“You be the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.” — Lord Byron
Since the devastating tornado that touched down in North Minneapolis on May 26, I now know more about tornadoes than I ever felt I needed or wanted to know. I now know that a tornado is a violent, rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.
The most devastating tornadoes are capable of unspeakable destruction with wind speeds of up to 300 mph. They can decimate large buildings, uproot 100-year-old trees and hurl trucks hundreds of yards. They can also drive straw into trees. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide to 50 miles long.
And the most distinctive aspect of a tornado is that it is not a tornado unless it touches ground. If it doesn’t come into contact with the earth, it is simply a bad storm.
2011 has been an exceptionally destructive and deadly year with twister touchdowns that have been off the chain. As of June, for example, there have been 1,039 confirmed tornadoes reported in the U.S. alone. We are experiencing them at a record pace.
It is estimated that approximately 525 people have perished. Included in that number are two from North Minneapolis — one of them Rob McIntyre, a beloved neighbor, cherished by all but adored especially by Northside kids.
Although my heart always went out to people who lost their lives and homes in areas that make up the infamous “Tornado Alley,” like Missouri and Iowa, before the tornado hit “our” community I didn’t believe it was a problem that I needed to concern myself with nor could do anything about. I naively believed that large metropolitan areas not historically prone to experiencing massive twisters were impervious to the destruction I saw happening in other places.
Sure, we had tornado warnings in the past, but they were often false alarms. In fact, during one false alarm about three weeks before the one that actually hit, me, my girls and several neighbors danced outside in the rain, marveling at the beauty of the ballooned clouds stacked atop each other like swollen cotton balls. We even dashed on and off the porch to collect the golf-ball-sized hail that came crashing to the ground as a grand finale to the storm — which, as it turned out, was not a tornado.
What hit us at the end of May definitely was a tornado! And the really disappointing news is that, though our community has been devastated with a few hundred million dollars in property damage, lost lives, family displacement, financial hardship, hunger and despair, the federal government, through its agency, FEMA, has announced that individuals will not get help to cover the cost of the destruction.
For many in the Black community, this sounds all too familiar. The metaphor that one can draw from the tornado and the lack of a response from our federal government to our ongoing crisis, which was simply exacerbated by the storm, is uncanny.
I have heard people say that this is not the first tornado to hit North Minneapolis or the Black community. That grabbed me. They are right!
Violent storm clouds of entrenched racial disparities touched down in our community a long, long time ago. The powerful rotating column of injustice, illiteracy, massive incarceration, poor education, poverty, unemployment and violence has torn a path of destruction straight through the heart of our neighborhood and our children’s futures.
And so what are the lessons the tornado can teach us? First, heed the warning signs and act now. Tornado deaths are nowhere near what they used to be once we started utilizing the Doppler Radar System to detect them and sound an alarm so that people can react before the storms hit.
Our alarms in North Minneapolis have been sounding for a long time now. We have the highest foreclosure and child poverty rates in the city. We have the highest incarceration rates in the city/state. We have the highest racial unemployment rate in the country.
We also have the dubious distinction of the second-highest achievement gap in the country with only 26 percent of our children being ready for kindergarten, only 12 percent of our kids being at grade level in reading by the fourth grade, and only 35 percent graduating high school in four years.
The second lesson is that there is always a seed of grace in every disaster, a rainbow after every storm. If the tornado did anything, it pulled back the covers on what we all already knew. Disproportionately low-income Black folks in our community are living on the edge, have no real prospects for the future and no safety net.
And no one is coming to save us!
To save ourselves, we must work together with decency and honor; form partnerships with our City, County and State officials, as well as schools, other community-based organizations and the philanthropic community; we must seize the opportunity before us to fully participate in and benefit from the rebuilding of this community both financially and socially; and we must recommit to providing superior services, education and support to the families and children most imperiled by the storms of life in this city.
Together we can be the rainbow after the storm and rays of hope for our collective future.
Sondra Samuels welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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