Next in our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet Reverend Tyronne Edwards: 5th generation resident of Phoenix, La., community leader and organizer and coastal restoration advocate.
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
Name: Reverend Tyronne Edwards
Location: Phoenix, Louisiana (Plaquemines Parish)
Occupation: Founding executive director of Zion Travelers Cooperative Center and facility director for the YMCA of Greater New Orleans
What is your connection to the Mississippi River Delta? I’m a 5th generation resident of Phoenix, Louisiana, which is the very southeast end of Louisiana where the Mississippi River runs into Gulf. We call ourselves the big toe that slipped out of the Louisiana boot. We’re surrounded by three bodies of water in Plaquemines, so the land and water are very important to our survival.
What does coastal Louisiana mean to you? It means home, and there is no place like home. The culture is like no other culture. Up until the 1950s or so, we had to rely on the land for everything. We still embrace communal living. Everyone shares with each other, and we’re very close knit. We have to be that way because of our geographic location–we’re isolated. I love the interconnection between the people of our community.
What is your favorite thing about the area? I love the serenity here in Phoenix. We don’t have to worry about crime in Phoenix. We don’t have to worry about locked doors. I like the openness, the fresh air, the green space. Every minute I’m here I’m connected to the environment–I can smell grass, see birds. I am connected to the land.
How has coastal land loss impacted your life? We lost everything we had during Hurricane Katrina. It was frightening to us. We now realize that if we had the right protection, the proper barriers–wetlands–we could protect our communities. If nothing is done with the wetlands, another Category Five will come and we’ll be destroyed again. While we rebuild our homes and our community, we keep restoration at the forefront because it’s all null and void if we don’t restore our wetlands.
Why do you think coastal Louisiana restoration is important? Sadly, as someone who’s organized for 40-some years, I didn’t understand the importance of coastal Louisiana land loss until Hurricane Katrina. Then I began to understand what land loss means to us. If nothing is done, 40 years from now we won’t have another Katrina because we won’t even have land here to impact. It’s an integral part of everything we do–not just for my own survival, but for future generations.
What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? Politics and policies. Army Corps contracting for rebuilding and restoration is an obstacle. We are networking with folks all around the area and the country to talk about coming together collectively to hold our government responsible and to advocate that the State takes out favoritism in contracting for restoration projects.
What do you fear losing if we don’t restore the coast? We lose our land. We lose our homes. We have a video about coastal restoration that we show to kids, and one little girl is five years old and she said if we do nothing, we will open our doors and we will walk in water. We won’t have a Plaquemines Parish if we don’t restore the coast. It will be underwater.
What do people around the country need to know about the Mississippi River Delta that they don’t already know? America needs to understand how vulnerable the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast are and the importance of this area. The Gulf of Mexico is our nation’s gateway to the world. Seafood, shipping, energy–it’s very important to the country. And it’s not just Louisiana, but the entire Gulf coast that needs to be restored, because the whole country depends on the Gulf for our survival.
If we’re going to have restoration, we hope folks understand that it’s important that people around the country get their representatives to support us. We can’t do it alone. We need the help of the nation. We need the whole Congress to support us. Louisiana has a stigma. It’s not just “let the good times roll”–it’s much more than that. We have some great people in Louisiana. We want to change the image–we are not all corrupt. I feel good because I think we’re getting a lot of support after Katrina and I think we are changing. I want to build on the momentum to restore the coast.