In Memphis, Obama Meets with Flood Victims, Speaks at Graduation

May 16, 2011 2:41pm

ABC News' Tahman Bradley and Sunlen Miller report:

President Obama traveled to Memphis today for a private meeting with families and local officials impacted by Mississippi River flooding and for a commencement address at Booker T. Washington High School, the winner of the White House "Race to the Top Commencement Challenge".

This morning, President Obama spent approximately 35 minutes meeting with flood victims, first responders and local officials, hearing stories about people having to evacuate their homes, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. The president thanked the people he met with and said, "We're there for you, and we're grateful for your resilience," according to Carney.

The president did not observe any flooding visible from outside his window aboard Air Force One, and there were no signs of flooding along the route his motorcade took driving to the school.

Obama made mention of those affected by natural disasters during commencement address. He said "The success of our economy will depend on your skills, but the success of our community will depend on your ability to follow the Golden Rule – to treat others as you would like to be treated.  We’ve seen how important this is even in the past few weeks, as communities in Memphis and all across the South have banded together to deal with flood waters and to help each other in the aftermath of terrible tornadoes."

Obama used a portion of his remarks to argue that his education programs have inspired communities to make change. He told the graduates that Booker T. Washington's commencement was especially hopeful because the graduates – who come from tough neighborhoods in Memphis – weren't handed anything on a silver platter.

"You had to work for it. You had to earn it."

Booker T. Washington High School is in an impoverished part of Memphis, and Obama said some people think schools in rough communities aren't supposed to succeed.

"Well, we are here today because every single one of you stood tall and said, ‘Yes we can.  Yes we can learn.  Yes we can succeed.’"

Obama told the school that he made it out for their ceremony because the community had created a culture of caring and learning; more than four out of five students earned a diploma this year - a great turnaround from four years ago when only about half of the students were graduating.

"If success can happen here at Booker T. Washington, it can happen anywhere in Memphis," he said.  "And it can happen throughout Tennessee.  And it can happen all across America."


The White House provided reporters with this full readout of the president’s meeting with flood victims:

From Press Secretary Jay Carney –

The President spent approximately 35 minutes meeting with flood victims, first responders, volunteers and local elected officials. He sat down, said he "wanted to hear first-hand from you" about the impacts of the flood, and went around the square table asking questions and listening as each participant spoke. He heard stories about people having to evacuate their homes and move in with family members; briefings from first responders about how they dealt with monitored the rising waters and alerted people; and reports from faith-based volunteer organizations on their relief efforts. The President thanked all the participants and said, "We're there for you, and we're grateful for your resilience."

Participants in the meeting -

Elected Officials

·         Bill Haslam, Governor, State of Tennessee

·         A C Wharton, Mayor, City of Memphis

·         Lamar Alexander, U.S. Senate (R-TN)

·         Bob Corker, U.S. Senate (R-TN)

·         Steve Cohen, U.S. Congress (TN-9)


Family 1

·         Nanny Williams, mother

·         Shandane Mull, daughter

·         Shaquilla Mull, granddaughter



Nanny’s home was flooded out.  She is currently unemployed and has become a matriarchal figure in the Millington community shelter.  Her daughter, Shandane, and granddaughter, Shaquilla, had recently come to stay with her before the flooding forced them out.  Shandane drives a Memphis City School Bus for a living.



Family 2

·         Rose Hunt, mother

·         Ricky Hunt, son

Flood water surrounded Rose’s house and damaged her property, but did not make it into the house.  Rose says it was prayer that protected her home.  Her son, Ricky, lives nearby and was flooded out completely.  Ricky is now staying with Rose, who believes her house was spared so Ricky would have a place to go.

First Responders

·         Vernell Stepter, Major, Memphis Police Department

·         Joseph Rike, Division Chief, Emergency Medical Services, Memphis Fire Services


·         James "Reid" Shuping – Reid works for Hope Presbyterian Church and coordinated human services within the Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Operations Center.

·         Gary and Wanda Faulkner – Rev. Gary is the Pastor at Cummings Street Baptist Church.  Wanda is his wife.  The church has become known for their work in opening well-organized shelters in coordination with Shelby Cares to respond to natural disasters including hurricanes Katrina and Gustav. 

·         Kelvin Faulkner – Kelvin is a leading coordinator with local sheltering efforts.  His brother is Rev. Gary Faulkner.

·         Loretta Hurt – Loretta works for United Way of the Mid-South and coordinated volunteers for the Emergency Operations Center.

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