Dayton black and low-income communities grapple with Memorial Day tornadoes

By Daniel Thomas

“It’s a disaster,” exclaimed Daj’za Demmings, Dayton resident and President of the Dayton Young Black Professionals (DYBP). The tornadoes that ravaged the Dayton area on Memorial Day took the entire region by surprise. Local media outlets like the Dayton Daily News reported that schools, homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed. The Dayton Daily News also reported that at least 15 tornadoes, ranging in strength from EF0 to EF4, were confirmed in Auglaize, Darke, Greene, Mercer and Montgomery counties.

In Trotwood, 30 people have been sent to the hospital after the tornado because of inability to breathe without air conditioning or inability to get to needed medications, said fire chief Richard Haacke in the Dayton Daily News.

“You had to be there to truly understand. I was there and it was devastating to see so many people and communities ruined and in need,” said Dayton Young Democrats President, Tristina Allen. Some of the most badly affected areas include Huber Heights, Trotwood, Riverside, West Dayton and the Northridge area of Dayton. These areas have high concentrations of African Americans, low-income residents and other marginalized groups. Community Activist Donald Dominick says, “I’ve had several family members who have either lost all of their belongings, including their house, or they’ve suffered from days of having no water or electricity.”

The National Weather Service has confirmed that 15 tornadoes touched down on Memorial Day evening. This is truly one of the worst disasters this city has ever seen, and certainly one of the worst natural disasters that predominantly black neighborhoods in Dayton have faced in recent memory.

There have been concerns raised by community members about lack of institutional assistance and media coverage in response to the destruction in Trotwood, Huber Heights, North and West Dayton and Riverside.

“Of course black communities will be overlooked,” said Dominick. “During the first hours after the tornadoes struck, the local media placed most of their attention on the predominantly white community of Beavercreek. It was only after an outcry from black folks that the black community of Trotwood was reported on.” Local news networks did publish news reports that include damages in predominantly black areas that were affected, but many of the most detailed and accurate depiction of the extent of the destruction were driven by community members on the ground.

There seems to be an incredible wave of self-determination and unity among community members throughout the entire Dayton region centered on making the change that's needed regardless of whether or not the world is paying attention. Organizations like Dayton Inspires, Influencers for Action, the Dayton Young Democrats, the Dayton Young Black Professionals and numerous others have been actively coordinating strong community responses.

Demmings of the asserted that, “the DYBP believes we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. So we have literally went to the apartment complexes in Trotwood that we had to walk because the roads were covered. We had to park in a nearby Home Depot parking lot and walk into the homes behind it to get access.” Demmings and several other volunteers knocked numerous doors in retirement communities to make sure residents were safe, had water, and had food.

Community Organizer, Kenya Baker lost everything in the storm and has been living in a local hotel ever since. Even during this challenging time, Baker has still managed to help others who are affected. Baker helps with the relief efforts through organizing resource distribution to people who need it most, relaying important information about volunteer efforts to those who want to help, and helping families raise money to pay for extended hotel stay. She’s a shining example of the selfless acts that have taken place all over the city.

When asked about whether or not she was concerned about black communities being overlooked, she gave a, “Yes, but no,” because she believes the community is taking matters into its own hands. Baker later added how inspiring the experience has been despite the tragedy claiming, “My faith has been renewed in the community by the way people have bonded together to ensure people are eating, sheltered, and know that they are not forgotten, overlooked or that business proceeds as usual with or without us.”

The initial tornado relief response included assistance from organizations and philanthropic efforts from outside of the region as well. Jay Telegdi, a political organizer representing the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation near Edmonton, Canada, lead a donation drive that provided scores of water bottles, toiletries, and supplies for victims. “We want the people of Dayton to know that the Nations of Canada are with them during this time,” noted Teledgi.

Though the initial response to this crisis has been robust, Dayton will need a sustained effort to rebuild all of the areas affected by the storm, including those areas most affected by resource scarcity and socio-economic oppression. When asked about what is needed for true recovery in the community, Allen added, “All boots have to be on the ground and community effort put in on all ends from non-profits, to government, to ordinary citizens. We have to make tornado relief a continuous effort and a continuous wave.”

Something we all should get behind.

EssaysDaniel Thomas