Remembering Hurricane Katrina six years later

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 28, 2011

Six years ago today, Gwen Williams (a.k.a. Ms. Chocolate) left her home in New Orleans and her church ministry as a story teller behind as she evacuated to escape Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s hard to believe that it has been six years,” she says.

She recalls when she returned to her home, after the flooding had subsided.

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“I came home, after Katrina, to my house that held 30 years of my life, momentos, and  furnishings. That day that I came home I saw that my house was gone and every earthly thing that I had in it was gone with it.”

She says (referring to the rose made of dollars that she brought with her), “I found this rose laying inside my front door, blackened and disgusting from the flood waters. My mom had given me the rose for my birthday. My brother warned me not to touch it. But I took it because I saw the value and the lesson in it. It will always remind me that you can be ugly and still have value. The petals are still legal tender and have not lost value because they went through a disaster. Your life can be ugly and still have a purpose. All is never lost. There is always hope.”

Williams, who wrote a book about her experience titled, “The Birthday Rose — What Katrina could not destroy …” says she is doing better now and feels very settled in her home in Nicholson and community.

“All of us have been moved around and settled places; some of us have healed while others are still dealing with fraudulent contractors and higher home taxes because of the flood.

“People always ask me, ‘Are you a hurricane survivor?’ So I tell them ‘No! I am a hurricane overcomer. If I were just a survivor that would mean that I was back on my feet and ready for the next one; but I am here to tell you that I practice F.I.D.O. which stands for Forget It and Drive On! Through Jesus I am an overcomer!”

Williams has embraced some big differences coming from “a big city and huge church to small town and small church with different racial demographics.”

She says, “What I perceived to be Mississippi and what I have experienced in Mississippi are two very different things. I didn’t think that the community would be so warm and welcoming. I love nothing more than meeting people up at Treasures. There are no friendlier people around.”

Williams continues to build her ministry out-reach for children by writing her third book in the “Effie and his Encouraging F-words” series; launching her first DVD called “Ms. Chocolate: For Real” in its second production and staying active in her church. She attends First Baptist Church in Picayune where she sings in the choir, and teaches 5th and 6th- graders.

“They love my stories and can probably tell them now better than I can! I love it when they see me out and they call out to me, ‘Hey Chocolate!’ Everyone just looks like ‘What did those kids just call you?!’”

Williams is known for her humor and big smiles, but you can see the hurt in her expression when she speaks about local children who go to bed hungry.

“The hurt in my heart is for those children. I don’t see how someone can support children in other countries while the ones in their own back yard have no food. We have got to get the message out that these children need our help; they do not have uniforms for school and are not eating like they should.

“But this issue really goes deeper than that,” she says, “we have got to reach these babies that are out there having babies. These children grow up in survival mode and this is all they know. We have got to reach them before they start having babies and teach them that abstinence is a better way. We must help them do better than this.”

Williams says her next step in her ministry is to put her “Effie” character in costume take her act into schools.

She says, “I’m not an entertainer; I’m an inspirational story-teller. I’m not a survivor; I’m an overcomer. God has blessed me and opened many doors for me. He has brought me here and I feel that by the grace of God, I am in the group that has healed since Hurricane Katrina.”