by Dylan Lewis
Nestled in the heart of Sulphur, Louisiana, a quaint town nearly three hours to the west of vibrant New Orleans and sharing its borders with bustling Houston, is a community grappling with a formidable challenge: the climate crisis.
Roishetta Sibley Ozane is a single mother of six residing in Sulphur and the founder of the Vessel Project of Louisiana. She joined P.O.C. on ecoWURD Magazine to discuss her fight for environmental justice, intersectionality and the work that the Vessel Project does.
Ozane started the Vessel project initially when she lost her home as a result of the 2020 hurricanes – Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta. The devastating storms caused a tree to fall on her house and flooding throughout the entire area. With her home being a rental property, the choice to repair it fell out of her hands. This led Ozane and her family to live in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for two years; during that time she began to understand the inner workings of the government organization.
“While I was in that FEMA trailer, I was learning FEMA. I posted on Facebook ‘I don’t work for FEMA, but I work FEMA. If you need help, let me know. I will help you do an appeal, whatever. Let’s do this together. Let’s do this,’ And it was so many people who needed help, so many people who didn’t understand,” said Ozane.
She then took her aid one step further when she began to use her COVID-19 stimulus checks to secure housing for people for whom government support remained elusive. From there, Ozane began organizing cash assistance that went directly into the hands of people who had lost their homes from the hurricanes.
“It was truly a grassroots effort met on the corner of one of the intersections in Lake Charles. So we ended up helping over 300 people with hotel rooms and for me, being a mom and having worked in the school system, I was like, okay, now we put these people in these hotels,” Ozane said. “What are they going to eat and where are they going to go after three days because everybody had three nights in the hotel. So it became really a social justice fight in the midst of that environmental fight.”
After providing housing, Ozane then provided meals, helped people to find hygiene products, clothing for their children, hair products, transportation and more. As she continued to provide for people, she questioned why the government or the big oil companies had built their wealth at the expense of the people living there and started to do so publicly.
“So I started calling those companies out like. Philip 66, you live across the street from people in trailer homes whose trailers have been totally destroyed. What have you given them? And these industries were giving people 25 gas cards, handing out like packages of ramen noodles. You know, but you’re polluting their communities,” Ozane told P.O.C. “You’re making billions of dollars in their communities, sending these billions back to other countries where your headquarters are. And this community right here is looking like a developing country. And I just connected the dots. And I just really hit the grounds running.”
From the seeds of her grassroots efforts, the Vessel Project evolved into a sanctuary for those failed by the government’s support systems. Undocumented or immigrants, no one was turned away; Ozane’s mission was inclusivity and compassion. She recognized that bureaucratic hurdles like birth certificates and Social Security cards could serve as barriers to essential aid. In the years since its inception, the Vessel Project has grown into a beacon of hope for those in need. Through her actions, Ozane not only addressed the pressing climate challenges of her community but also became a prominent voice in the realm of environmental justice and disaster relief.