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A practical teaching for urban disaster preparedness

By Michael Z. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Dec 14, 2017 - 3:36:03 PM

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Black people have been faced with daunting tasks in an attempt to come up with solutions to serious problems faced daily in their communities nationwide. One critical but unavoidable problem is what happens during times that emergencies stemming from weather-related disasters strike.

Oftentimes, Black communities are not prepared and in times of peril end up asking the same questions year after year, in terms of how to better prepare and secure themselves, their families and their communities.

In an article published in the Los Angeles Sentinel by Stacy M. Brown entitled “African Americans Disproportionately Affected by Disasters,” she writes, “Officials at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University in New York recently completed a study, ‘Planning for Responding to and Recovering from Disasters,’ which revealed that African-Americans are likely to view themselves as being more at-risk from man-made disasters such as terrorist attacks, industrial and power plant accidents, or nuclear bombs.”

The article continued by stating that 54 percent of Blacks surveyed said it was likely they would experience a significant disaster within the next five years, compared to 47 percent of other U.S. citizens and 41 percent Blacks said they would characterize the threat level of a disaster happening in the U.S. as either high or severe.

“However, just 24 percent of African-Americans surveyed said they are prepared for a disaster, but they had a ‘great intention to prepare,’ and indicated that they would be open to better preparation if offered a tax credit or financial incentive.

“Imagine that,” said Dana Stevenson, a psychologist in Northeast Washington, D.C. “We will prepare for a disaster only if the government or another entity pays us to do so. That makes very little sense that someone would take the position that they’ll take steps to preserve their own well-being or their own life if someone else pays the freight,” Stevenson said.

practical teaching and solution

However a divine and practical solution has been available for over 80 years through the teachings of the Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. The Nation of Islam patriarch is a divine warner to America who constantly warned that God was angry for its government’s continued misuse and abuse of Black people. Yet he also taught Black people the importance of owning land and “doing for self,” as to not rely on the American government to supply its needs.

Mr. Muhammad was and is a pioneer in many areas such as health and education to name a few. However, one area which has received the least attention is that of disaster preparedness from an urban perspective of which he was a giant.

A review of literature reveals little in the way of documentation, but oral history from Muslim pioneers and Mr. Muhammad’s writings reveals much. Disaster preparedness was part of his program from the inception of the Nation of Islam in 1930.

In his seminal book “The Fall of America,” he details how Allah will use the weather to bring America to its knees. Mr. Muhammad taught that Black people must be prepared for these weather-related disasters.

Bro. Abdul Rahman Muhammad
Nation of Islam pioneer Abdul Rahman Muhammad told The Final Call Mr. Muhammad introduced a specific survival list in preparation for natural disasters with an emphasis on sheltering place.

“The Honorable Elijah Muhammad came right on time because he realized it would take more time to raise our people,” said Rahman Muhammad.

There was a multifaceted approach in what the Nation of Islam did precisely and continues to do with its interconnected, multifaceted approach to problem-solving in the Black community. “The Black community is beginning to wake up to the substance and direction of the Nation in all matters under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan,” added Rahman Muhammad.

Jehron Muhammad, a noted writer, told The Final Call he remembered in the late ‘60s, and ‘70s the Muslim women maintaining pantries full of canned food. As well as all the survival equipment you could think of, and it was taking place throughout the country. “It wasn’t something that you gave a lot of thought to; it was just taught,” he said.

This issue is addressed in more academic fashion by Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., from the Center for Urban Studies Department of Urban and Regional Planning, in his paper entitled “Disaster Preparedness, Urban Protection and Low-Income Communities of Color.”

“People in different socioeconomic classes view risks, hazards, and/or dangers in different ways and set their priorities on the basis of these perspectives. Unless there is ownership by individuals of the actual risks faced by them, along with an understanding of what can happen to them, then risk management and mitigation will be exceedingly difficult,” he states.

Sister Shi Quiya X, one of the many instructors during workshops and presentations, discusses the importance of preparing for emergencies and natural disasters at Chicago seminar Dec. 2. (R) Youth participating in Dec. 2 Disaster Preparedness workshop in Chicago. Photos: Haroon Rajaee

“For example, a single mother living in a high crime area may not be overly concerned about a terrorist attack or dangers emanating from a seemingly distant natural disaster or crisis. Therefore, to build an effective disaster management model based on community participation, we must not only acquire deep insight into these communities but also we must be willing to develop a model that links disasters, both natural and human-made, to other risks that neighborhood residents are concerned about. The daily risks of neighborhood residents cannot be minimized to prioritize only those risks the State deems important,” he continued.

The Black community is seemingly catching up to the wisdom and understanding of what Messenger Muhammad taught as illustrated in the paper done by Iva E. Carruthers, Ph.D., and Monifa A. Jumanne, Ph.D., entitled “Emergency Preparedness Curriculum for African American Communities of Faith.”

“African Americans should understand ‘what time it is,’ and take the appropriate action to protect themselves and their families. In other words, emergency preparedness is a personal responsibility,” they write.

They go on to write, “History in general ... have shown that the people who prepare for these events are the ones who suffer the least displacement when these kinds of events occur. Those who prepare can resume their pre-emergency lives more quickly than those who are not prepared.”

The duo recommended six categories of emergency supplies, including: water; food; first aid supplies; tools and emergency supplies; clothing and bedding, and lastly, personal medical supplies.

According to oral Nation of Islam history, some of the survival list items presented by Mr. Muhammad included:

-Thermometers (oral & rectal), something for fever

-Alcohol and Sulfur

-Adhesive tape, Band-Aids, gauze, baking soda, Spirit of Peppermint

-Coleman stove and fuel, Sterno and candles, Habachi stove

-Indoor charcoal (coal), matches and lighters

-Cotton blankets

-Flashlights and batteries

-Sheets (for bandages), newspaper and Cardboard

-Axe and shovel

-Cotton (pulverized charcoal between cotton allows breathing when smoke or gas is thick)

-Radio with batteries, hot water bottle, First Aid book

-Lysol, Kerosene lamp and oil

-Plywood (for making splints and tourniquets)

-2 Large Metal garbage cans (for waste), lime (for waste disposal)

-Various teas

-Iodine (purifies water; 1 drop per gallon), Papaya leaf

-Canned goods, dry food, soap, scissors, ammonia, water, fire extinguisher, safety pins, eyedropper and tub.

Additional guidance on survival Mr. Muhammad recommended included: having a one year supply of food, getting out of debt, paying cash, planting a garden and fruit trees, keeping an amount of wood on hand, getting a wood burning stove, storing plenty of water in glass bottles and learning food storage techniques.

According to Muslim educator and pioneer Yvonne Muhammad, there is little doubt that Mr. Muhammad was at the forefront of disaster preparedness in the inner city.

“The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught us to always be prepared so we would store water and beans and be ready for any disaster event. No one else was teaching this,” she stated.

“The brothers used to go to the bars and get empty gallon wine bottles and sanitize them and go to the springs and have them filled. They would do this by the truck loads. They eventually rented a tractor trailer as it became so popular. The Muslim families in the Delaware Valley were well prepared.”