Aug. 29 was the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. For many people in America, it brought back horrifying memories; however, one talk-show host said, “No one cares, they are only interested in Donald Trump and the election.”
He might have been correct in that someone in Iowa or even New Hampshire might be focused on the upcoming election, but there is a sizable number of people who do care. The main reason to care is not just the possibility that Hurricane Katrina might be due to climate change, but if America finds itself in another disaster – man made or God made – it is going to need leadership to rebuild what was destroyed.
One year after the storm, I attended a Sunday church service in Mississippi where many people who had lost almost everything were standing up and saying what made them grateful for Hurricane Katrina. One of the most striking things these survivors said back then was how the storm had given them great faith in humanity. With 954,000 volunteers in Mississippi alone, Americans showed they cared, and they went to the Gulf to help others, serving meals, nailing up temporary roofing and providing child care.
We celebrated how far Mississippi came this week, when former Gov. Haley Barbour and former first lady Marsha Barbour visited places as well as friends who had been so helpful during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One press article this weekend was critical of Gov. Barbour and his attempts to rebuild and expand the port in the Mississippi Gulf. Its success, or lack of success, is yet to be fully seen, but it was amazing how the press ignored his marvelous work in totality.
Barbour recently wrote a book about the storm, “America’s Great Storm, Leading through Hurricane Katrina.” It is an easy to read book, and it outlines exactly what Mississippi faced and how, as a team, then Gov. Barbour and first lady Marsha Barbour brought back entire communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
As I have written before, I saw firsthand what they did. There was no detail that they overlooked, from making sure people had enough water to providing child care when people were waiting in the hot sun to register for FEMA. Barbour had been criticized by the African-American community before Hurricane Katrina, but everyone I have encountered said the Barbours were completely colorblind. They showed real leadership by addressing both immediate and long-term goals.
In “America’s Great Storm,” Gov. Barbour reflects on lessons learned. He begins by saying there is no substitute for preparation, and he encourages families to have a disaster plan. His comments are directed at a macro-level at governments but on a micro-level at individuals and families. He also suggests that someone has to be in charge. Gov. Barbour clearly outlines why many Americans are frustrated with elected officials and why it is important to have clear responsibility. Barbour follows by saying the leader must be visible and people need to know they can trust them. It would seem so obvious, yet how many people say their elected leaders are nowhere to be seen? Barbour understands that truth telling is important, not just to earn trust but because it’s a reflection of character.
Some of Barbour’s other lessons and reflections are so true, but being the great communicator that he is, he puts it all in succinct terms in “America’s Great Storm.” He talks about how important it is to surround yourself with a strong team. He also says Americans – not just rich Americans – are generous, and that generosity was evident through monetary giving and giving of time. Barbour said, “You can make more money; you can’t make more time.”
He also observed, rightly, that a crisis brings out the best in people. I remember how kind people were to each other after Sept. 11. It was also true in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That spirit that brought back the Gulf Coast.
In his book, Barbour says, people gave Mississippi a second look after Hurricane Katrina because of the response of its citizens. He also suggests that it’s important to let your friends help you. How many of us turn away the resources of our friends?
Lastly, the governor talk about how important it is to have a strong and loving partner. Marsha Barbour was certainly that partner. This week, she said she learned more right after Hurricane Katrina than she had learned in her entire life beforehand.
We aren’t fortunate enough to have Barbour run for president in 2016. It’s sad that he isn’t running. His is exactly the kind of leadership the United States needs. However, we can all get a glimpse of that leader in his new book, “America’s Great Storm.”
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