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“An unarmed rich man is the booty of the poor soldier.” - Machiavelli

I’ve never witnessed the horrors of war or a major natural disaster. During the 1989 Loma-Prieta earthquake, I was at home in Diamond Heights with my mother covering my sister and me under her arms. We waited in the stairwell until the house stopped shaking. Being four years old at the time, that is my only memory of the event. 

I was a sophomore in high school during the attacks of September 11, 2001. I was watching TV at home in the Fillmore when the second plane hit. Right then, I knew a war was coming. 

It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college in the Spring of ‘06 that I came face to face with massive devastation. I went to support relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with a group of students from my African American Studies course. None of us were mentally or emotionally prepared to see such an overwhelming amount of destruction.

“Water did this?” 

Neighborhoods were completely turned to rubbish, water lines reached the top of three story buildings and X-markings were on the sides of homes that indicated an attempted search and rescue from local emergency response teams. 

Katrina claimed over 1,800 souls. Mostly poor and black. It displaced thousands more and resulted in $125B in property damage. It also facilitated a huge wealth transfer through insurance companies denying payments for damages, land sold for pennies on the dollar and businesses that would never recover.

In the midst of this devastation, I managed to fall in love with the city. There is something about the NOLA air that captures you. Yes there is great food, art and culture but that all feels secondary to something much deeper. It’s like the city has you under a spell, it’s as if you’re in a romantic fling that you know only ends badly, but you can’t help but to hold on to see it through.

NOLA left an impression on me as well as Katrina. So much so, that a few years back I signed up to take a Neighborhood Emergency Response Training with the San Francisco Fire Department (SF NERT). I found NERT to be one of the most useful real-world education experiences I’ve ever had. The courses should be a graduation requirement for every public school student. We all know a major earthquake is coming. I want to see my city learn from our brothers and sisters in New Orleans. 

Beyond an earthquake, I believe we should be equipped to protect ourselves and our families. Part of my goals this year is to learn to perform CPR, become a stronger swimmer, learn how to handle a firearm and practice Jiu Jitsu regularly.

I have no interest in being any of the crime fighters I watched during my morning cartoons or charging a battlefield. I have spent my career trying to improve people’s lives through education. If the situation calls, I want to be as prepared to save a life. Don't you?
Documentary Recommendation: When The Levees Broke
Book Recommendation: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern WorldManaging Oneself

Stevon Cook