It was so different back then. No Twitter, no Facebook, there weren’t even any smart phones. So when news of the storm hit while we were taping our TV show in Los Angeles, we found out the old-fashioned way…on the news.
We loved New Orleans, and all the cities on the Gulf Coast. Since the beginning of the TJMS we were heard in the Mississippi towns of Gulf Port, Biloxi, Natchez and Meridian, some of the places hit hardest by Katrina. And when they had a problem, so did we.
Radio, black radio in particular, has connections with its audience like none other. Whether it’s electing a president or covering a major disaster, our audience knows we will represent them and offer a perspective unlike what they’ll get from mainstream media.
We knew something was going on but like the rest of the country we thought the worst was over once the storm was downgraded. But then …you know the rest.
What you might not know is that me, Sybil, J. and Myra J. were travelling with Jedda “Ms. Dupre” Jones at that time. While her home, her sisters, her daughter, her grandson, and her mom were all in the 9th Ward and she had no way of getting to them. She knew they were safe, but that’s all she knew, and she didn’t know how long that would be the case.
Since the airport in New Orleans was closed, I suggested that Jedda come home to Dallas and stay in my pop’s home around the corner from me, until she could return to New Orleans. No one could have predicted, (not even a person with the gift like Ms. Dupre) that it would be months before she could go back home.
I wasn’t the only one opening my home to a victim of the storm. Hundreds of people all over the country were hosting family and friends who were left homeless. One of my staff members, Mary and her husband and two kids opened their home to five additional family members.
I knew we had to figure out a way for our show to do something to help on large scale and the answer became the BlackAmericaWeb.com Relief Fund which was set up to aid families helping Katrina victims.
In just two weeks we raised more than a million dollars and it all went toward helping families who’d opened up their homes. Our partners at Allstate pitched in and said they’d match every dollar donated up to $250,000. Other major contributors included Bishop T.D. Jakes, former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and of course we got lots and lots of donations from our listeners and BlackAmericaWeb.com. subscribers.
This kind of grassroots effort is a reminder that we all can do something to help. When we see a huge problem facing our community, our country or the world, we often throw up our hands because we don’t think we can contribute enough to make a difference. A lot of times we can’t, not by ourselves of course. But when we put our efforts together, that’s when we can move mountains.
Jedda spent several months in Dallas and her life really was never the same after that. She lost so much, and like most people from New Orleans her home was just one part of it. We asked her to share some of her reflections of that time and here’s what she said.
The biggest thing they lost was their sense of community. So many people were displaced and if you were not directly connected to New Orleans, the story was pretty much over once the news coverage ended. But for the families in New Orleans and in Mississippi the story will never end.
Jedda says her New Orleans will never be the same. How could it be? Thousands of people left, some moved, some died, and some are just unaccounted for, which may be the most difficult factor to deal with.
“Dude who used to sell ribs, was missing. Finally someone called his brother looking for him. He said he hadn’t seen him either…in months. He was never heard from again,” she said.
Miss Audrey, Jedda’s mama was part of our family too. She said the storm was going to take two years off her life. It did take a toll on her health and a couple of years later she died. No one knows how many people like Miss Audrey just never were able to recover from the disaster physically, mentally or emotionally.
We asked Jedda what she wanted people to know that they may not have learned from watching the news coverage. She said she wishes more emphasis had been put on the value of people’s lives and less on the crime and looting that took place after the storm. For the media, that became a bigger story.
“They made it look like the people who stayed in New Orleans were all poor, uneducated and hopeless and that isn’t true,” she explained, “And even it if were, does that make the lives of these people worth less than anyone else’s?”