BURLINGTON -- Sometimes the best way to help people in distress is to ask them what they need, rather than presume to know what's best for them. That was the message last week from members of Burlington's African-American community, who announced the launch of a new community group aimed at lending a hand to the residents of hurricane-stricken Moss Point, Mississippi. The city of about 16,000 people in southeastern Mississippi was almost entirely destroyed in late August by Hurricane Katrina.
In September, Mayor Peter Clavelle announced that Burlington had established a new sister-city relationship with Moss Point. Since then, Burlington has raised more than $21,000 for the Gulf Coast town, including about $1700 during a fundraiser at the mayor's house.
Because the population of Moss Point is predominantly black, organizers of Burlington's new group, called UMEUS ("you-me-us"), say they're in a unique position to help the residents of the Gulf Coast town rebuild their lives.
"Given the documented racial disparities of governmental responses in all areas of societal matters, it seemed only fitting that there be African-American involvement in any prescriptive intervention," said H. Lawrence McCrorey, UVM professor emeritus in molecular physiology and biophysics, and one of the organizers of UMEUS. McCrorey said members of his group have already been in touch with city officials, civic leaders, church members and other Moss Point residents. UMEUS plans to send a representative to Mississippi to ascertain residents' needs.
McCrorey emphasized that UMEUS was not created to compete with Burlington's sister-city program or other relief efforts, and is not critical of the city's charitable efforts thus far. "I'm not trying to second-guess anyone," McCrorey added. "But it seems to me that African-Americans need to be involved in a place that is primarily African-American. Black people talk to black people differently. That's a fact."
Members of the group were reluctant to discuss the kinds of assistance they will provide, saying that they're still assessing those needs. But UMEUS member Haskell Garrett said that their goal is to provide aid that will have a long-term impact. And John Tucker, a veteran community activist and member of RAINBOW-PUSH Vermont, emphasized that UMEUS is not a political entity and has no interest in meddling in the political affairs of Moss Point.
For more info on UMEUS, call 802-863-4145.