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Shelter from the Storm: an interview with Reverend Lee T. Wesley

For the Reverend Lee T. Wesley, whose Baton Rouge congregation helped shelter 500 displaced New Orleans residents, the flood washed up more than the detritus of a city. The receding waters revealed hard truths about poverty and racism.

NewOrleans Streetcar
Illustration by Richard Register

Dee: What have you and your congregation learned from helping people from New Orleans?

Lee: We've learned, number one, that we are a  generous congregation; although some of our folk don't have much themselves, they're still willing to share. We've never seen folk who've felt so hopeless. You've got to reach way within to comfort folk like that and to say to them, our dependency is on God, and some way, somehow, God is going to work this thing out.

Number two, there appeared to be a lack of concern, particularly on the part of the federal government. Therefore, they were very slow in responding. We've learned out of this that racism is alive and well—it's pretty clear. When you have a community right outside of Baton Rouge whose parish council goes on the record voting not to put trailers there, that tells you where folks' minds are.

Dee: What can the rest of us do?

Lee: We've got to stand up and say this is morally wrong. We say we are a nation of the people and by the people. Let's be that. Plans are being made to rebuild New Orleans, but the folk who are going to live there are not being included. Grassroots are going to have to rise up and say, “Look, we know the game. This time we're not going to play the game. We will be heard. We will be part of rebuilding our city, and our state.” I think that a lot of good people out there who were touched by this—white, black, Christians, non-Christians, Jews, you name ‘em—have given from their hearts to help. But unfortunately it appears that those who are in leadership positions have not caught up with the masses of our people.

I think the second thing that we learned from this, as a nation, is that no one is exempt from disaster. “We're all in it together” is the bottom line.

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