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Hurricane Harvey brings Houston together

By Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency on

It seems like it always takes a disaster.

Twenty-five years ago this month, that disaster was Andrew, a hurricane that devastated a large swath of South Florida, including the house in whose master bedroom closet I sheltered through the night with my wife and five kids. The storm took our roof and our possessions. It left us effectively homeless.

With nowhere else to go -- we'd been in town only a year -- we found our way to the office of my employer, the Miami Herald, where we shared our tale of woe. And Pete Weitzel, then the Herald's managing editor, told us he had an empty house we were welcome to shelter in. It had no electricity, but it had a roof, which was more than we had at home.

Here's the thing. Pete was not one of my favorite people.

During my job interview, he had asked a question that set my teeth on edge. Pointing out that most of the Herald's readership was white -- as if this would be news to me -- he asked if I, as an African American, was capable of writing for them.

"Can I write for white people?! Do white people read English? If so, we're good."

That's what I very much wanted to say. But I also very much wanted the job, so I answered politely in the affirmative.

Now, here was this same guy whose question had so insulted me, offering me his house. I lost no time saying Yes, of course.

I said it again a few days later when my colleague Christine Dolen invited me and my brood to stay with her, her husband, John, their young son and their dog in their undamaged home some miles north of the destruction zone. Chris and I didn't know each other that well. John and I had never met.

The selflessness of all those people back then leaves me unsurprised at what I am seeing now as Hurricane Harvey swamps southeast Texas. Meaning the people taking in flooded-out strangers, the stranded motorists rescuing other stranded motorists, the neighbors with boats pulling families off rooftops and through second-story windows, people helping other people for no other reason than that there is ability on one side and need on the other, and doing it with no expectation of gain or reward.

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