless, right, or without homes and having to figure out — how do I survive without these four walls, right? There are people whose children have been negatively affected and now have mental health issues and behavioral issues now because of the storm. There are people who have anxiety now who haven’t had anxiety before. There are people who have medical issues now that didn’t have medical issues before. So like the effects of Hurricane Harvey on certain [0:35:00] populations, particularly black and brown folks — and I haven’t even talked about the undocumented folks who can’t even come out, you know, and get any kind of assistance because of the fact that, you know, folks thought it was a great idea to allow ICE to be right outside of the George R. Brown or this threat with what’s happening — just our political climate and the way that undocumented folks are treated. Let’s not even think about how many of those folks are still without assistance.
So Hurricane Harvey, I mean, we talk — we’re a year later, and there are still people who are living like Harvey happened just yesterday. And so I think that’s something that we need to continue to remember and we always need to think about — is that recovery is not just — right? Recovery is not equitable. Recovery, in some instances, is — you know, there’s a sense of equality when I’m passing out a sack and a ramen noodles and a pair of gently used underwear to everybody. But everybody doesn’t need that, right? And so equity is really important when you talking about recovery and disaster recovery [0:36:00]. And really even — before you even talk about disaster, like these people were in — these folks were in situations that were put — trying to make two ends meet before the storm happened.
So like even thinking about what our programs are in place now — like socially, right? What is happening for folks, you know, in different communities — particularly black and brown communities in this city and minority communities? So I think that’s kind of my final thought — is like, you know, we doing this little oral project. And we’re talking about history, but it’s — this is what people are living today.
SJ: Yeah, and you know, I would only add to that — when you mention equitable ways of like treating folks, I think — I think back to when we did go to George R. Brown. Even — even the way people were picked up and where they were dropped off was different, right? The separation of who goes to what shelter, right? And then, not only that [0:37:00], the things that were set up at particular shelters. So shelters for folks —
BH: Or even who need to go to a shelter in the first place.
SJ: Right, or who had to — one, who had to go to the shelter, right?
BH: Who had to be rescued?
SJ: Who had to be rescued. And then going — after going to a shelter — or say you were just in a community that was stuck. Like there were different services set up at different places. And the places you can walk — you can look at them, and it was very segregated, right? And it’s always odd to me how this keeps happening. Like the cycle, it never — doesn’t change a lot. For some reason, you know, we continue to practice just very unjust — just we do very little dirty things to people who have, you know, less power. And it’s very consistent [0:38:00]. And you know, I thought — I also thought about the young man who had the ankle monitor on. And like so you’re at Harvey, but you have like this ankle monitor on, which is like what you have — I don’t know if y’all know about [unclear, 0:38:15] probation, right? And he couldn’t leave the house. And he cannot leave the house. The house had mold in it.
BH: He wasn’t getting sick. You remember?
SJ: Yeah, and then — and then — but see, when you add that to — when you think about the rate that, you know, African Americans and black and brown folks are locked up due to like just — “Yeah, I smoked weed. Okay, then I got caught again. And I’m on a monitor.” And now, do you know what I mean? So it’s like these little — these little dirty things pile up. And it just really puts a grip on communities. And it just — yeah, it’s — it’s just harsh. It’s a harsh [0:39:00] reality. But we do hope and we do believe that as people continue to tell these stories and speak their truths and different opportunities come like you guys sharing your story. And then even like, you know, creations like social media. Like, okay, we can — I have access to get — I can talk to — I can push the media, you know, with my little — with my little voice and our little people. We got enough noise to where these folks can get help. Like you know, maybe that will even things out in time.
BT: Thank you for sharing you guys’ story today. In the future, researchers may look back on this recording to get a sense of what happened during Hurricane Harvey and the volunteer efforts and these things. So we appreciate your participation in this project and hope you have a wonderful [0:40:00] day.
BH: Alright, thank you so much. You, too.
SJ: Thank you. [0:40:04]