Come Hell or High Water | Toxic Legacy

Independent Television Service (ITVS), Published on Apr 22, 2014

A Five-Minute Companion Video to Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek

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Turkey Creek: Surviving the Storm

ABC News, August 26, 2015, By Meghan Keneally and Justine Quart

"Each weekday afternoon, a group of retirees gathers on the lawn of 71-year-old Flowers White.

They sit perched on plastic folding chairs, passing around an oversized bag of peanuts – leisurely cracking the shells and casting them onto the lawn – as the conversation meanders from car repairs to national politics to the latest football scandal.

Today, the air is thick with the sound of cicadas and the sweltering August midday sun is beating down. The men take sips from bottled water and cans of V8 as members of their crew assemble.

Flowers White is the host of this daily summit. He is one of the old-timers here. From his lawn, he can point out the house he was born in. His family helped found this town in 1866 – they were among the emancipated slaves who pooled their money and bought the land now known as Turkey Creek.

Turkey Creek, Mississippi became a homing beacon for following generations. Residents will tell you that everyone here is family.

On lethargic days like today, it’s hard to imagine the chaos that ripped through this sleepy town 10 years ago – when Hurricane Katrina transformed the town’s eponymous creek into a rageful river that tore through historic homes and put residents’ lives in peril. ..."

To READ MORE and see a video report: http://abcnews.go.com/US/fullpage/turkey-creek-surviving-storm-33139635

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Intersection Episode 3: It's Not Mother Nature Who's Racist

The New Republic, August 26, 2015, with Jamil Smith

It's been ten years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast and claimed the lives of over 1,800 people, most of whom were poor and black. For folks like Derrick Evans, though, it still feels like yesterday. Derrick, an environmental and civil rights organizer, grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi, one of the many coastal towns decimated by the storm. He remembers the fear he felt as he drove down from Boston to Mississippi to find his elderly mother, who did not evacuate and had to be rescued from her flooded home. He remembers the smell of the sewage-strewn streets, a suffocating mix of burning and bloating. "Horrible," he says to Jamil Smith. "Horrible."

But this anniversary of Hurricane Katrina isn't only about remembering. It's also about recognizing the institutional weaknesses the storm highlighted, and finding local, state, and federal solutions. In this episode, Jamil talks climate justice with the NAACP's Jacqui Patterson and CityLab reporter Brentin Mock. How do climate change activism and the civil rights movement intersect? How can one type of advocacy inform the other?

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Why the Lower Ninth Ward Looks Like the Hurricane Just Hit

The Nation, August 13, 2015, By Gary Rivlin

The neighborhood’s stalled recovery is the self-fulfilling prophecy of political leaders who wrote it off from the start.

"Ten years have passed since a series of catastrophic levee breaches caused the Lower Ninth Ward, along with most of New Orleans, to flood. The city, state, and federal governments have invested more than $600 million in the Lower Ninth, a relatively compact community that measures 20 by 25 blocks. Foundations have contributed tens of millions of dollars to the area. Brad Pitt alone has raised nearly $50 million through the Make It Right Foundation. Tens of thousands of volunteers have done work in the community. All of which raises the question: Why do large stretches of the Lower Ninth still look as if the levees failed only a year ago?

Simple economics has played a big part. Prior to Katrina, the Lower Ninth—a community sometimes referred to as 'Backatown'—was home to many of the housekeepers, kitchen workers, and others who kept the tourism industry going in New Orleans. Another large share of its people were retirees who, like Irvin, lived on a fixed income. The average resident survived on $16,000 a year, and more than one in every three residents lived below the poverty line.

But more than economics is at play in the stalled recovery of this community, which was more than 98 percent black at the time of Katrina. The Lower Ninth has always been a place apart from the rest of New Orleans, a small village rather than one neighborhood among many. Much of that is geography. The community is downriver from Uptown and the French Quarter—as downriver as it is possible to be while remaining in New Orleans. The only way to get there is by bridge. The community’s personality before the storm felt more Mississippi Delta than big-city jazz. Residents raised chickens in the yard. They grew vegetables and fished for dinner. They tended to be country folks who went to bed a lot earlier than their city kin. 'Before Katrina,' Irvin says, 'I could tell you the name of everyone all the way from the bridge on down.' ...

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Ten Years Since: A Meditation on New Orleans

The Nation, August 13, 2015, By Kristina Kay Robinson

We are black and alive, still, despite what the pictures say.

"This anniversary is a crossroads, a time to decide what to run toward and what to cast aside for a lighter burden. Ten years ago, I was a 'refugee' from an American city. The consequence of that label has been a chaos of circumstances and quick decisions. The first 10 years, all a scramble to reconstruct oneself. The truth is, I am one of the lucky ones. One of the luckiest. I am home. I am sane. I am alive to speak for myself. I mourn for those lost and struggle with the gratitude and guilt of being spared. Survival is an animal instinct that moves us all toward good and bad, and I am doing my best with its weight. In these 10 years, I’ve learned to use this realization to heat and cool my anxiety, to forgive myself and propel my body into motion. There is so much about the last 10 years that I would rather forget, experiences I would remake. But it is not possible to go backward. There is only what is, and right now the stakes are high. New Orleans changes for good, a little bit at a time, every day. Houses in my neighborhood flip at sometimes three times their pre-Katrina 'worth.' For white families in the new New Orleans, the median income has grown at triple the rate of black families’ income. It’s no wonder many are insistent that New Orleans is back and better than ever. There are roughly 100,000 fewer black people in the metro area. Old people out; new people in. It is critical not to cede the story at its crossroads.

Raised black in New Orleans and having made it to this side of these 10 years, I remember that with living comes the sacred responsibility of recalling. New Orleans has always been a place of many peoples. The Chata (Choctaw) named the city Bulbancha, 'Many Languages Spoken There,' and the Ishak call it Nun Ush, 'The Big Village.' Many of the places and locations known to tourists and travelers worldwide, such as the Port of New Orleans, the French Market, and Congo Square, served as thoroughfares for trade and culture long before the arrival of whites. Born and raised black in New Orleans, I speak an English marked by its African and Native vocabularies and patterns of speech. I like my short adjectives repeated two and three times each. The food is good-good and the picture might be pretty-pretty-pretty. I grew up with a distinct awareness of our longstanding ties to this land and the people who originally inhabited it. New Orleans is our place, a place with a syncretic and independent culture and a multilayered relationship to the diaspora—a relationship not of theory, but of practice. ..."

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Hurricane Katrina Proved That If Black Lives Matter, So Must Climate Justice

Common Dreams, August 25, 2015, By Elizabeth Yeampierre

The environmental justice and Black Lives Matter movements are complementary. We can’t afford to choose between the two

"Those of us from low-income communities of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. US cities and towns that are predominantly made up of people of color are also home to a disproportionate share of the environmental burdens that are fueling the climate crisis and shortening our lives. One has only to recall the gut-wrenching images of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath to confirm this.

At a time when police abuse is more visible than ever thanks to technology, and our communities continue to get hit time and time again by climate catastrophe, we can’t afford to choose between a Black Lives Matter protest and a climate justice forum, because our survival depends on both of them. ..."

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America Reframed: Come Hell or High Water Webisode

PBS Video

America ReFramed host Natasha Del Toro, Derrick Evans and independent journalist Brentin Mock discuss past and present issues facing Gulf Coast communities and how they can become more resilient. [Click headline for video.]

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Doing More to Protect Frontline Communities Ten Years After Katrina

Union of Concerned Scientists, August 17, 2015, By Rachel Cleetus

"As we come up on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the terrible devastation wrought by the hurricane is in the headlines again. For those who experienced the storm first-hand, the ongoing struggle to recover is ever-present and this must be a wrenching anniversary. What can we do as a nation to support frontline communities to be better prepared and protected for future disasters? How can we better account for the growing risks to coastal communities, especially in light of sea level rise and worsening storm surge?  And how can we ensure that we channel our investments in an equitable way so as to build resilience in all communities? ...

Local residents in Gulf coast cities and towns affected by Hurricane Katrina have fought back hard to protect and revitalize their communities, and regain decision-making power. Through organizations, including the North Gulfport Community Land Trust, the NAACP, the Steps Coalition, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the Gulf Coast Fund, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, the Greater New Orleans Organizers’ Roundtable, regional collaborations like Gulf South Rising, and many others they are advocating for environmental and climate justice and putting pressure on state and local officials to include their perspectives in how funds are used and how the region plans for coastal development and restoration. ..."


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After the Deluge: Building climate justice from the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina

New Republic, June 25, 2015, By Alexander Zaitchik

"The Turkey Creek section of Gulfport, Mississippi, a predominantly African-American neighborhood of century-old shotgun houses and one-story cottages surrounded by pine forest and freshwater marsh, is a small place with a long history of what people today would call 'environmental challenges.'

In 1906, for example, the Gulf Coast Creosote Company constructed a wood processing plant directly adjacent to the wooded waterway that gives Turkey Creek its name. Eighty-two years later, in 1988, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shut down the plant and designated it a hazardous waste site under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, requiring the plant owners to take 'corrective action' to treat, store, or dispose of toxic materials. In 1957, the state located a Mississippi Power coal plant less than two miles from Turkey Creek, at the convergence of Bayou Bernard and the Biloxi River. After a long struggle led by the NAACP, Sierra Club, and local grassroots groups, the plant burned its last piece of coal this April and switched to gas. During the Vietnam war, containment of a stockpile of Agent Orange at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport was breached; the defoliant migrated from the site via the area’s deep storm ditches and contaminated the Turkey Creek basin. In 1982, a massive chemical explosion at the nearby Plastifax Corporation left behind a superfund site. 'It lifted the entire house while I was on the living room floor playing Atari with my cousins,' Derrick Evans, a Turkey Creek native, environmental organizer, and civil rights educator, told me.

One subtler, but potentially more damaging, threat to the area stems from the convulsive expansion that Gulfport has undergone. This formerly sleepy seaside town has transformed itself in recent decades into an overbuilt, under-infrastructured, traffic-choked, gambling-boat-fueled, post-modern exurban object lesson. Turkey Creek has suffered more than most. The wetlands in and around the neighborhood have endured 'progress,' as defined by the sprawling subdivisions, light industrial enterprises, strip malls, and bedroom communities that make up modern-day Gulfport. In 2001, the Mississippi Heritage Trust named Turkey Creek to its list of the state’s ten most endangered historic places. 'Gulfport is a giant textbook of incompatible land use,' Evans said. 'I mean, there’s a waste-water treatment facility in the middle of a city golf course.' (Gulfport South Wastewater Treatment Facility is situated in the Bayou Vista Golf Course, directly opposite the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.)

Perhaps the most tragic consequence of this unchecked development is increased flood vulnerability, all along the Gulf Coast, but felt most acutely in low-income African-American neighborhoods. 'When I was a girl, the streets and ditches would fill up with water during storms, but the wetlands absorbed much of it,' Rose Johnson, a lifelong Gulfport resident and the first black president of the Mississippi Sierra Club, told me. 'Wetlands are crucial for poor communities with aging sewer lines and drainage, no sidewalks, pollution from industrial plants, and other bad development.'

The damage wrought on Gulfport in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina represented a collection of the unpaid civic and social debts rung up during this extended period of irresponsible growth. The storm turned large swaths of this small coastal city into an inland sea. Floodwaters cut the roads and washed away bridges. Among the areas hardest hit by the 25-foot storm surge and flooding was Turkey Creek. More than half of the community’s 50 homes flooded to the rafters. The winds removed a dozen roofs.

The morning of the storm, Evans was in Boston, preparing lecture notes for the fall semester at Boston College, where he was an instructor. Evans has deep roots in Turkey Creek; his family descends from the original eight families of emancipated slaves that founded the settlement in 1866. He knows its history as it evolved through generations, from its origins in the brutal Reconstruction era, through the indignities and violence of state-sanctioned segregation, and into the more recent epoch of embedded bias and municipal disenfranchisement.

So as Evans watched CNN and witnessed the destruction of his hometown, he felt a sinking dread. 'I was certain my mother was dead,' he said. Evans knew the way of things in Gulfport, the South, and, in truth, the rest of the country: Help was going to start with the white neighborhoods, rich first and then poor; and there was no saying when, or if, it would reach Turkey Creek, Turnkey, Old North Gulfport, West Gulfport, Moss Point, East Biloxi, Gaston Point, or any of the African-American neighborhoods in the five linked cities of the Gulf Coast. The same held for the Vietnamese community in Biloxi’s Point Cadet, or any place where the impoverished and people of color—often one and the same—lived. Evans jumped in a car and drove south as fast as he could. ...

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Come Hell Or High Water

WUNC North Carolina Public Radio, February 12, 2015, By Laura Lee and Frank Stasio

"When the city of Gulfport, Mississippi made plans to bulldoze the graves of former slaves, teacher-turned-advocate Derrick Evans fought to stop it. 

Evans returned to his home, the Turkey Creek community. His fight to preserve and protect the area are the subject of the film, Come Hell or High Water. The work traces the battles of community members to fight for environmental justice and to survive the destruction and damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. ...

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The Battle for Turkey Creek
“This intimate film tells a gigantic story...It’s about everything that matters in our society.”
Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools