Lifting up Gulf Voices: A Snapshot of Gulfport, MS Resident and Community Advocate Alanderia Whitlock
By: Taylor Lilley, Public Interest Law Fellow
Alanderia Whitlock is a journalist and community activist from Gulfport, Mississippi, who recently founded Gulf Voices, a social media platform for residents of the Gulf Coast. Through Gulf Voices, Alanderia seeks to help members of her community actively engage in the restoration processes and other social justice initiatives.
In 1969, Alanderia Whitlock’s grandmother, Fannie Ruth Whitlock, bought a home in North Gulfport, Mississippi. To the average passerby, the house may not have seemed particularly special – it was modest and located in a small town, but Fannie Ruth knew that it had potential. 50 years later, Alanderia considers that house to be her legacy; it is where her grandmother raised her, her mother, and her brother, and it is the home Alanderia now seeks to protect.
Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Alanderia would not have described herself as an activist. At the time, she had just returned to Gulfport to finish her studies at the University of Southern Mississippi. When news of the oil spill broke, she, like many others, was in shock. She knew the spill would devastate the Gulf, but she did not know what, if anything, she could do about it.
Concerned for her home and her legacy, and seeking a way to get involved, Alanderia discovered the Steps Coalition: a group of 45 non-profit community and civic organizations, and leaders with the goal of building a democratic movement to create a healthy, just, and equitable Mississippi Gulf Coast. Alanderia began attending Steps meetings and eventually traveled with Steps members to Houston, where they rallied outside of a BP office on the anniversary of the spill.
The camaraderie and support she felt at the rally inspired Alanderia not only to continue working with Steps, but to seek out similar organizations and find more ways to help. In the years since, Alanderia has joined, supported, and participated in events with over 40 groups in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region – events like the “Come Fish On My Boat” tour, hosted by Boat People SOS.
Asked why she feels the need to be so active in her community, Alanderia’s answer is simple: she wishes to see her home, and the town she grew up in, protected and restored. She recalls fondly the stories her grandmother used to tell her, of a North Gulfport that was thriving, where businesses lined the streets and people were fulfilled by and proud of their community.
Unfortunately, her grandmother’s North Gulfport no longer exists. The once-vibrant businesses are now faded, abandoned facades and the community is no stranger to drugs and crime. But Alanderia believes that that can change, as long as she and everyone else in her community participate and speak up. “If we don’t participate or explore and suggest avenues to make things better, negative impacts will continue to happen in our community.” Alanderia has been vocal about public participation throughout her career. Starting out profiling community groups and events, she eventually became a radio personality, where she used her time on air to inform people about the issues and encourage them to be active and vocal members of the community and the country. Though she has left the radio station, people still find her on the streets and thank her for inspiring them to get involved. These are the greatest moments she says, seeing people care.
Applying this sentiment to the Gulf restoration processes, Alanderia wants to see more restoration projects happening in her hometown. She knows that not all of the restoration money can go to Gulfport, but she hopes some money can be spent to address the myriad environmental problems her community is experiencing. Chief among these is the persistent flooding, which Alanderia worries will worsen if left unaddressed. Alanderia feels it is something that the community should highlight by participating in the restoration processes. She wonders whether her grandmother’s home and the others in town will continue to exist without community participation and clear community goals. “What will we do then?” she asks. “Where will we go?”
Hoping to avoid ever having to answer those questions, Alanderia has now taken into her own hands the task of galvanizing public participation, by turning to social media. Aware that many people look to social media for news and updates about politics and their communities, she has launched a new Facebook page, Gulf Voices. Alanderia describes Gulf Voices as “an open forum and thinking space for the residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast to express their environmental and economic concerns,” one designed “to inform the community of available resources, [and] discuss ideas and improvements to make our Coast a better place to live.”
Alanderia hopes that through this new effort, she can make the oil spill restoration processes more accessible to everyone who has been unable to participate due to scheduling, life commitments, or simply because they were unaware. “We love our Gulf,” she says, “and the people of the Gulf Coast deserve a voice in the restoration process.”