Harvey & Me: Going Within as I Seek to Serve Without

It will be an emotional journey but eye opener… I worked with Katrina victims and it changed my life forever. They really need someone like you.” – comments by Atlanta community elder Mary LaVonne Avery to my Facebook post during travel to Houston

IMG_20170904_201459The slightly ominous words of wisdom from Mother Mary above caught my brief attention when she posted them on my wall recently. I sensed that there was a deeper message for me to ponder, but I was driving at the time and allowed the prophesy to float through my mind without immediate analysis. However over the past couple of days as my journey has progressed on this mission to provide Help for Houston it is progressively dawning on me that while I am ostensibly doing this in service to others, it will also ultimately involve a journey within myself for some yet to be fully known revelation.

Abenaa & Kweku in my armsMy reasons for believing this have to do with a chain of communications, consequences, and events that have occurred in my personal life since I committed to helping Houston directly. The most intense of these are related to the housing situation of my nuclear family as well as the imminent birth of our my fifth child. My eldest children (Kweku 4, Abenaa 2) and their mother Rebecca Jones were in the process of moving to a new place just as I was leaving Atlanta for this mission. I dutifully did my part of facilitating financial resources to make the move possible, as well as moving a large load of items to their new home. Nonetheless, there remained more to do as I left town to the chagrin of Rebecca. She worked it out but was bitterly disappointed that I did not prioritize this need of my own family over those of people I did not yet know in a city across the country.

Abenaa & me

Me & my daughter Abenaa

Even more dramatic than the judgement call described above, Rebecca is full term pregnant and due to deliver our second girl and third child together at any hour her doctor determines is best. It embarrasses me somewhat to admit that this was not a planned conception, with Rebecca and I committed to close co-parenting but without an actual committed relationship between us (I have been married twice before, but not to this mother of my younger set of children). Due to different circumstances, I also missed the delivery of my last child with Rebecca as well (Abenaa). This is certainly an unintentional pattern, as I was very involved and present with the delivery of my elder children Kwesi and Issata. Somehow, I’ve made a duel set of choices that will make be absent once again for a most miraculous moment that a parent can experience.

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A church whose parking lot I spent the night in with my truck heading to Houston

On top of these two situations, I also experienced a text message-based exchange with several of my extended family members (a brother, nephew, and sister) yesterday related to the pending addition to me and Rebecca’s brood. After an opening remark of criticism from my nephew Donnell about my decision to be in Houston during the birth, my eldest sister Karen lashed out with a pointed attack accusing me of not having a proper “family” but only spawning yet another child outside of a marriage. As painful as this was, I fully expected this kind of judgement from some of my folks who are Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular. This assumption of the right to dispense moral verdicts has been par for the course with a number of my folks as a reflection, in my opinion, of an ugly underside in our family culture. I chose to shut down the text messaging app facilitating this dialogue rather than subject myself to any more of this invective and negativity.

IMG_20170905_060347In sum, my synthesized interpretation of all this is that Elder Avery’s foreshadowing that this experience will be an “emotional journey but eye opener” as well was already coming to pass. My feelings and those of Rebecca’s have certainly been put to the test already as a consequence of me coming to Houston in spite of compelling and ultimately competing obligations in Atlanta. It is my natural feeling to be present for the birth of my daughter and to support Rebecca through the challenge of delivery. As the true son of my mother Dolores, it is also my natural instinct to respond as I am doing now to the extraordinary devastation that has been wrought upon a community to which I once belonged. My willingness to supersede an automatic personal responsibility to embrace a discretionary “ability to respond” is very much an emotionally wrenching choice for me, but it is also a rational decision making process about Maat and the summum bonum of the situation. My heart and mind tells me that all lives do in fact matter in this case, that of my baby girl coming into this world as well as very vulnerable Houstonians already here.

IMG_20170905_060245Lastly, my eyes have been opened about what I am willing to allow in my life in terms of energy and influence. I love my sister Karen and even others who periodically appoint themselves with the right to weigh in uninvited about my grown ass man choices. While I deeply appreciate and respect her care of my Alzheimer’s stricken mother in particular, Karen or no one else has ever taken any action to care for my children or engage our supposed non-family from her ostensibly Christian position of moral authority. As I shake up my world by stepping out of my comfort zone to bring comfort to others, I am learning more about myself and others around me as well. I invite those of you interested to open your eyes as well to explore where family begins and ends. For me, I am both my brother and daughter’s keeper. Ase’?

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Feeling somewhat homeless myself after sleeping in the cab of my truck in a Mississippi church parking lot, I woke up to see this other person who also needed refuge overnight.

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Hurricane Harvey & “Help 4 Houston”: My Journey Begins …

“In the days since Harvey made landfall in Texas, the storm has slammed the region with more than 50 inches of rain. The local National Weather Service office put this number in context Tuesday by noting that such estimates potentially mark the ‘largest flood in Houston-Galveston history.’ … While rescue operations and the distribution of supplies to displaced residents remain the dual focus of Harvey-impacted areas in the U.S., discussions regarding a path forward for residents and a timeline for recovery have begun.

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… the National Weather Service called the event ‘unprecedented’. … Warm water, meteorologist Jeff Masters explained to PBS, was an early contributing factor. ‘The hotter the water, the more energy it drives into a storm,’ Masters explained. As for why Harvey seemed to remain stalled over Texas, Masters said that’s a result of two different high-pressure systems attempting to push the storm in separate directions but ultimately ‘canceling each other out.’ (emphasis mine)” – Here’s What Happened with Hurricane Harvey So Far, and What We Can Expect by Trace William Cowen

preparing to leave houston with Bobby & Coach

Preparing to leave Atlanta for Houston with Bobby (left) and Coach.

Brandon, MS – I am writing this first post from near Jackson MS in a special series of blog entries focused on my experience as a relief supporter for the Hurricane Harvey disaster response. The reason me and our company Atlanta Food & Farm PBC (AF2) is involved with this effort has everything to do with our current Finance Principal and my social activism comrade Bobby Rodrigo. Much like

Bobby head shot

Bobby Rodrigo

the storm that we are in the process of responding to, Bobby is a force of nature when it comes to humanitarianism and social justice. Once he has decided to make a response to something, little can stand in his way as he galvanizes impressive resources and aggressively recruits folks to become involved. Inasmuch as we are linked at the hip right now professionally through our partnership in business, I was an early target and quickly found myself making space in my life for something that seems too big for most of us to muster a response.

Kwabena in supplies truck

Me in the driver’s seat of the main equipment & supplies truck.

It’s not that I didn’t care about Houston or wasn’t independently moved by the developing crisis there as nature seemed to attack this major metropolis of Texas. As I posted in Facebook recently, the city was my home from much of a 1993-1999 period of time during essentially the bulk of my 20’s. I have a faith family within the Houston branch of the Shrines of the Black Madonna of the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church with many loved ones as members, in addition to a network of dear friends throughout the H-Town community. While I have been involved with agriculture since my freshman year at Tuskegee University in 1989, I actually became an urban farmer under the tutelage of my mentor & Urban Harvest founder Dr. Bob Randall. I married for the first time in Houston and essentially became a man there. For these reasons & so many more, this southeastern Texas town still has my heart.

packing the truck

Well stocked for the work ahead of us.

However, I would not likely have known or had a way to act on any feelings of obligation to help without Bobby. From what seemed like the moment the storm hit, he joined operations with a volunteer app-based dispatch operation which connects first responder groups like the Cajun Navy and official emergency personnel in Houston with people in need of rescue. He has been on the phone constantly since then helping to save actual lives, through the use of this technology and innovative cooperation among volunteer groups. At the same time, he tasked me as a food expert to figure out Cajun Navy logohow to feed people in Houston and lead the effort to do so. I have done the best with my assignment that I know how, making connections for him with my local food and urban agriculture contacts in Houston as well as potential operations staging partners like my home church and its local pastor Rev. Aswad Walker. As an veteran leader, I know full well the importance of being a good follower when necessary. Anything you see me do in response to Harvey is at the behest of and in subordination to Mr. Rodrigo, my friend and “drum major for justice” in the best traditions of civil or human rights leaders in history.

Kwabena driving

On I20 West out of Atlanta, on the way to Houston …

As we journey to southeast Texas, Bobby and the We Do Better organization have assembled respectable resources to offer our fellow human beings in distress there. Bobby has secured a large refrigerated truck and filled it with relevant equipment, medicines, and supplies (i.e. bottled water, foodstuffs, outdoors gear, etc). In addition, we have a commercial We Do Better logomeat smoker pulled on a trailer that is capable of preparing huge amounts of meats for hungry Houstonians. Once on site in the city, we will need additional logistical support of funding and supply chains to sustain operations on the ground. Even now during the journey there, support is required to cover expenses beyond what we have been able to muster ourselves.

sun set on the way to Houston

The power of the sun gives us all as energy beings the “ability” to “respond” = responsibility.

The word “responsibility” can be broken down into its component parts to be defined as the “ability” to “respond”. Through the grace of God and our own decisions to live as entrepreneurial revolutionaries, Bobby and I along with a new comrade of mine who goes simply by Coach are putting our bodies and treasure on the line because we have made choices in life that give us the ability to respond to this emergency. I encourage you to use your ability as a human to respond as well and support an organization doing work in Houston or make a deposit donation to Atlanta Food & Farm PBC in our Bank of America account (#334050176742) at a branch near you. AF2 logo - EditedWhile we have PayPal (kwabena@AF2.farm) and Square Cash ($KwabenaNkromo) accounts as alternatives, the fastest and most easily accessible method for us to immediately make use of funds for items like diesel fuel in the trucks, food for us on the road, and hotel lodgings is to make cash bank account deposits. We appreciate you having our backs as we put our best selves forward (please email me at kwabena@AF2.farm or text at 678.499.0309 if you make a deposit so we can acknowledge you). Ase’?

children being rescued in a boat

Cajun Navy rescuing

Helping for Houston