01 April 2020
For a Black feminist environmental ethnographer in the field, being "Black girl reliable" means supporting frontline communities.
Editor's note: This story is part of a series examining the social and health injustices resulting from increasingly intense storms and is the result of a collaboration between EHN and Scalawag Magazine, an independent nonprofit magazine that covers the American South.
The windowsill at Cheryl Reed's apartment at Trent Court, which she has permanently vacated. (Credit: Lewis Raven Wallace)<p>"I've been displaced before," said Cheryl Reed, head of the Trent Court Resident Council, "but I've never seen it like this."</p><p>Reed is raspy-voiced and beautiful, her gray and black hair curling around her dark face, deep brown eyes shining. Her shuffling gait reveals a bit about her age, 67, and when we met to tour Trent Court, she wore a dusty t-shirt for the Trent Court resident council. A few weeks after the storm, she was coordinating an event distributing supplies to Trent Court residents. She's a clearly well-liked leader, hollering out to everyone by name as they rolled up to St. John's Missionary Baptist Church to pick up cleaning supplies and staples: bottled water, Pedialyte, diapers, bleach to scrub down walls, all donated by a group in the Outer Banks.</p><p>She grew up in New Bern, she said with a relaxed smile, and this is her home—she knows everyone around. After the death of both her husband and her daughter, it's been just her and a tiny terrier named Winston Churchill in her Trent Court townhouse. "We're a couple of old farts together," she said, giggling.</p><p>One of the worst parts of the storm for her was letting Winston Churchill go to the humane society and get fostered out—she had to in order to check in to a shelter. She called every day, and now she's resettled in senior housing for the time being, with the dog.</p><p>She and Buck together took me to see Reed's old apartment, which is set to be torn down. The walls were warped from water, and little was left on the first floor. But there was still a rusty metal trinket hanging on the front door that says "Welcome," surrounded with political stickers: Obama 2012, Barbara Lee for Mayor. Buck wanted Reed to take the welcome sign with her, but Reed wanted to leave some sign of herself there. "I was here. I <em>was</em> here. And I was welcoming of anyone that came to my door."</p><p>"She was," Buck affirmed from across the room.</p>
The waterfront near Trent Court Housing Development in New Bern. During Hurricane Florence, water came up four or five feet inside of many apartments. (Credit: Lewis Raven Wallace)<p>The rest of Trent Court was a mess, but nothing like the mess that it was a few weeks after the storm. The housing authority had already washed down the apartments, removed the slime and the first layer of mold, with the help of formerly incarcerated workers in a re-entry program. The floating refrigerators and rusted out stoves were gone forever. Throughout the day, cars pulled up and residents jumped out with bags full of bleach, left with trash bags full of what remained of their belongings. Someone had been hired to mow the lawns, so Trent Court's yards looked trim and neat, almost lived-in.</p><p>Buck applied for FEMA assistance, and got a check for $4,471 in October: $1,800 of that was for rental assistance for two months, and the rest was for personal property replacement. She was expecting to spend it down, and then move back to Trent Court.</p><p>But two months after the hurricane, Buck's first round of FEMA payments ran out. That same week, she got the news that her building at Trent Court is on the list for demolition. She thought she'd be able to stay until HUD built a new alternative for Trent Court residents. Now, she's not even supposed to be crashing at her own apartment, but she's considered a "squatter." The units now have no heat, no appliances, and no hot water; the floors and parts of the walls are gutted out. She and her son sleep upstairs in their old beds, which survived. She says his grades are suffering.</p><p>Buck is six months pregnant, and when I asked how she was doing with all of it, she said, "How would you be doing? I'm basically homeless. I'm not trying to be funny. I'm just…how would anyone be doing?"</p><p>In other words, there are no words.</p><p>Blaney and HUD have secured Section 8 vouchers for all the families displaced permanently by the hurricane. But given that there's nothing to rent in New Bern, that's not much help to Buck.</p><p>"I'm not interested in a voucher. I was born and raised in New Bern…Everybody that I know that is accepting a voucher, they're going to like, Raleigh. If we all go to Raleigh…" She trails off. "This has always been home."</p><p><em>Lewis Raven Wallace is a journalist and editor based in Durham, North Carolina. His work focuses on people who are economically, geographically, and politically marginalized, and he's a regular contributor to Scalawag Magazine. His forthcoming book from University of Chicago Press is about the history of "objectivity" in journalism.</em></p><p><em>Read part 2: <a href="https://www.ehn.org/lingering-long-after-a-storm-mold-and-mental-health-issues-2625546179.html" target="_blank">Lingering long after a storm, mold and mental health issues</a></em></p><p><em>See the <a href="https://www.ehn.org/nowhere-to-go-in-new-bern-climate-catastrophe-spurs-migrants-in-us-south-2626065468.html" target="_blank">full series</a> </em></p>
Hurricane Florence ravaged North Carolina last fall. While cleanup continues and residents pick up the pieces of their life, many people in New Bern, a small community along the Neuse River in the eastern part of the state, have nothing to pick up. Homes have been destroyed and won't be rebuilt. Lives have been upended.
The Gulf of Mexico is littered with tens of thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells, and toothless regulation leaves climate warming gas emissions unchecked.