“Where there are people, there is power,” said the slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.
In the wake of Winter Storm Uri, it has been the everyday people – local business owners, local social media activists, the neighbors, the friends – who have shown up to support, to strategize, to mobilize, to shelter, to warm, and to feed the millions of Texans who were impacted by this national weather crisis.
If where there are people, there is power, then where there are politicians, there are planes of escapism and avoidance whose destinations are Mexico — Cancun, to be exact — during a national weather crisis, amidst a global pandemic.
Understand that while my tone may seem harsh, I share my criticisms out of love. Not for Texas or any of its leaders, but for its children. My students. And the many youth who are impacted by foster care. This is a call to action for the people of Texas to choose leaders who are invested in the humanity of its statehood, who are devoted public servants who protect and ensure voter rights with unceasing selflessness and immovable integrity.
My name is Ivory Bennett. I am a 30-year-old high school English teacher and cheerleading coach in the Dallas area and recently graduated with a master’s degree in education administration. I’m also an alumni of the child welfare system and an advocate for education equity and foster care equity, serving on boards and in programs focused on improving the quality of life for children.
During this month’s winter storms, I was so grateful to the people who were there, even when the power was not. Now that my community is recovering, my role as an advocate is to do everything I can to prevent a repeat of last week’s preventable disasters, which were particularly dangerous and stressful for foster youth and those who recently aged out of care.
I’m going to be motivated by a few things I’ll always remember about my weather crisis. My apartment being too cold to get out of bed. Friends offering to take us in – until their power went out too. Taking the risk of getting on the icy, untreated road when a neighbor told us where we could find hot food. Crying in the car while we ate dinner – grateful for the people who sent donations and devastated for the way that people were being neglected in Texas. The hope of the power coming back on followed by the frustration of the water being shut off.
For much of Texas, the immediate crisis is over and recovery and repair efforts are underway. But there are still people in need. We must be mindful that Texas was not the only state devastated by this storm. Places like Mississippi also share parallel struggles with lack of leadership, infrastructure, and failure to prioritize the humanity of its constituents of color, lower socio-economic classes, or those impacted by child welfare.
Between the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and fallout from this once-in-a-generation storm, there are a number of things Texas should be doing for current and former foster youth. Here are just a few:
- Texas should waive any employment or academic requirements for transition-age foster youth support programs until the end of the pandemic.
- Transition-age youth should have extended access to services, due to the unforeseen pandemic and weather crisis; this includes being able to re-enter care.
- Additional supports should be put in place to support recently reunified families – additional food stamps, extended housing vouchers, increased support staff and resources.
- A financial assistance fund for current or former foster youth that acknowledges the lack of familial support and networks many of them face.
Accountability, honesty, transparency and preparation are deserved and needed in leaders and politicians. As Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said, “We would have been happy to order an evacuation if we’d been told Sunday the power was going to go out and stay out for four days.”
In the future, statewide standard protocols and procedures must be created. How do we prevent, or at least prepare for, the next disaster? With the constant effects of climate change, we must acknowledge the change in typical weather and weather-related events. The power plants must be weatherized, green energy sources must be further instituted. Lastly, other states must take heed that the privatization of basic commodities like water and energy is happening before our eyes in many places and will spell disaster for our health, our finances, our very existences.
When the electricity goes out, the people must continue to be there for each other. The real power is in our unified voice and our collective demands that our government ensure our most basic needs are met.