Vietnam veteran and former Black Panther turned Hurricane Katrina activist Malik Rahim stood in front of over 80 students and community members Thursday, encouraging students to embrace their leftist activism and engage a lost nation “drunk on its own prosperity.”
Speaking from the Lory Student Center Grey Rock Room, he pulled mostly from his own experience helping hurricane victims along the Gulf Coast where he founded the relief effort, Common Ground Relief, with three other men and $50.
He now spends his time lobbying heavily for civic environmental responsibility in Iraq and other nations he said the U.S. invaded, with an underlying message throughout: Americans have been living selfishly, and now the environment is paying the price.
“We are so drunk on (prosperity) right now that we live in a nation more concerned about the economy than our environment. And we elected someone who was drunker than the rest of us. (George W. Bush) was drunk on power and drove us for eight years.”
Rahim, 61, traveled to Fort Collins by car after two weeks of speaking at colleges in California and the greater west, spreading his message of leftist activism and searching for college students to volunteer in New Orleans.
The Fair Advocates for Cultural Truth student organization, Associated Students of CSU and the Ethnic Studies department partially funded Rahim’s visit and travel expenses, Adam Hafnor, a spokesperson for the ACTivism NOW! Conference put on by FACT, said.
“We were tossing around ideas of who we wanted to speak here, and who would truly provide a real voice of activism,” Hafnor said. “Malik is the poster child for life long activist. He has helped hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents and (is) a perfect keynote speaker.”
Born Donald Guyton, Rahim changed his name when he converted to Islam. He now calls himself a born again Christian, looking to help the “hardworking, God-fearing people” of New Orleans. He claims the city is still in shambles and loses a football field sized area of land every 37 minutes to erosion.
Malik began by reminiscing out loud about Hurricane Katrina carving a path of devastation across his home state of Louisiana, killing 1,836, leaving 705 still missing and thousands more injured and displaced.
A group of college students from Colorado drove to Malik’s house after Hurricane Katrina to deliver a car full of hygiene and emergency assistance kits before turning around and heading home.
“I classify them as the true heroes of Katrina,” Rahim said. “It showed me what college students could do.”
Common Ground, co-founded by Rahim a week after Hurricane Katrina hit, has helped thousands of New Orleans residents reconnect with families separated by the hurricane, clean and rebuild neighborhoods, measure toxin levels in the local ecosystem and advocate for responsible environmental decisions in New Orleans.
One problem Common Ground is counteracting, Rahim said, is the restoration of pure water in Louisiana wetlands. Those areas are currently filled with poisonous water that was pumped out of the flooded city and into lakes, rivers and wetlands.
Rahim said the water problem in New Orleans is similar to toxic conditions created on foreign soil by American troops.
“Only a small group of people truly understand that we couldn’t just leave (Vietnam) without first cleaning up the toxic waste we left there,” he said. “Like we did there, we can’t walk away from Iraq — using them to deplete uranium shells and then leaving. We have an obligation to clean up civilization.”
Those plunder and run antics, Rahim said, are due to serious selfishness in the American culture.
Yet, in light of so much negativity, Rahim said he remains optimistic because of the volunteers utilized in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
“We are not going to allow racism to turn this nation into a fascist nation,” he said. “22,000 volunteers, who have mostly been Caucasian, came to help mostly African-Americans. Katrina dispelled the myth that African-Americans in New Orleans were only looters and criminals. Katrina also dispelled the myth that all whites are oppressors and exploiters. New Orleans appreciates that kind of civic responsibility.”
Staff Writer Kelley Bruce Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.