Saturday, September 3, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Disaster's ripples touching everyone

Seattle Times staff reporter

Local events

Seattle's African-American community, with many strong roots in Louisiana and Mississippi and other parts of the South, has organized several efforts to help hurricane victims.

"Roots" picnic

The annual "Roots" family picnic is 10 a.m.-6 p.m. tomorrow in Seattle's Gas Works Park. A special focus this year will be raising money through the "Hurricane Katrina Fund — Roots." Donations are being accepted at any Wells Fargo Bank branch.

"Let's Do Something"

A benefit concert by local gospel singers, will be 6 p.m. Monday at The Citadel Church, 4200 S. Othello St., Seattle. Proceeds will go to World Vision.

Radio-Thon fund-raiser

Sponsored by Seattle Medium newspaper, KRIZ, KZIZ and KYIZ radio stations; checks payable to CBEC can be sent to P.O. Box 22047, Seattle, WA 98122 or dropped off at 2600 S. Jackson St., Seattle.

"They're battle-weary and tired," says Lynn French of Seattle, about his relatives who fled New Orleans and are now living in a motel in Laurel, Miss.

Same can be said about French, fighting worry and fatigue. First, he returned to his hometown of New Orleans for a family burial, days before Katrina raged. Then he scrambled to get a flight out of the Big Easy ahead of the storm, assured that his mother and siblings planned to reach Mississippi by car.

Then he waited several days for word that they were safe, which they are, all of them, that is, except for brother Vernon, who told the family he'd sit out Katrina by climbing to the top of his New Orleans apartment building. No word yet from him. So Lynn French prays.

And mom's 88 years old, and he's picturing her having to go to a nearby shelter for food. And one of his other brothers is diabetic.

"Things are going to get worse before they get better," he says.

French, who runs an assisted-living center in Seattle, has been living here since he left New Orleans to attend the University of Washington in 1970. Four years ago, he and his brother bought a 2,700-square-foot house for their mother. The house is gone. So French is now scouring the Internet, a long-distance relocation agent looking for a rental house in Monroe, La.

No matter how far away they occur, disasters can surprise you by hitting close to home. You grow up in New Orleans but you're recruited to become a Seattle school teacher and you're now assistant principal at Ingraham High. That's David Hookfin. You work in Seattle as an attorney but your daughter is studying at Xavier University in New Orleans. That's Raymond Connell.

Every black person, says a Seattle man in his 70s, has a direct relationship to the South.

"Everybody I know, everyone has some connection," agrees Vivian Phillips, a local public-relations consultant. "A good friend of mine, his father is there."

And so, among the many Katrina relief efforts, there is a special personal feel to those organized by local African Americans who say they are obligated to help.

Tomorrow's "Roots" family picnic, a fall tradition in the local black community, will include a call for donations. "They are our relatives down there," says picnic organizer Paul Mitchell. "Whether they're blood or whatever, we feel we need to step up to the plate."

Local gospel singers have planned a benefit concert Monday at a local church.

Pastor Willie Seals, of the Liberty in Christ Triumph Church, is "out hustling" for generators to send to Laurel, his hometown. Wife Verlena is there now, assisting families.

"You got to try and do what you think you can to help," he says. Thus far, he's got one $629 generator on its way. He'll ask his congregation tomorrow for more help.

And a local community newspapers and radio stations are holding a "radio-thon" to raise funds for the hurricane victims.

"Any help we can get," French says. "It's going to be quite a bit of doing."

He posts notes on message boards and scours the Internet for rental homes in Monroe into which to move his family. Sometime in the next two weeks, he'll be on the road with his son AJ, driving down to help relocate them.

But now he's on the phone talking to his sister in Laurel.

"Does Harold have enough insulin?" he asks her, talking about his brother, with her at the motel. Her answer: Yes. And if not, she tells him, she could always go to Wal-Mart and stand in a long line.

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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