Terun Moore was looking forward to finally taking a break.
The co-director of Strong Arms of JXN, a nonprofit that aims to prevent violence, was sore from spending all week unloading what felt like endless cases of water when he learned on Friday, Sept. 2, that Mitch Landrieu, the White House Infrastructure Coordinator, was coming to town for a press conference.
The event was billed as a “volunteer acknowledgement,” but once Moore and a few others arrived, they realized Landrieu was passing out water, and they were expected to help.
“We ended up unloading the damn truck and passing out water there too,” he said.
Moore was still annoyed at the experience as he passed out even more water later that day in the Sykes Park Community Center parking lot.
Strong Arms, part of a group called the Rapid Response Coalition that is working with the city to distribute water, staffed this site every day last week. The work of lifting, carrying and setting down 29 pound cases of water rarely ceased. Though Sykes Park is in a residential area of South Jackson, removed from thru-traffic, the line of cars has stayed steady; many homes here, miles away from the water plants, lost pressure entirely.
On Friday, the pride that Moore and the other volunteers took in helping their community was giving way to exhaustion and frustration with cars that held up the water line and with the many reporters, Mississippi Today included, who showed up asking for pictures and quotes.
As kids unloaded cases of water from an 18-wheeler, a sunburnt reporter from a national outlet moved to the front of the line to talk to a family in a black car, holding them up from leaving.
“I know y’all be doing a job, but hey!” Moore shouted.
“It’s a different group every day,” John Jarvis, a mentor with Strong Arms, said.
Their frustration is connected to a widely shared sentiment that the city and its majority Black population are ignored until there’s a crisis. When powerful state and federal officials do intervene, many Jacksonians, who have been looking out for each other this whole time, feel disempowered and blamed.
“Oftentimes, I think Mississippi feels forgotten and the people in Jackson feel like they are left behind,” said Brooke Floyd, a coordinator for the Jackson People’s Assembly.
This feeling is also replicated between the more economically deprived and predominantly Black neighborhoods and the whiter areas with manicured lawns and private security services.
“When Belhaven starts getting robbed, it becomes a front-page news story because that’s an anomaly that isn’t supposed to happen,” said Kadin Love, an organizer with Black Youth Project 100, as he was passing out water at another distribution site.
The resources that do get provided from the state level also sometimes fail to fully serve Jacksonians, leaving local groups like Strong Arms and the Rapid Response Coalition to scrape together to fill in the gaps.
Last week, the Rapid Response Coalition had more water distribution sites in west and South Jackson than the state. But since the coalition was relying entirely on volunteer manpower, the sites weren’t staffed as many hours of the day – leaving volunteers like Moore to cover multiple shifts.
After a fresh wave of cars passed, Moore sat on a cooler of Gatorade under a blue tent. The kids sat on the end of the 18-wheeler, kicking their legs in the air. They opened bags of Doritos, Funyuns and Hot Cheetos.
One driver, noticing how worn out Moore and the volunteers were, parked his car to the front of the line and hopped out, intending to help but not realizing he was blocking other cars from approaching.
“We’re trying to move the line, bro,” Moore said exasperatedly.
“Y’all need some help – I know y’all are tired,” the man replied. “I don’t mind helping.”
The national reporter asked John Knight, another volunteer at the site, about his work with Strong Arms; he said he wanted to do something for the community when he got out of prison. She asked why he had been in prison; Knight replied it was because he had a drug charge.
Once she walked away to interview another family, Moore scoffed and shook his head.
“Man, y’all just coming to get a story – we living this shit,” he said.
Moore thought it was ironic that journalists from across the country – who likely had never gone without water – now wanted to know what it was like. He recalled a situation earlier that week where a news crew asked if he and his peers would still be unloading water at prime time, something he found offensive.
“Like man, nobody give a f— about your story – these folks trying to get water,” he said. “If you ain’t living in this shit, you ain’t gonna understand it. You know what I’m saying? You on the outside looking in. If you ain’t never went without it, then you don’t know how it affects you.”
As the sun set and Moore got ready to close the site, he passed out $20 bills to the kids who had been helping. Jarvis started sliding water cases down the length of the 18-wheeler, rather than carrying them.
There was one positive element to the media attention, Moore and Jarvis agreed. Some of the kids who helped out that week were photographed by the New York Times. A national paper publishing the kids’ names would help them feel like they were repping South Jackson, Jarvis said, generating a sense of responsibility to the community that aligns with Strong Arms’ mission to interrupt the cycle of violence.
The kids were supposed to help pick up empty water bottles but instead started playing with a football, casting long, loping shadows over the blue tent. Moore and Jarvis were thoroughly exhausted. Knight sprawled on the ground where the stack of water had been, using his hat to block the sun.
A woman rode up in a golf cart.
“Y’all out of water?” she asked.
Moore, Jarvis and Knight didn’t move. They stared reluctantly at the pallets of water at the back of the truck, several feet away.
The little kids, football abandoned, jumped up inside the truck.
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