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California Fires: Local Groups Fill In Void As Black and Latin American Communities Self-Prepare California



W.When Covid-19 arrived in Oakland, Calif. Earlier this year, the Community Ready Corps (CRC) was in the middle of preparing for the final round of emergency equipment freebies.

The organization has been supplying lower-income neighborhoods with earthquake kits, food gift cards, and survival education since 201

7. They switched gears amid the pandemic and gave their stock of masks a new purpose in the fight against the coronavirus.

Now that wildfires are raging near the Bay Area and smoke is choking the air in Northern California, CRC is turning again and trying to consolidate their kits so they can be used in any emergency.

“We’re trying to kill two birds with one stone,” said Tur-Ha Ak, a longtime activist and founder of CRC. “And since forest fires are seasonal and earthquakes are not, our goal is to cover everything and expand our capacities.”

CRC is among a growing number of community organizations recognizing that historically underserved Black and Latin American communities in California are more vulnerable to the long-term effects of natural disasters such as forest fires and are largely alone to fill that void. Since the climate crisis is likely to make forest fires in the state bigger, more frequent and more intense, these organizations attach particular importance to resilience and self-determination, distribute emergency kits, air purifiers and organize response and evacuation training.

CRC has been supplying low-income neighborhoods with earthquake kits, food gift cards and survival education since 2017
CRC has been supplying low-income neighborhoods with earthquake kits, food gift cards and survival education since 2017 Photo: Courtesy of the Community Ready Corps

“These black communities are already disenfranchised and have pollutants from factories. Then you take smoke and put it on it. That really shows how left behind people are,” Ak said.

For many in California, the devastating smoke that has enveloped much of the state in recent weeks has been a wake-up call to the mounting effects of climate change. Experts have warned that structural racism in housing policies and a lack of resources to invest in infrastructure such as air conditioning and air purifiers increase the risk of devastation and complications from the smoke for black and Latin American communities.

Fire ecologist Tony Marks-Block points to enclaves across the Central Valley and California’s Wine Country where mostly Latino farm workers rely on temporary work visas and live in low-income housing. The combination of direct flames, residential instability, and heavy smoke exposure in the fields consistently makes this population most vulnerable to the immediate and persistent effects of forest fires.

Still in 2019 after big fires like 2018 Campfire, The California accountant found that the affected counties failed to protect their most vulnerable residents by mostly receiving emergency notifications in English only.

“Basically this is a class problem, but racing always overlaps with class,” said Marks-Block. “These places are mostly white, but their economies rely on racial income disparities. If people don’t have access to insurance or higher wages and savings, it becomes much harder for them to recover or revive their lives. “

In cities like Oakland, where decades of redlining and industrial homes during World War II led to racial inequalities in exposure to airborne toxins and higher rates of respiratory illness, Marks-Block said these pre-existing problems were in the Practical Approach Things like urban planning and housing policy are another form of preparedness and mitigation that local and state governments should undertake.

“These stories play a big part in forest fire vulnerability,” adds Marks-Block. “Apart from the fact that the state only has go-bags, it should turn to the industry and rethink the locations of these emission producers.”

Attention to the intersection between race and disaster relief in the US has increased after Hurricane Katrina, but research and government action to address the challenges have lagged. leaving local groups and charities to fill gaps in awareness and support.

“One of Katrina’s biggest achievements was the importance of a whole community approach,” said Debra Williams, CEO of Building Resilient Communities (BRC), an organization that works with churches and religious groups to educate underserved communities about the opportunities how to minimize risk and rebuild their communities after a disaster.

“When we see pictures of people stuck in the Superdome and black bodies floating in the street, we emphasize that you are alone and just prepared to take care of yourself and your neighbors for some time,” she continued.

BRC works with churches to educate underserved communities about how to rebuild their communities after a disaster.
BRC works with churches to educate underserved communities about how to rebuild their communities after a disaster. Photo: Nick Gardner / Courtesy Building Resilient Communities

Williams founded BRC in 2012 to reach black communities in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, where officials recently declared racism a public health crisis. She hopes to use this official recognition to gain more resources for consumables such as masks and air purifiers, as well as multilingual teaching materials.

Williams said the coronavirus crisis has raised awareness of racial inequality during disaster. “When you think of the color communities that are already ruined by neglect and underserved in so many ways, a fire will destroy everything they have worked so hard on,” Williams said.

“In the months leading up to the fires, we looked at two health crises: Covid, which exposed the second crisis, which was racism,” Williams said. “We are survivors. But building the ability to absorb those shocks and be more resilient is something that many blacks have not been taught. “

To support the people leading this effort in the local communities, California Governor Gavin Newsom has allocated $ 50 million to Listos California to fill linguistic and cultural gaps and groups like BRC and CRC across the state finance.

“There was an awareness gap in the color communities, but also a large implementation gap in terms of culturally literate services,” said Justin Knighten, co-chair of Listos California. “We need to be accountable to make sure the dollars go beyond leaving door signs.”

Williams, whose organization is one of a dozen to receive a grant under the campaign, said she was glad the state government is putting real dollars into the effort. This type of funding can give groups like yourself the opportunity to act as liaison officers between government agencies and those in need of information most, she added.

“The government and firefighters speak their own language and vulnerable communities have their own standards and language,” Williams said. “So we stand in the middle and act as interpreters.”


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