Thanks to Tom and “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” I have been blessed to travel the world, meet several U.S. presidents, an African president and a king – and see the best that this world, especially this country, has to offer. Now, the flip side of that is visiting New York City’s Ground Zero one month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and going to Port au Prince two months after the Haitian earthquake. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes tornadoes that have destroyed the homes of friends and family.
The week before last, my cousin, Joe, and his wife, Theresa, rushed from their Atlanta, Georgia home to scoop up their daughters, students at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Then last week, new devastation arrived in the wake of more tornadoes in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Virginia.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of homes have been lost. One morning, people kissed their loved ones, walked out of their houses, locked their doors and drove off to work or school. That afternoon, they rushed back to find … a pile of debris where their homes once stood. And their relatives? Fortunately, many were able to find and reconnect with mothers, fathers, children, brothers and sisters. Others were not so lucky. Even those who were together during the storms found themselves ripped out of each other’s arms.
One mother and father were with their seven-week-old infant. The father was severely injured, but had the presence of mind to hand his child over to someone before he collapsed. The mother, a new mom – a woman who only held her child in her arms for about 50 days – did not survive.
Monday, I visited a town outside of Birmingham with the lovely name of Pleasant Grove. It certainly lives up to its name until you get to what can only be described as a DMZ – a demilitarized zone.
I was given a tour of the block where the three-story home of DJ Chris once stood. To see the before and after of this storm is nothing short of unbelievable. And to know that his two daughters, ages 11 and 13, were rescued from this house by a cousin is nothing short of a miracle. With windows from an upstairs bedroom now in a neighbor’s yard across the street, one shoe or waterlogged book lodged under what was once a six-blade ceiling fan, it’s a wonder to behold that there were not more casualties. Now, I know when you see people on television saying they lost everything, we might say to ourselves. “but they were only THINGS!” But they were THEIR things. And trust, they know that they have the most important things – their lives.
There are some incredible stories of survival. Not only was there the seven-week-old baby, but how about a man who was found in a bathtub? One of his arms was severed, but he had a clear enough mind to ask where he was. He started his flight by seeking safety in a tub in his home in Tuscaloosa -which was 45 minutes away. A motorboat also made a trip into a Pleasant Grove yard from its owner’s home in Tuscaloosa.
Sunday, I walked through the African-American neighborhood of Pratt City on the west side of Birmingham. A landmark like the Pratt City Library was still there, a shell of its former self. On one side of a street, a house stood and appeared to be untouched. Directly across the street was a church. It looked like a giant stomped on the building and crushed it, pushing the walls out and leaving a glimpse inside of a musicians’ stand with the drums still in place. And this was the case block after block. A home fully in tact next to a home in full destruction. But also along the way, there were grills set up to cook burgers and hot dogs for those who no longer had a kitchen, not to mention a grill of their own.
On just about each corner was a church, and where they were able, services were going on. Music could be heard, prayers were sent up, and the spirit of a community could be felt, inside and out of those structures.
What can we do? Pray. Donate money and gift cards. You may not have a lot, but give what you can. And pray some more. Our friends and family have demonstrated strength they never even knew they had. But they need our support and prayers now more than ever.