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Dear families and friends,

I pray you and your loved ones are safe in this time of great hardship and loss. Today we planned to commemorate our 20 year anniversary of FFLIC fighting for the rights of youth and families in Louisiana. As we all struggle to rebound from the devastation of Hurricane Ida and surging COVID outbreaks, it is essential to highlight that the most vulnerable members of our communities were left behind as others with greater means and resources evacuated the city. As we all reflect upon the sad irony of Hurricane Ida hitting landfall on the anniversary of Katrina, I wanted to share my thoughts from 20 years of fighting for racial justice.

After providing emergency stipends for our members and staff to support their evacuation, I was blessed enough to evacuate with my family. As I returned to New Orleans, I witnessed the devastation driving home through Tangipahoa and Jefferson Parishes. Recovery and rebuilding…again…will take years in many areas. Surveying the utter destruction, all I could think about is that disasters continue to hit our communities the hardest, and those most in need of resources are repeatedly hard pressed to find support, food, and basic necessities. This is an exacerbation of everything I see every day in our flawed youth justice system, all the disparities and inequities compounded hundreds of times over upon those least equipped to fight…and it is unacceptable.

Members are reaching out to us with stories of hardship and heartbreak. Those who could not afford to evacuate or without transportation were left behind to fend for themselves in tragic circumstances. The elderly and sick, who lack mobility were abandoned as those paid to care for them left them behind without resources or the ability to care for themselves. Our pre-adjudicated youth in the New Orleans detention were evacuated then returned back to facilities to continue to await their court dates while the courts are closed. The children in the Baton Rouge detention center weren’t evacuated at all, but instead, caged for over 30 hours without power.  Until this week, we were unsure of the current location and status of incarcerated youth who were evacuated from the Bridge City Center for Youth, a facility that is still without power.

After surviving Katrina, why have we not instituted proactive and coordinated public systems responses tailored for disasters of this magnitude? Why have policymakers and leaders not changed this criminally ineffective systems response, a system that targets and jails our children? Disasters happen, but we don’t have to always live in a state of dysfunction.

FFLIC believes in a coordinated systems approach and calls for our policymakers to dismantle harmful institutions and create equity and opportunities for youth and their families. That is why FFLIC’s three-point platform is focused on mental health, education, and poverty. If we do not address these three critical disparities up front by building a continuum of care from birth, we will continue to see racial disparities that lead to dismal life outcomes for children of color.

Our hearts go out to everyone struggling to recover from this disaster, but FFLIC’s work continues twenty years later to bring attention and focus to how public systems perpetuate these shocking failures upon the folks most in need. FFLIC will continue to advocate for coordinated systems of care until we have functioning, holistic child-serving systems that address issues at the front-end with high quality education, physical and mental health care, and an array of positive opportunities for youth.

Community-based organizations are doubling down to support folks with emergency support. There are amazing and heroic recovery efforts on the ground, just as we saw post-Katrina. We are grateful to partners and volunteers for their tireless community engagement and send love and fortitude to all for the long journey ahead. We hope that the future will bring renewed vision and regenerative efforts to hold public systems accountable —one in which communities have holistic and functioning support networks accessible every day, not just for disaster relief.  We can build communities to last that are vibrant, inter-reliant, and whose leadership is fully representative of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in impacted communities. We need to stand together in solidarity. We need to activate and collaborate better and stronger, and we will work with our partners and share ways for you to get involved.

FFLIC remains united in our fight for justice for all youth and families. We are in the process of providing monetary support to families and helping them to rebuild. If you were impacted by Ida and need support, please contact [email protected] or call us at (504) 708-8376. If you yourself are not in need and want to support our efforts, please consider a donation via our donations page or using CashApp $FFLIC.

Stay safe and well.

In solidarity,

Gina Womack,
Co-Founder and Executive Director