Surviving Disaster requires wide-awake leadership

By Bro William P. Muhammad

By now, we’ve all heard, or to some degree felt, stories about the tanking economy and how another “Great Depression” may be in the making. As the President, the Congress and the American people all debate over the long and short term implications of the $700 billion “bailout package,” (now called a rescue package) it is only reasonable and fitting for African-Americans to prepare themselves for the uncomfortable changes that seem to be coming. While it is true we as a people have been relatively well off since the 1930s and the uncertain days of World War II, under best case and worst case scenarios, Black people have always been America’s proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine.’

With that said, it is always in Black people’s interests to work for the best while preparing for the worst, considering strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities in both individual homes and in the community as a whole. Without going into details regarding the various contingency plans federal and state governments are making in the event of a national emergency, Black organizations, religious institutions and individual families should plan for how they can best serve themselves and their communities should the unthinkable happen and the need arise.

According to a September 30 article in the Army Times newspaper (Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1), the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the US Army 3rd Infantry Division will be assigned to domestic duty and “…may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control.”

While the article claims the soldiers will train with non-lethal weapons for the purpose of controlling traffic and for subduing dangerous individuals, it emphasizes their package of non-lethal weapons will only be used in overseas war zones.

Be that as it may, one need only look to Hurricane Katrina and the fleeing Blacks gunned down by the authorities, accusations of Black people looting while actually salvaging for food and water and initial abandonment by FEMA for African-Americans to be suspicious of this US Army homeland assignment. That coupled with “armed to the teeth Blackwater contractors” patrolling the streets of New Orleans, the neglect and abuse suffered by many storm victims and the reneged upon promises to survivors, Black people have more than just cause for concern.

In the event of a major earthquake, another Katrina, a major flood or even the much touted economic collapse the government is trying to prevent, is the Black community truly prepared for the various scenarios that may take place under such conditions?

In the event of prolonged power outages, having extra canned goods in the pantry makes the difference between going without and having food for your family. Access to clean water, a resource we often take for granted for cooking, drinking and hygiene, is likewise to make a difference should potable water become an issue; and extra blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes and kerosene heaters would also make a difference should disaster strike in winter. Owning a generator, a camping stove or a gas grill can all make the difference between going with or without during emergencies, as will keeping a full tank of gasoline in your automobile.

On a community level, churches can maintain food and clothing banks, promote community vegetable gardens and offer places of refuge should the need arise; but how many African-American churches are in the position to keep the lights on, offer shelter and feed the public in the event of a local crisis or national emergency?

There is a fable by Aesop (which you probably read as a child) about an ant and a grasshopper. Without going into all of the story’s details, one summer day, a frolicking grasshopper questioned a hard working ant why it was dragging an ear of corn. While the ant replied it was working to store food for the winter, the grasshopper failed to see the need as food was plenteous and in abundance under the summer sun.

Needless to say, when the winter finally arrived, the ant and his brethren ate well while the grasshopper starved outside in the bitter cold. Those familiar with Aesop’s fables know the moral of the story: “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.”

We need wide-awake Black leadership today that will not apologize for its actions and concerns. We need leadership that knows how to anticipate change and to prepare for it. We need leadership that understands humility is strength and that service to others is the root of organizational longevity and effectiveness.

Most important, however, is the fact that Black leadership, which sees the handwriting on the wall, be able to articulate its concerns, plan for how to minimize the impact of change and implement solutions to future challenges as they arise. Anything less than decisive action is idle bluster and for the sake of our future and our children’s future, we cannot afford to engage in empty rhetoric, rest upon our laurels or posture for praise. Only wide-awake leadership will do the job and the time for action is now.