A Prayer for Freedom Village
“Thanks, but I am not interested in having my view obstructed,” said Bertha in a deep tone. She shook her head. “This is not going to work. They should not be building an apartment complex on top of oil storage tanks—more Section 8 Apartments in the black community going down the river.”
Her granddaughter pointed to a lady dumpster diving. “Look at her! Now she is drinking out of an alcohol bottle. Grandmother, our neighborhood may have some challenges, but it’s a great place to live–”
“What?” the grandmother interrupted with a sneer. “Great neighborhood? Ha! There are so many young people dying around here, and do you know why? Because they have no one to run to, nobody seems to care about us poor people. We’re trapped; sadness is all we’ve got in this community.”
Loretta shook her head. “Okay Grandma, you are so angry at the world. Those Section 8 Apartments will be a good thing for the community, and people seem to be really excited about it,” smiled Loretta, clearing the table from brunch after church.
Bertha rolled her eyes as she was looking at her city view, completely annoyed, and her face clouded with anger. “If you weren’t so busy selling us your chicken, liquor and cigarettes, you would have noticed that us black folks around here don’t all want to get high and die. And now we are going to have more black deaths coming from that toxic crap”
“Are you okay?” Loretta looked concerned. “Did you take your high blood pressure medicine this morning?”
Bertha put her hands together like she was about to pray. “Run for your lives!” She yelled!”
Loretta squinted, dropped her plate and hurried over to hug Bertha from behind. “Oh, no, Grandma!” She said embarrassedly. “The whole neighborhood has probably heard you!”
The grandmother turned to face Loretta and put her hand on her shoulder. “Loretta, I feel in my heart that something bad is going to happen with all of us because of that poison in the ground.”
Loretta hasn’t seen her grandmother this upset since she lost her husband to cancer. She must be tired after being in church for so long, she figured. She thought it might be time for her grandmother to take a nap; her grandmother agreed that she needed one.
As Loretta was walking into the house with Bertha, she thought she heard voices crying for help near the construction of the apartments. She had to think of something funny to push away the sudden fear that came upon her.
One year later, the construction of the apartments was completed in 1973. The 400 one-to-four-bedroom units was named Freedom Village; the apartment was surrounded by two lakes located on a huge park. It also had a community garden with fruit trees and fish ponds.
But the mega oil corporation did not properly remove crude oil and other toxins underneath the ground before they sold the property, and this led to the groundwater becoming contaminated and the soil polluted.
The occupancy filled up fast and the mostly lower income patrons felt very privileged to be living there; a smoking “good time” is what they had with their barbeques and fish fried parties out by the lake. Practically everyone knew each other on a first name bases. And if you were interested in living at Freedom Village you had to be put on a long waiting list.
But the bright light was taken away from the tenants quickly, and people were starting to get sick not much longer after Freedom Village was built. There were several tenant complaints about maintenance issues, combined with management neglect.
Simple people who just wanted something better are suddenly being invaded by a 50 plus year-old tank farm coming up from under the ground like the living dead waiting to get kill them.
Several tenants complained to the owners of Freedom Village and the city about their illness but got nowhere; brown-colored water coming out of the faucet and mold in the ceiling were just some of the problems they were facing.
The powers that be did not care that several women had miscarriages; many became sick from cancer, or respiratory distress, chronic infections, asthma, anemia and cognitive and neurological issues and more.
This sent the owners running, and they sold it to HUD in 1990. Five years later, the city bought the complex from HUD. The city paid every tenant from Freedom Village for relocation and then demolished the apartments.
Over a decade later on a rainy morning, Loretta Princess heard a loud banging on her door. When she opened it, a middle-aged man shouted, “Your home is in jeopardy, ma’am.” He then explained about the toxic exposure originating from the Freedom Village Apartments.
She had a grimace look on her face. “Our home, why,” she shouted. “Why is this happening to our community? My mother warned me about this day.” She folded her arms as she watched the man continue to pass out fliers. She quickly headed upstairs to break the news to her grandmother.
Loretta believes a monstrosity of injustice has happen in her community. She wanted to learn more and how she could help. She volunteered to pass out fliers to her neighbors who could be affected by the contamination.
Some of the residents had to alter their lives dramatically by replacing their drinking water with water delivery services, refrain from fishing out of the pond, and spend less time outside.
One warm morning after attending church, Bertha and Loretta had their usual Sunday brunch on the balcony overlooking some prestigious cities and crystal clear high mountains. Bertha had a stunned look on her face, and Loretta wasn’t sure if she disliked the brunch she prepared, or if she had spotted a cat using the bathroom in her garden.
Bertha was feeling angry as she was glaring at Freedom Village Apartments; she tried to put those negative feelings away. She just wanted to enjoy her morning.
Loretta always made sure her ailing 85-year-old grandmother was happy. “Don’t make me have to figure this out. I can see the grief on your face Grandmother.”
Bertha began to have a coughing fit. “Goodness,” she said in a low voice. “Why am I coughing so much?”
Loretta scooted over closer. “Are you going to be okay?” asked, curious and impatiently.
Bertha’s eyes narrowed to slits of hate. “You must’ve heard about the latest miscarriage,” she said loudly, obviously it has gotten me down this morning. So many people are getting sick and most can’t afford to move away,” she said with her head slightly down.
“It’s time for us to move now,” Loretta said loudly, “and if we continued to live here we will die before our time.”
Bertha gave her granddaughter a stern look. “Loretta, I’m too old and tired to move away. This is where my husband died, and I am going to die here with him. You can move out and save yourself.”
“Now, what would I do without you?” Loretta said loudly, wrapping up the left over bacon and fruit from her grandmothers plate. “I’m not leaving without you. I would not be anywhere without you today. It’s because of you that I am not a gang member anymore and that I am a teacher today at the age of 39. My mother and grandfather are dead from cancer and I’m not going let that happen to us.”
She gave her grandmother a kiss on the cheek. Bertha smiled with proudness and she watched her granddaughter take in the left over brunch into the house. Loretta needed to prepare for a meeting for the victims and families who lost loved ones from the toxic exposure.
Later that evening, Loretta was fidgeting back and forth before the meeting got started. Her face showed stress, as most of the guest arrived on time and were anxious for the meeting to get started. One young lady stared into her compact mirror with concern, and then quickly put the mirror away back into her purse. One older man sat shyly, embarrassed; he tried not to look at anyone.
Loretta stood in the middle of her living room to get everyone’s attention. She quickly noticed the grief in everyone’s faces but also noticed a smile of pride coming from her grandmother seating nearby. One lady in her thirties shared that she had a growth in her mouth and had surgery to remove it. One gentleman had a rash and his hair was falling out. Others talked about relatives who passed away from leukemia and other forms of cancer; one man struggled not to cry as he talked about the passing of his mother from cancer. Another lady held back tears by smiling as she talked about her problem of constant fatigue, along with feeling dizzy, irregular heartbeats and allergies. Everyone told their stories with sadness. Some hugged each other, while others sat feeling down. Loretta was drained after hearing their stories.
Loretta began to fold her lip in frustration. “Wow, it is a sad situation when the people you trust don’t protect you. Why is this happening to us? There are high levels of benzene in our grounds. Tests confirmed this–”
One man in his 60’s stood up out of his wheelchair. “Amen sister, this is happening to us
because we are black folks living in a poor neighborhood. Would the city of Beverly Hills be forced to sit on a toxic dump that is leaking?”
One Latino guy stood up. “Don’t forget about your Latino brothers and sisters who are affected by this mess.”
Another man in his early 20’s stood up with his hands in his pockets. “Hell no…that’s right,” he said loudly. If this was Beverly Hills they would have hooked us up with hotels and a bunch of cash. Is anybody here okay with just a little bit of benzene in their water? Am I supposed to just go on ahead about my life living with poison in my water?”
Bertha put her hands together. ”I am praying that all who is responsible will do the right thing and help us.” Tears came down her eyes.
One elderly lady held her cross tightly in her hand, “Jesus is going to get us through this. Don’t worry we will be fine,” she said in a low voice.
A lady name Marie lost her mother to cancer after 5 years of living at Freedom Village. “I think I am going to get sick,” she said quietly to herself. “They’re not going to do anything to help us. Most of us are considered undesirable or just unimportant. They will stall into the coming of the Lord.
“Okay, that scares me,” one cancer patient said boisterously, getting up as best she could, holding her head. If I am old, undesirable and poor, that is even a better reason to…
“Help!” shouted a man who is suffering from skin rashes after living at Freedom Village for over 10 years,” The benzene contamination is a tragedy still in progress, a disgrace to the human race. This has gone on much too long and no more people need to die because of power and greed!”
Loretta Princess stood up to get everyone’s attention. “Please stand up in prayer for Freedom Village.” Everyone formed a circle and held hands.
I am praying that the powers to be will do the right thing to help us Lord. This toxic poison is no longer an opinion or speculation; it’s very real, very near and it’s making us all very sick Father. Please help us to move forward to help people who have cancer, help the kids and adults who are breathing toxic fumes every day and who have nowhere to go. All these people did was finding a home they thought was safe; a home they loved. Let’s close the door now, let no more die Father God.