For Astra Armbrister-Rolle, Thursday night was just the beginning.
Fewer than three days after Hurricane Dorian pummeled the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, killing a reported 30 so far people and washing away some 13,000 homes and untold infrastructure, the consul general of the Bahamas organized a local relief drive that brought together nonprofits, diplomats and the media.
The immediate result was a stockpile of bottled water, diapers, feminine hygiene products, water filters, food, first-aid kits and other donations that the young diplomat vowed would be only the first trickle in a flood of aid coming from the 10-state region she serves.
“Our Bahamian community has taken the position to act, and are to be commended for the fever that we are working with to see that our brothers and sisters gain relief,” she said. “We want to build a sustained, coordinated effort from the city of Atlanta, and I am confident that this evening marks the beginning of just that.”
One of the key sources of strength came from Atlanta’s black business community, including some woman-led organizations Ms. Armbrister-Rolle has engaged with during her more than a year in Atlanta.
LaKeysha Hallmon of The Village Market ATL was a key organizer of the “Stronger Together” event, saying she sprang into action because of the relationship she’d developed with the consul general after hosting 15 Bahamian business owners at a recent expo.
“What impacts your country impacts my heart,” Dr. Hallmon said while introducing Ms. Armbrister-Rolle, noting that even her grandmother in Mississippi is “in her prayer closet” lifting the Bahamas up.
Other organizations from outside the Bahamian sphere yet supporting the event included Buy From a Black Woman and The Gathering Spot, the host venue, which aims to become a new brand of convening club for business owners.
Gathering Spot co-founder T.K. Petersen hails from the U.S. Virgin Islands, which faced down two hurricanes in 2017, so he knows well how important it is for the Caribbean community to stand together during times of trial.
“We are all too familiar with the recovery efforts that are ongoing years later,” Mr. Petersen said. “It behooves each and every one of us to pitch in any way we can to whatever level possible, to make sure that this effort not only starts out strong but is sustained and has long legs.”
Even on short notice, various nonprofits, legislators from the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, the City of Atlanta’s Office of International Affairs and some of Ms. Armbrister-Rolle’s consular colleagues also showed up to offer support on the arduous road ahead.
The Atlanta nonprofit Caring for Others offered warehouse space to consolidate all the donations received by the consulate and has set up an online form to solicit monetary donation pledges at www.cfohelpsbahamas.org.
The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives also offered its assistance, with leaders aiming to apply to the Bahamas its “Convoy of Care” model that has brought relief to storm-hit areas around the South.
Victor Mbaba, founder of the Africa Children’s Fund, brought greetings on behalf of Ambassador Andrew Young, who interacted with the Bahamas while the nation was fighting for its independence and Atlantans were struggling for civil rights.
Mr. Mbaba said he’s most concerned about what will happen to the Bahamas when the spotlight has faded, when the needs of school-going children and their families are no longer at the forefront of the headlines.
“Our people need to stand together with the Bahamas not just for one day, not one month, or not even one year, but as long as it takes,” Mr. Mbaba said. “I couldn’t say this more: let’s stay with the Bahamas for a long time.”
To give a snapshot of the need, Consul General Armbrister-Rolle gave an address providing an overview so far of what she called “generational devastation” and how the government has responded.
Tearing up toward the end of her speech, she nonetheless struck a defiantly positive tone, noting that the Bahamas shouldn’t squander the world’s attention. Instead, the nation of about 400,000 people should use crisis to reveal their character in the face of adversity, she said.
“In the coming days, weeks and months many things will be said, as the world is watching us. It will be important for us to tell our story. Ours is one of resiliency, one of faith in God and one of perseverance,” she said. “It will be important for the recovery of our beloved Bahamas to be a stellar example of our how our communities can heal and care for their wounded. I pray for a sustained effort that will not only relieve our immediate needs, but one that will sustain after the cameras and lights have faded.”
Many speakers alluded to faith, petitioning for steady prayers but entreating those who wish the Bahamas well to let their spirituality to engender acts of generosity.
Marva Jacobs, honorary consul of Guyana in Georgia, offered a prayer of invocation at the outset of the event, also becoming emotional as she expressed her condolences to Ms. Armbrister-Rolle and the audience.
Other diplomats on hand included the consuls general of Switzerland and Canada, as well as the honorary consul general of Liberia. Irish Vice Consul Eilís O’Keefe offered condolences on behalf of Consul General Shane Stephens, who is serving as the dean of the Georgia Consular Corps.
“Our thoughts are with you as you work hard to rebuild, and we hope that will happen as soon as possible,” Ms. O’Keefe said.
The Atlanta Junkanoo Group, a musical and dance troupe from the Bahamas, has already set up an Oct. 5 family fun day to raise money for the relief effort, and a rebuilding trip to the affected islands is being considered. The Caribbean Student Association at Georgia State University has taken the lead in coordinating donations from similar organizations around the state.
Ms. Armbrister-Rolle asked for continued prayers on behalf of the victims and their families, as the government warns that the death toll will continue to rise as more search and rescue missions are undertaken. Hundreds remain missing, and stories of tragic personal loss are mounting.
The consul general ended her speech this way with a hopeful appeal, choking up before she could get it all out: “May the winds of revival blow over our lands and may God strengthen the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.”
Follow the Bahamas Consulate General on Facebook and Instagram for updates on how to contribute to the relief effort, or visit this Global Atlanta story to get the latest instructions on immediate items needed and collection points: