Religious leaders call on city, state officials to come together in response to water crisis

Pastor Jerry Young speaks about Jackson's water crisis during a Monday press conference.
Pastor Jerry Young speaks about Jackson's water crisis during a Monday press conference.(WLBT)
Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 6:17 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Some Jackson pastors say it’s past time for elected leaders to put aside their political differences and fix the city’s water.

On Monday, EPA Administrator Michael Regan met with about two dozen pastors from the capital city, where he asked for their takes on the ongoing water crisis.

The event was hosted by New Hope Baptist Church, and Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and several city staffers were in attendance.

New Hope Pastor Dr. Jerry Young says Monday’s meeting was a good first step in bringing leaders together. He paraphrased basketball great Michael Jordan, saying, “you can win basketball games with just pure talent. But if you’re going win a championship, you got to have a team... We’ve got to have a team approach to this thing.”

Young says he wants to host a series of meetings with religious, city, and state leaders to come up “with a comprehensive plan on how we move forward, not trying to feather our own nests, but doing what we were elected to do – take care of the people’s business.”

“If people are not large enough to approach it from that perspective, then we’re going to have to do the next best thing, which is to identify other people to lead us, who have the capacity, as it were, to exercise enough humility so that we can create that kind of cooperation in this community,” he said.

Young echoed the concerns of many in the community, who have been calling on Lumumba and Gov. Tate Reeves to work together to solve the crisis, which at its height left more than 150,000 people without clean drinking water.

On September 13, for instance, the council passed a resolution urging the mayor to “fully cooperate with federal and state officials... to bring Jackson’s water and sewer system to full and sustainable functionality.”

And a week earlier, residents in the Bel Air neighborhood told the two to “grow up, come together and find a solution” to the problem.

The crisis began on August 29, after equipment failures at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant cut water service for tens of thousands of customers. Several state agencies were deployed to help address the problem, and water service was restored days later. A state-imposed boil water notice was lifted on September 15.

During the emergency, the mayor, governor, and his staffers traded numerous barbs on everything from whose daily updates were accurate to whether the two were having “dueling press conferences.”

A day after the boil notice was lifted, Reeves even told an audience in Hattiesburg that it was a “great day to not be in Jackson.”

Young, who also is president of the National Baptist Convention, says Jackson’s water crisis and the back-and-forth between the state’s and city’s top elected leaders, is a symptom of a larger problem of divisiveness impacting the entire state.

“It’s all divisiveness. It’s us against them. It’s Republicans against Democrats. It’s Black people against white people. It’s white people against Black people. It’s males against females,” he said. “That’s what it is. And the truth of the matter is, that in the final analysis, if we do not come together as a community to deal with these issues... and if we can’t find leaders who can lead us at that level, I fear the outcome.”

Young believes the religious community can help bridge those gaps and says Monday’s meeting was a good first step in doing that.

However, he cautioned that much like Jackson’s water system, the problem won’t be fixed overnight.

“I think it starts us on that road,” he said. “Progress is not always about speed. Oftentimes, it’s about direction.”

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