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Family Institute Focuses on Katrina Responses

Seven months after Hurricane Katrina caused severe devastation along the Gulf Coast, members of the Morehouse community met to discuss issues that are continuing to plague the region during the 62nd Annual Family Institute.

This year’s topic focused on “Families, Communities and Disaster.” Gregory G.Groover Sr. ’83, vice president and chairman of the Education Committee of the Black Ministerial Alliance and pastor of Historic Charles Street A.M.E.Church in Boston,served as the institute’s keynote speaker. Panelists for this year’s conference included Kenneth Flowers ’83, who served as the keynote speaker for the World Sabbath Service of Religious Reconciliation in 2001 following the September 11 attacks; and Ike Spears ’83, an attorney and former Judge Pro Tempore of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

During the panel discussion, “Framing the Response,” Flowers quoted statistics indicating the disparity between Katrina victims: 50 percent of African Americans lost everything during hurricane Katrina, compared to 19 percent of whites.

Yet, no matter who was affected, churches were providing physical, mental and spiritual relief.

“The church has a history of being involved in disaster, giving hope and raising money,” said Flowers. “We dealt with the evacuees first and did what we had to get them through the crisis.”

He added that the church’s work is not done. “Churches need to embrace those in need, and let them know they are loved.”

In additional to the spiritual needs, Spears identified five primary areas in the rebuilding effort: housing, employment, education, essential services and socialization. While he noted that all areas must be addressed, he emphasized the importance of the education factor, particularly for historically black Dillard, Southern and Xavier universities. Additionally, primary and secondary schools, as well as community colleges, were unable to hold classes last fall.

Spears,a New Orleans native, said these schools now must fight for their survival. “Schools will need to repackage themselves to show they can give a quality education,” he said. “People do not want to come back to a city where they cannot educate their children.”

Spears indicated that student activism will be a very important part of the rebuilding of New Orleans. “I see students who have forfeited their spring breaks,” Spears said. “I would love to see more students like yourselves forfeiting their spring breaks.”

Spears also encouraged the audience to visit the area, stressing that the area needs tourism revenue. But, he said, visitors should be sure to view the areas heavily damaged by Katrina.

“Most of what tourists see in New Orleans [such as the French Quarter] hasn’t changed,” Spears said. “Get someone to show you the real devastation. Make it a part of what you do.”

Spears noted there are other ways Morehouse students could help in the effort locally, including lobbying Georgia’s congress members to provide more funding for the rebuilding effort, which will keep Katrina on the radar. But he emphasized that one of the best ways to get involved may be as close as right next door.

“You have Katrina evacuees on campus. Don’t overlook acts of kindness for your fellow students from New Orleans,” Spears said. “Don’t forget that the guy next door is agonizing because he doesn’t have a place to go home to. Sometimes you can do a whole lot right here.”

Morehouse sociology professor Walter R. Chivers founded the annual Family Institute in 1944. Topics have included violence in the African American community, images of African Americans in the media and the state of African American marriages.

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