Remembering Dr. King; Remembering the Residents of Jackson, Mississippi
“Together we are approaching environmental justice just as what it is: It is a civil rights issue. By examining environmental requirements in conjunction with our civil rights laws, I am confident that we can do a better job of assuring fairness and advancing justice.” --- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Next week we celebrate the memory of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his legacy, his work for justice and his impact on the common good.
It’s the beginning of 2023 and the Jackson Mississippi water crisis continues. Residents suffer from water outages. The faucets ran dry again. The showers produced nothing. Christmas, 2022, the city of Jackson, Mississippi, plunged into its third major water outage in less than two years coping with decades-old, leaking water pipes that cannot stand up to extreme weather.
Water outages and boil advisories are becoming increasingly familiar to Jackson’s 160,000 residents in this predominantly Black city, where poorer neighborhoods have routinely borne the brunt of the ongoing disaster for years. For many here, the latest crisis reinvigorated feelings of abandonment and anger that had barely dissipated from the last major outage, just a few months earlier.
According to Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Jackson’s drinking water system has slowly crumbled from decades of neglect as elected officials failed to put the proper resources into maintaining the complex infrastructure. “They now understand what I’ve been saying for the past six years,” said Lumumba. “It’s not a matter of if our system would fail, but when it would fail.”
With some hope for the future, the mayor announced last week that Jackson is set to receive $795 million in grants and direct appropriations for water system improvements. Most of that money — $600 million provided through Congress’ latest resolution to keep the federal government funded — will go to the city through reimbursements for capital projects and technical assistance. All of the $600 million will go towards the drinking water system
The U.S. Department of Justice appointed a water system’s third-party administrator Ted Henifin to oversee the City of Jackson funds and repairs. As part of the DOJ agreement, Henifin is in charge of making sure the new funding goes to prioritized projects. The order tasks Henfin’s team with taking on projects that address a wide array of water system issues, which he expects to complete within 10 years. Albeit the funding has been earmarked, the crisis for the City of Jackson will take some time to solve.
The United Methodist Church Response
As United Methodists, we believe water is a sacred gift from God and water is a basic human right (2016 Book of Resolutions, #1033, Caring for Creation: Our Call to Stewardship and Justice).
In response to the continuing crisis, many social organizations and neighbors have responded to provide water and support to residents of Jackson including the United Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) awarded a solidarity grant to the Mississippi Annual Conference for potable water to help meet immediate needs for access to safe drinking water for those affected. But the coordinated support from many sources has been a stop gap and not a real, long-term solution.
The need for support remains important and necessary as when the crisis first began. The Jackson community has many water infrastructure challenges ahead. “The good news is that wherever there is injustice you will find the United Methodist Church courageously serving as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ creating solutions in grace-filled way,” said Rev. Kevin Kosh Jr., UMC Elder in the Mississippi Annual Conference and Director for The National Network of Young Adults. “This is what it means to #BeUMC.”
Collaborating with The National Network of Young Adults
A program of the organization Strengthening the Black Church (SBC21) the National Network of Young Adults (NNYA), supports African American clergy and young adults in their call to ministry. NNYA partnered with Anderson United Methodist Church in Jackson, MS and other faith and community-based organizations to donate and distribute over 40,000 gallons of water to the Jackson area.
“As a connectional ministry of the United Methodist Church, we believe that the church, campus and community must intertwine to do the work of justice,” commented Rev. Kevin Kosh Jr.
NNYA in collaboration with Rev. Domini Henry Assistant Pastor and outreach coordinator for Anderson UMC, Noah Moore Law Group, George Byrom of Heritage Personal injury, Atlanta GA, Rev. Maxine Bolden, Chaplain of Tougaloo College, Students from Rust College and Jackson State University, Wesley Foundation Board chair, Dr. Stephen Redmond-North Georgia Conference Disaster Response, and community organizers, Valerie Brown and Sharon Brown are some of the leaders that have been working tirelessly together to continue to provide water in response to this crisis.
“Many students also need help with the water crisis because as college students we may not have a lot of money to purchase important necessities as well as water too,” said Bianca Thedford student at Rust College, Holly Springs, MS and leader in the NNYA.
Here’s How Can you help?
Continue to pray for local state and federal leaders to respond and identify sustainable solutions to water crisis facing cities of Jackson, Mississippi, Baltimore Maryland and Flint, Michigan. Pray for community organizers, churches, and people in need navigating this difficult water issues for positive results and impact.
Tell your elected officials to support legislation that invests in public infrastructure to ensure that clean and safe water is available for all.