For Rainbow PUSH Coalition President Joseph Kyles, a recent trip accompanying Rainbow PUSH Coalition Rev. Jesse Jackson to the hurricane-devastated island of Puerto Rico was extremely humbling.
Fifty-one deaths had been associated with the destruction as of Tuesday (Oct. 24). At one point, less than nine percent of the island had electricity. A news account headlined “It’s Like Going Back In Time” described residents making due with wood-burning fires, packaged food, scarce electricity and living in fear of darkness as recovery efforts slowly continue.
Kyles, a Memphis businessman, was in his office at Kyles and Associates when Jackson reached him.
“He said he had been receiving pleas for help and assistance from the Puerto Rican community from around the country, but mainly in Chicago, and that’s how I got involved.”
Reaching the island on Oct. 14, staying most of the week and witnessing the devastation was beyond eye opening, said Kyles. And while the city of San Juan “was nearly totally destroyed,” the aftermath of the hurricane was “even harder for the people in the mountains because the roads are washed out. Rev. Jackson’s concern was to reach as many of them as possible.”
A mobile tonnage care package had been assembled in Chicago. The job for Jackson and Kyles was to get it delivered properly.
“The Puerto Rican community in Chicago, state elected officials and Peace and Grace Community Church helped assemble, package and shrink-wrap 160,000 pounds of food, medicine and clothes. From that point, we worked on the logistics to get it there,” Kyles said.
An agency with a working network, Proyecto Nacer, Inc., was secured as the distributor upon arrival. “Dr. Anayra Lopez is the executive director of the child welfare agency we adopted, and they are now part of Rainbow Push in Puerto Rico.”
Said Kyles, “We split it between the churches and the child welfare agencies. Pastor John Zayes took a group into the mountains and Harry Pena – both from the church in Chicago that were in our delegation – made sure the supplies were delivered to people in the mountains.”
The bulk shipments were delivered in Blackhawk helicopters supplied by the military. The value of Jackson’s visibility was evident as the delegation moved from point to point.
“Some people were overwhelmed. Everywhere we went, not just in the indigenous communities, but the Americans such as the Special Forces, police officers, everyone showed him a tremendous amount of gratitude for his life’s work,” Kyles said.
The nephew of the late Rev. Samuel B. Kyles, longtime pastor of Monumental Baptist Church and an iconic Civil Rights Movement-era stalwart, Kyles grew up with community concern as a way of life.
“I have never coined or given myself the title of ‘activist’. I’m a businessman with a social and economic conscious. I want to see our community prosper utilizing the resources that are available, and (believe) that people should be treated fairly and justly. … When I help other people it just makes me feels better. ”
With Rainbow PUSH Coalition offices across the country, in Africa and Australia and with people hurting, “we just felt compelled to try to help,” Kyles said of the relief effort to Puerto Rico.
“There is work to be done in all of our communities, but how you gauge who, when and where to help, you do what you can with what you have. Very few feelings I have had in life compare to feeding the hungry and providing water to people who are extremely thirsty. It is a humbling experience.”