Photo Courtesy of CNN

Harvey at Eye Level: SWAAY Reporter on Houston Aftermath

This morning I woke up in my own bed, freshly made with clean sheets. I got up and took a hot shower. There was plenty of water and body wash and privacy. I slipped into clean yoga clothes, made a cup of coffee in my own well-appointed kitchen and I drank it before heading out on my walk on dry streets, with my content puppy, Walter, at my side.

Every step I took was one part gratefulness and one part guilt. I have been on the verge of or in tears since the first reports came in. I don't live in Houston. I live on the edge of devastation.

We live about 90 miles Northwest of the city on a massive lake. We were terribly lucky. The lake rose to a level the likes of which we had never seen. But then the dam was opened and despite the heavy rains, the lake remained at a steady level. Even the winds were nothing to write home about. A half-filled water bottle that we had mistakenly left sitting out on the grill when my fiancé was clearing off the deck and tying down the furniture was still standing right where we left it.

Phoot Courtesy of: Andrew and Christy Landgraf

We were prepared. Cars were filled with gas. Pantry stocked with water and food and necessities. Things brought in or tied down. Garage floor cleared of anything that might succumb to water. Furniture and accessories moved away from the sliding glass doors. But we aren't in a floodplain. We're safely situated high enough above sea level. My fiancé assured me we were in no danger. Still we prepared.

And yet we were so unprepared. How do you prepare to watch the destruction of lives and homes and families and a city that prides itself on its strength?

In many ways, this it too surreal to even wrap my head around. The stories coming out of Hurricane Harvey sound like the ones written for those ridiculous, over-the-top disaster movies. A toddler found in flood waters floating on her dead mother's back.

A man is the sole survivor when his van is overcome by rising waters and he listens as his parents and four children scream for help but he cannot save them. The family of a terminally ill child loses their home and all of its contents including life-saving medical equipment. An entire school system loses half of its buildings. Animals left chained or caged to drown. A nursing home of residents sitting in waist-high water.

Phoot Courtesy of: Andrew and Christy Landgraf

It's not just the losses that are so hard to take. It's also some of the responses. Joel Osteen, the minister of a 16,000-seat megachurch called Lakewood locks the doors and then days later opens them only after extreme public shaming and only to those who are members or who are willing to “donate," read pay. The “President" who commented first on the “turnout" which “he" received upon his arrival in Texas – not Houston - and who did not meet with even one victim of the flood.

I hate the word victim. It makes it seems like the disaster is the boss of things. I don't love survivor either. I prefer thriver. The people of Houston are thrivers. Those who suffered damage and injury and loss and those who volunteered to help.

The volunteerism. That has been miraculous. That has been the only saving grace, both literally and figuratively. When the massive losses began to seem unbearable to not only those suffering but also those whose hearts went out to them, there were all of these people. These incredible people doing the most incredible things.

Photo Courtesy of CNN

A man buys a boat just to perform rescues. The Cajun Army comes from Louisiana to save people. Shelters open. Churches open. Mosques open. A woman embroiders pillow cases so people have some tiny bit of comfort. Restaurants feed first responders. Reporters tirelessly reporting from the thick of it, even leading rescuers to those desperate to be taken to higher ground. People come from Mexico with supplies to give and hands to help.

And our beloved Jim McIngvale, aka Mattress Mack, opens the doors to his Gallery Furniture stores and tells evacuees to make themselves as at home as they can on the miles of brand new furniture.

The Godliest among us are so often not those who loudly proclaim themselves to be “men of God."

It's hope in the face of hopelessness. It's the brightness of humanity. No one is gay or straight. No one is black or brown or white or yellow or red. No one is a man or a woman. No one is young or old. No one is Jewish or Christian or Muslim. No one is rich or poor. No one is a citizen or not a citizen. There are no papers. There are no distinctions. There are no delineations. There are those who need help and those who are helping.

In the face of disaster, we see the true colors of humanity as a whole and of people as individuals. We find joy in knowing that most of us dwell in love.

I have been reminded every moment of how lucky I am every day and certainly this week. I am reminded of how grateful I must always remember to be. I am reminded that compassion fatigue is real. That there is no shame in being overwhelmed and sad. That it doesn't have to be your home or your family to feel sorrow. I am reminded that self-care is mandatory when there are so many people who need help from those of us not directly affected.

There is no shame in feeling. There is only shame in ignoring.

So, I take a break from the coverage and I seek ways I can make a direct impact no matter how small. And I remember that love is love is love is love. And I remember that we are more capable and wanting of good than of evil. And I remember that nothing is promised. Our health and safety and well-being is not promised. It is precious. And I remember that for but the grace of God go I.

Photo Courtesy of David and Brad Odom-Harris

For those of you feeling helpless and lost, whether Harvey's toll on you was direct or indirect, breathe, eat, drink, sleep, ask for help, accept assistance, take care of yourself, take care of others, forgive yourself for whatever feelings you are having. And sally forth. That is what we are here to do. Care for one another and sally forth.

We are one. This too will pass. And we will rise.

Houston will rise.

Note: If you're looking for a simple, direct way to help, tampons and diapers are very much needed for evacuees. I have created a Target wish list where you can buy product or gift cards. Everything purchased will be distributed to shelters and agencies as needed.

Just click here to donate - tgt.gifts/WeWillThrive

6 Min Read

All My Life I've Had To Fight

I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.

African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.

I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."

While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.

This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.

While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.

We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.

There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:

If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.

If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.

While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.

If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.

If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.

We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.

People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.