Last night at the Ebenezer Baptist Church 6 candidates for governor spoke at a forum hosted by the Rhode Island Black Business Association.
I walked in undecided, but with one brave and direct statement Mayor Angel Taveras won my vote.
Dr. Marion Orr, the moderator, was taking questions the audience sent up on index cards.
“You are governor. President Obama is on the phone asking if you will take some children from Honduras to shelter in your state. What do you say?”
Before the candidates could answer, the designated heckler of the night, a guy with stringy blonde hair and a red sun visor, shouted, “No!”
The candidates mostly said no in more polite terms, with the exception of Todd Giroux, Clay Pell and Angel Taveras. But the way Angel answered the question showed a realistic and practical view of a crisis that has been so politicized that decent people are going into panic mode.
Angel said, first I’d ask, how many children. And what kind of support would the president give to Rhode Island. But I’d say ‘yes’. The greatest country in the world cannot turn its back.
It’s not just that Angel Taveras is advocating for a decent response to a situation no one wants, but that he starts by asking the right questions.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans I was working in a nursing home. Went home that night with the news that the full force of the storm had missed the city, woke up to news that the levees had broken.
I couldn’t go to New Orleans to volunteer, but was very happy when my nurse supervisor announced some weeks later that we were going to admit some people evacuated by FEMA.
We rushed to make some rooms ready, wondered if we would need isolation precautions. The patients might have been stranded in places full of polluted water and black mold. They might be traumatized, injured. We didn’t know what to expect, but it felt so good to do something.
Only one patient arrived. An elderly white lady who had stayed in her house above the water line, without running water or electricity, until she was told she had no choice. She was wearing a soiled house dress, homesick and worried about her cat.
She recovered physically in a few days, but her stay was longer because so much went wrong in the handling of that disaster. It was months before there was a place she could return to. All over the region, the same kinds of things that are said about the refugee children on our border were said about our fellow Americans in need. States said they could not afford to help, even nearby towns in Louisiana turned New Orleans residents away. Fear trumped common sense and decency.
Fear can quickly inflate a problem to the level of unsolvable. But if you are committed to solving the problem you break it down into actions needed, and the question becomes- where do we start?
It takes political courage to say that Rhode Island is able to help with a crisis in another state, because we are one nation and big enough to handle it. I’m sure this stand will be used against Angel Taveras by opponents of immigration reform. With all respect to our laws, Rhode Island was a stop on the law-breaking Underground Railroad. We want to be on the right side of history today.