As I looked at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, I began to think about what lessons can be learned from such a terrible tragedy.

I began to examine myself and thought what would happen if there were a catastrophe here in Chicago. I began to ask questions like, ‘What kind of plan do I have for my family? Do we have enough food to sustain if we cannot get to the grocery store? Where do we go in the community for information or a safe haven?

Where do we meet if we are disconnected?’

As I began to ask myself these questions I thought about a conversation that I had with Nzingha Nommo of Afri-ware in Oak Park a little more than a year ago after we completed the Westside response to the Haitian tragedy. We talked about a need for people of like minds to begin formulating a strategy before anything happened here.

We talked about a need to be proactive instead of reactive. We started asking questions like, where are the businesses in the community that would respond to ourpeople? Who would take the bars down and say ‘Take these goods; we will not be able to sell them anyway.’ Who are our trusted contractors and engineers who can help us build? Where are the gas stations that will continue to serve and not price gouge.

Who will be sensitive to the needs of our community? Who do we call to defend our most vulnerable: our seniors and our babies?

We cannot expect others to take care of us. With the proper planning we can take care of ourselves. I have long believed that we in the African-American community discount the need to support our businesses. We take the approach that maybe I will or maybe I won’t. We have a responsibility to build those businesses who serve our community well and we are equally responsible to expose those who are doing the community a disservice. They should be given the opportunity to correct themselves or be forced to close up shop.

I believe that through watching our government’s response to Katrina, we have been given a unique opportunity to begin to plot out a course for success. We should take this time to study those things that went wrong with Katrina and develop strategies for our families, neighborhoods and communities. We can began to plan a support ystem for up-and-coming businesses and also identify what types of businesses thatare paramount to our community. There are some services that we cannot just give over to others, because as sure as we live and breathe there is the real possibilityof Chicago having it’s own 9/11 or some other type of catastrophe. Even if there isn’t a major disaster here, we need to have our own businesses in the Austin community. So as we began to answer these questions let’s first identify the types of businesses that are missing and pledge to support those who are developing new services such as grocery stores, fruit markets, auto shops and construction companies. Let’s began to pull together as ordinary people who will do extra ordinary things.