Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fearless Fridays: All It Takes is One Person to Start a Revolution

I am writing this week’s column with a heavy heart. As all of you know, Hurricane Sandy ripped into the NYC/NJ/CT area and caused havoc and destruction in its path. I know all too well as I live in the Rockaways, one of the hardest hit areas. 

The beach, before and after
The Rockaways is a small peninsula in Queens, where you have the beach and Atlantic Ocean on one side and Jamaica Bay on the other. We’re about an hour from Manhattan, near JFK airport and near Long Island. When the Rockaways are spoken off in a positive light in the media, it is usually about the affluent neighborhoods of Belle Harbor, Rockaway Beach and Breezy Point. However, the Rockaways is not just about those areas. It also has seven housing projects in areas with predominantly Black and Latino residents. The Arverne/Edgemere community consists of low income and middle-class good people who are just trying to live a decent life. In these areas, there are also houses and cooperative housing. But these sections are rarely featured unless there is a crime being committed or something negative. 

The beginning of Sandy
During Hurricane Sandy, I saw things I want to forget and know I never will. You may have heard about the devastation in the Breezy Point section of the Rockaways. While that was so terrible and the pain I feel for those residents is indescribable, the entire peninsula was affected.  My mom and I spent almost three days in complete darkness. No power, water and no phone service. No elevators. Many of us underestimated this storm and did not realize how bad it would be. In my neighborhood, there was looting and for days, we saw no help. No one knocked on our door to ask if we needed assistance. No FEMA or Red Cross vehicles to be seen. Bus service resumed Tuesday afternoon but was very limited. If you didn’t have a car, you didn’t have a way out. 

Flooding on B 54th St
When I finally got to listen to a radio on Wednesday morning, I realized how bad it was out there. And I felt trapped. Yes, we were fine. We live on the 3rd floor in a building and the water only rose up to the window sill of the 1st floor. We had some food and water. But to be off the grid, as I call it, and in the dark is a terrifying thing. I had no idea what was going on outside and we did not leave our house for that reason. We kept waiting for help and nothing. Finally, Wednesday morning, my neighbor told us she was heading further east into Far Rockaway to check on a friend. She said that if she found a working phone, she’d call my aunt and have her come get us. We were lucky. We got out. But many stayed behind, stuck with no where to go. They had no way to get to a shelter. It broke my heart and honestly, really made me angry. In the area known to the locals as the 40’s, it’s predominantly houses and most families there lost everything. In the 60’s area, same thing. You hear everyone say the same thing, “The water came in too fast and I just had to get out quick.”

I found myself becoming bitter. Being bitter is not in my nature and once I let these negative feelings in, they spread like a fast disease. That resentfulness and bitterness grew and on the ride to my aunt’s house, honestly, I wanted to scream. Instead of celebrating that we were evacuated and will now have power and running water, I was instead letting the bitterness eat away at my spirit and hold it hostage. To me, it just seemed as if many were just out for themselves. During our time in the dark, we offered assistance to a few neighbors and only one neighbor returned that favor. We had neighbors who had working vehicles and went out shopping a few times without even knocking on our door to see if we needed anything.  Towards Day 3, we were running low on water and getting nervous. That one neighbor, our angel, was always there. And when we left, we gave her everything else we had left. We asked her to come with us but she wanted to stay behind and help others.
The destroyed boardwalk

So as I ran these things over in my mind, it drove me crazy. But then I started to think of that neighbor who was so good to us. And it was as if a switch went off in my head. I always preach about turning a negative thing into a positive thing and how the words you think and speak affect you. Well, that bitterness was getting the best of me until I thought of my neighbor and all she did for us. Then I knew what I had to do. I had to pay it forward.

I had to stop being resentful of everyone else and be who I am. I had to help. Now I am someone who doesn’t drive so I don’t have a car. Mom and I lost all of our food minus what we gave away. We don’t have much money. But once I decided to help in any way I could, I became possessed with the desire to help, even though it seemed impossible. I felt I had to. It’s like that saying “Each one, teach one”. Someone has to be the first one to start helping. And even if it’s just a little, it will start a chain reaction.

I decided to use social media to spread the word on how there was no help in this area of the Rockaways and to keep others updated on the area as there was no way to communicate with loved ones. I asked for help; if anyone had any food to donate. I also asked if someone would drive me back there to give out food. One person answered my call for help. Her family and friends got together and donated food. We drove back to the neighborhood on Thursday and gave it to those in need. I checked on a few neighbors and loved ones of friends, who could not get in touch with them. I also saw that FEMA and the Red Cross had finally arrived. The water was turned back on in my building. Still, no power but a small victory nonetheless. 

Thursday night, I tried again, asking for help. I know there is a friend of mine who is stuck in her home with her husband and kids. I had no way of getting back out there to help her. While I felt limited, I still pushed through to keep people updated and notified via Facebook. And just when I felt like no one would answer my second call for help, on Friday, I heard from a childhood friend who said she wanted to organize relief efforts in the area. Then another friend messaged me, letting me know that he had an organization ready to donate 200 meals. I connected him with my friend organizing the relief efforts. I then got a message from a former co-worker who said that if she could find gas, she would be willing to pick me up and take me to check on my friend on Saturday.

The area still needs so much help. More than I can do. I did a little but refuse to take credit for anything great because I feel I did not do as much as I would have liked. But when I think of my part in the chain reaction that started, it makes me smile. It takes only one person to start a revolution, as my dad used to always say. And as I type this, the tears fall because I know he is looking down proud. God bless those who helped and continue to. God bless those who spoke up for our community. God bless those who helped in spreading the word. You are the true heroes in all of this. The rebuild has begun and we will get through it as a community no matter what. To all those affected by Sandy, remember, we are not victims. We are survivors and fighters. We will get through this and emerge better and stronger than before.

If you would like to help in any way, be it food, supplies or even to give a resident a ride somewhere or offer them a way to contact loved ones, please email me for more information at 

To donate to the Red Cross:

Here is also the information for relief efforts put forth by my childhood friend Selena Aquasia:

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