Hurricane Ian made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast on the afternoon of Sept. 28 as a Category 4 Storm. With 150-mph winds and heavy rains, Ian was one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S.—it knocked out power for 2.6 million Floridians, many of whom are still trying to recover from the damage.
As the after-the-storm cleanup began, Florida’s Black communities were vocal in pointing out how they were being ignored by media and assistance organizations. The east Fort Myers neighborhood of Dunbar (which sits between Tampa and Miami) was among the hardest hit by Hurricane Ian, but initial media attention focused on the stories of white families who lost their homes on nearby island communities like Sanibel and Captiva.
Dunbar is a long-established traditionally Black neighborhood: it developed as Fort Myers became an important trading location in the 1880s. Members of the Civil War’s U.S. Colored Troops 2nd Regiment and formerly enslaved Blacks created the neighborhood and in the 20th century, it was a major stop on the famed Chitlin’ Circuit as well as a location where the first Black players to integrate Major League Baseball roomed when they were banned from rooming in Fort Myers’ white-owned hotels. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Roberto Clemente roomed with a local family in a Dunbar area known as “The Bottom.”
When Hurricane Ian hit, Dunbar and another Fort Myers neighborhood, Harlem Heights, saw their residents waiting to have their power restored and for food supplies to be delivered. “You know it happens with every disaster, every storm,” MacKenzie Marcelin, climate justice manager with the grassroots political power organization Florida Rising, told the AmNews in response to questions about the trials locals are still facing.
“And then, even with the pandemic, folks are being left behind by authorities and feeling that they’re not responding—there are gaps in the response, and it usually falls on Black and brown communities being the last to get their lights turned on, the last to get their power turned on, the last to, you know, get significant responses.”
Florida Rising is part of a 50+ group coalition that signed onto a letter demanding a “just recovery” following Hurricane Ian. The letter stated that coalition members wanted it known that as part of the Hurricane Ian response every Floridian has a right to food, utilities, and safe housing; renters should not face the possibility of evictions during the recovery; workers should not have to worry about losing their employment as they are trying to restabilize their living conditions; and Florida’s immigrants should not be deprived of access to shelters or services during this emergency period.
Florida Rising has coalesced with other grassroots groups such as Dream Defenders, Florida Immigrant Coalition, FL Jobs With Justice, and Faith in Florida to create the Florida Ian Response Fund (www.IanResponse.org). These groups plan to use any donated funds they receive to provide food and supplies and help people figure out relief programs during the recovery period. Those who want to send support to Hurricane Ian survivors can send funds via this website.
“These disasters,” adds Marcelin, “they’re like, you know, they’re undiscriminating. They’re going to hit whoever. But I think in our response that’s where we start to see discrimination, you know what I mean? Where folks aren’t receiving—certain communities aren’t receiving—the assistance and the help that meet their needs. And so, we need to do a better job—to continue doing a better job and learn from these situations that a lot of our communities have the answers. They have the solution; they know how to bounce back. They just need the resources to be able to do so.”