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On the Road Again | Biloxi, Mississippi

I spent last week in Biloxi, Mississippi volunteering with the Hope Coordination Center, a post-Katrina relief and redevelopment organization. It was incredible to see the city two and a half years after the storm. There are many reasons to be hopeful and inspired and yet many reasons to be angry and frustrated. Two and a half years after the storm and there are still FEMA trailers (pulling out in August...another issue in an of itself) and piles of rubble strewn about, entire city blocks completely vacant, and business still boarded up. Our country deserves better. Our people deserve better. And then you have the many community organizations and thousands and thousands of volunteers who work every single day to make the world of Biloxi a bit brighter.

We stayed at the Prince of Peace Baptist Church. It was not luxurious by a long shot, but why should it be? The communal bunker meant I drifted off each night to a cacophony of snores and giggles. I was eternally grateful for my shower flip flops, but didn't so much enjoy sprinting across the swampy wet lawn trying to make it back into the church building/toilet each morning.

The Hope Coordination Center is also known as the East Biloxi Coordination, Relief, and Redevelopment Agency (EBCRRA). The east side of town is to Biloxi what the Lower 9th is New Orleans. We helped a bit cleaning up trash/rubble piles, making dumpster runs, etc. but primarily we did finish work on Art's house.

We laid hardwood floors in the master bedroom/two closets, and the spare bedroom/closet. It was gorgeous. The large photo on the left is prior to us spending hours on our hands and knees with acetone and polishing cream.

We also tiled the kitchen, utility closet, laundry room, and only 90% of the living room...to leave a walking path. The living room involved a lot of whole tiles and was fairly simple. Cutting the detailed tiles for the bathroom and tiny angles in the closets was trickier, and expertly handled by my friends Michael and Greg.

We painted. A lot. I loved it. Doors, baseboards, window trim, molding, hanging and caulking the molding, hanging and repainting the baseboards, hanging and repainting the doors...you get the idea.

The week raised a lot of questions that I've raised in my mind before, but with this experience under my belt it makes the concerns even more relevant. I've been on four other builds across the western United States and so the week-long volunteer trip is not new to me and that's not the experience I need to process; rather, I need to process the experience of Katrina-specific relief and recovery. The other builds I've done have been with Habitat for Humanity and definitely dealt with issues of poverty and America's class system, but I haven't dealt with disaster relief until now.

How much should the federal government do? The state government? Individual citizens? We have institutionalized racism in this country to the point that it's as natural as breath and I fear not enough people are even aware of it. It's immoral and unethical, in my mind, to allow devastation like that to plague American cities two and a half years after the fact...and yet...? And yet what? And yet where do you start? Who starts? Where does the buck stop? I had answers to those questions swimming in my head and they changed every day I was in Biloxi. They changed every time I talked with Art the homeowner. They changed with each Katrina survival story I heard and each brave survivor I met. They changed each day I drove through the neighborhoods and shook my head in silent wonder. They are still changing even now.

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