The rap legend talks Hurricane Harvey on both sides of the wealth divide—and where we go from here.
Left photo courtesy of Willie D. Right photo by Daniel Kramer
Let's get something straight out the gate: I'm a Texan, and proud of it. With the exception of six months in Paris and roughly a decade in Baku, the commercial hub of Azerbaijan situated on the Caspian Sea, I've lived in Texas, and specifically Houston, all my life. So you know I had to step away from the Mayweather-McGregor fight to record a Hurricane Harvey update to my fans and supporters on Facebook Live on Saturday, even though my date periodically gave me the side eye from a distance.
Being that I'm the cleanup man, she wasn't tripping too hard.
As Harvey approached landfall in the form of a Category 4 hurricane Friday night, forecasters warned of potentially catastrophic flooding in the coming days. At the time of the fight, there had been flooding throughout the city, but I hadn't yet heard about any fatalities—though there had been at least one already. And even though Harvey had the potential to wreak havoc, I was optimistic. I gave my spill online, encouraging everyone to be safe out there and thanking out-of-towners for their prayers and support—not just for me and my family, but for the entire city of Houston.
A couple hours later, after Mayweather TKO'ed McGregor in the tenth round, I made my way home. Torrential rain forced me to navigate around—and sometimes through—eight to-12 inches of water, and I had to exit the toll road about half way to my house out of respect for a police roadblock. But other than that, my drive home was uneventful.
I was lucky.
By Sunday morning, like much of America, I was looking at images of people forced by flooding to evacuate their homes, and many others pleading for help. That's around the time the death toll started to climb.
Like everyone else, I heard the warnings, though I dismissed them as mere media sensationalism. I was wrong. While my immediate family and I were never in real flood danger, the dire circumstances many continue to find themselves in cannot be overstated. Even though the wind threat has diminished and the rainfall has abated in Houston proper, the danger is far from over. People are hurting, hundreds of thousands are expected to seek federal disaster-relief, and Louisiana got its own taste of Harvey's wrath.
But as awful as this is for my city, what I feel more than anything is the brotherly and sisterly love locals here seem to be showing one another. Listen man, this shit is beautiful. I feel proud. Nobody is tripping over petty things that we usually allow to divide us such as race, or party affiliation. Nobody is walking around asking "Are you a Democrat or Republican?" before offering help or accepting help. I've seen people rescue others who just a few days ago they might have wished death on—or at least tweeted something horrible at. Little children have been pulled from high water with their grateful arms wrapped around the brave necks of strangers society might have trained them to fear. People of all ethnicities, backgrounds, religions, education, sexual orientations, and income brackets are not only talking to each other, but they are listening, too. They're riding in the streets, and pulling up to folks' front doors on boats and the back of dump trucks. Neighbors are learning each others' names for the first time.
This kind of camaraderie begs the question: Why can't we be kind and respectful to each other like this all the time? One answer came in the form of a news alert I received on my phone Sunday: Trump plans to travel to Texas on Tuesday in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I submit to you that hate-mongers like the president make a living off keeping us divided as they sully our minds with unintellectual fuckery for their own benefit.
As much as 30 percent of the city I love was underwater this week. And at a ruptured chemical plant about 25 miles northeast of downtown Houston, where Harvey knocked out safety systems, the airborne danger could affect more than a million people, according to a 2014 company risk management plan filed to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). My brothers and sisters are still suffering. As a state and as a people at this time, we need a unifier, not a divider, like the guy I call "Don the Con". That outrageous move he has since suggested was a conscious one—jumping on Hurricane Harvey coverage to highlight his pardoning of a crooked sheriff—was low down and repugnant, even for him. Except for the federal funds, which we are entitled to, as taxpayers, we don't need or want Trump's help here.
He can keep that shitty $1 million pledge he made to relief efforts, which I'm willing to bet a dollar to a donut he'll find a way to delay or even renege on. We can do better than that.
Take my cousin John—whom family and friends call Nooky. He lives in the Fifth Ward, and has no bathroom roof anymore—it gave way to Harvey's powerful winds and rainfall. "They (rescue personnel) took groups of 20 of us in a city asphalt truck from inside the library in Kashmere Gardens, and dropped us off at the transit center outdoors, even the handicapped, and elderly," he told me over the phone.
Nooky was grateful for the help. But like plenty of Texans and people of color in particular, he has reservations about the insane police presence in our city right now—and the outsized national attention from a law and order president.
"Fucking National Guard passing through every 15-minutes, and police helicopters hovering around treating us like the enemy," he said. "I'm pissed cus. I thought we were all supposed to be in this together. I don't care if you're living in a big ass house or sleeping on a cot, we're all affected the same way."
"But this ain't nothing but God telling us to humble ourselves," Nooky continued. "My family is good. Even though our roof fell in, I'm thankful."
As the water showed evidence of receding, and the storm shifted its rage east, our hope was that the worst is over. Still, the perpetual sounds of the emergency vehicles jar my memory of the last time my city was really rocked by a superstorm: Hurricane Ike in 2008. We had buried my beloved Uncle Ernest just days before. And despite all of its luxury accommodations, and the expensive dirt it stood on, the high-rise building I lived in at the time flooded the same as any gunshot house in the hood.
That was a poignant reminder that, sooner or later, we're all in this together—just like Nooky said.
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