Interview with LaTonya Snow

(Park Place)

Gabriela Igloria: Can you start by telling me your name and how old you are?

LaTonya Snow: My name is LaTonya Snow, and I am 39 years old.

GI: And so you also go by the name Auntie Advocate, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about what that name means to you.

LS: Auntie Advocate is our nonprofit. We started it after my nephew Xavier, he was killed by the Virginia state police January the 9th of 2021. So, I started the nonprofit—cuz actually he—his girlfriend used to go to ODU, so I started coming over here to network with the kids, just to share his story with them, and they would start calling me Auntie—because I’m Xay’s aunt, I’m everyone’s aunt, I’ll always be an aunt. So the nonprofit’s called Auntie Advocate cuz we advocate for people who’ve been affected by gun violence and police brutality.

GI: Yeah, thank you so much for the work you do.

LS: Absolutely.

GI: And it’s lovely that you have this community in spite of everything.

LS: Yeah, we do, we do, we do.

GI: And how long have you lived in Norfolk?

LS: I’ve lived here since, hm. So at first we lived here in 2001, and then we moved—I moved back here in 2013, so I’ve been here for a while.

GI: Where did you move from?

LS: Northern Virginia.

GI: OK, yeah.

LS: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

GI: And then what neighborhood or area of Norfolk do you currently live in?

LS: We live…[in] Park Place.

GI: And have you lived in any other parts of the city before?

LS: Yeah, Ocean View. When we first got here, we moved to ocean view…and I also lived in Norview, and that’s it.

GI: So out of all the places that you’ve lived, where would you say you’ve seen the most flooding?

LS: [Takes a bit] Between Ocean View and Downtown Norfolk, I’ve had bad experiences in both of the areas, so it’s like, oh my God that’s a hard question [laughs]—

GI: [Laughs too]

LS: —because it’s like, it gets bad in both places depending on what street you’re on, and it depends on how you go about and move. Like, when I stayed in Ocean View, it flooded so bad the big green trash cans were moved by the water.

GI: Oh, gosh.

LS: Right? So that’s how bad it floods, and when I got home, I was like, “Wow, how’d that trash can—I’m talking the big ones—come down the street?” That’s crazy, right? So that happened in Ocean View.

Norfolk—Granby, the McDonald’s—?

GI: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

LS: It’s like a little…pond back there? Man-made?

GI: I don’t know.

LS: I think it’s man-made. Me and my kids like to go over there to watch the cars—

GI: [Laughs]

LS: —to see who’s dumb enough to go through the water. I have friends who’ll still go through—

GI: Right.

LS: —and it’s crazy on the days that it rains a little bit, that floods. The other side floods over here and then it’s just like, if you try to go down—which street is that, Llewellyn?

GI: It does flood over there on Llewellyn.

LS: Yeah, I think it is Llewellyn. You try to go down that street, you gotta go around.

GI: Yeah.

LS: Or you’re gonna get stuck. You’re gonna get stuck going down that street.

That’s why our worst part is probably—well, I will still say Ocean View. Yeah, cuz if you’re up there, over there by Willoughby, you’re not getting out.

GI: Mm-hmm.

LS: You’re not getting out. So I guess it would depend—well, then I’d say Downtown too…

GI: Yeah, Downtown is pretty bad, but everywhere is pretty bad.

LS: Like it’s all bad, all bad.

GI: So, over the years, do you feel like it’s been getting worse?

LS: So we were at the Rec Center, and I’m looking at this drain, and it’s not raining but it’s like filled to the top. Like, where is the water supposed to go? And you can see, even in little spots we have at the house—like, puddles of water are inside. And how—why are the pockets not, I guess, draining? Cuz you know, when I’m walking my dog at night time, it’s like a field, but it’s pockets of water. So, like, how is it inside the field like that?

Cuz I guess the drain system—and even on our street, oh the street floods. Like, you have to—[gestures with her hands] so this is the sidewalk, and this is the car we’re getting out of. There’s a puddle of water you have to hop over so your shoes don’t get wet…or you gotta wait…

So, it’s supposed to be a leveled street, but no. The whole side, you can’t—if you have a car, everybody has to get out on the passenger’s side and hop over or you’re gonna step into water, and your whole shoe is gonna get wet.

GI: I know, yeah.

LS: It’s disgusting [laughs]. It is.

GI: And so if you own a home, do you have flood insurance?

LS: No, I don’t own a home.

GI: Do you think flood insurance would make a big difference and in what ways?

LS: I mean, yes and no because, I mean, you have to pay a copay I’m pretty sure, right, or some kind of deductible.

GI: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

LS: And I feel like that’s not fair when they know that land levels here are not level. Right? So why are we paying, like, extra for insurance for something that might happen when we know for sure that it’s going to happen.

GI: Right.

LS: We know it’s going to happen, and so it’s almost like, hm. Why pay more for it when they should be trying to fix it and help out—especially with the drainage systems here. With the quality of living—til it gets better here, I wouldn’t pay for it.

GI: Mh-hmm, and everyone needs it.

LS: Cuz everyone would need it, and that’s—yeah, that’s just more money in someone else’s pocket. So I wouldn’t pay for it—or, I would have some kind of system where, if they were to pay for it, maybe to better the drain systems, I would do that…I don’t believe in giving the city money [laughing], I don’t, sorry!

GI: It’s okay, don’t be sorry—

LS: I really don’t—unless they’re trying to do a really good job for us—I don’t believe in giving them money. And I know—

GI: Well, mutual aid is really helpful—

LS: Right! And so, I—I’m not giving them any money [laughs].

GI: And so, on that note, I guess I wanna know, when you hear the phrase “flood resilience,” what do you think about?

LS: Coming from the city?

GI: Any kind of flood resilience. What do you think about?

LS: B.S. That’s my first thought: that’s some B.S…I’ve been here since I was 16 and I’m about to be 40 years old, and I’ve been seeing the same thing since forever.

GI: Right.

LS: So I see all this, “Oh, I’m gonna fight for this and this”—and what are you gonna do? Besides like—unless you’re gonna really come out here, unless you’re gonna fix every neighborhood one by one, what is it supposed to mean? So I hear it, but I think it’s just a fancy word. Like, “we’re gonna put this in place,” but how?...So I just think—B.S.

GI: And so, maybe more broadly, what does resilience itself mean to you—not necessarily in terms of how the city uses it, but just how, maybe how people one-on-one might use it?

LS: Well, I guess it would depend on what aspect we’re talking about.

GI: I guess, socially, maybe.

LS: I guess when we’re trying to fight something—

GI: Mm-hmm.

LS: —I guess having a drive to try over and over and over…but how? Because we know it’s gonna rain, we know it’s gonna do this. And so that’s something like, you having resilience against it—what, like it’s something man-made—I don’t know. So I hear what you’re saying on this side, but then I’m going back to this and climate change. How are y’all gonna control the climate?...

So I don’t know, as someone who’s just trying to—if you’re trying the same system over and over again, then what? You have resilience for what? To tough this out, I guess? Thinking it’ll hopefully get better? But if we’re not putting things into place to do better than this, then it’s not—

GI: I—yeah, I agree. I don’t think resilience means just waiting around for something to happen. I think it means we have to be actively doing something—

LS: Yeah. Like, you know it’s almost like we’re waiting for what might happen—no! I feel like if it pertains to us, then let’s put some action to it. That’s what I feel like.

GI: I might jump around a bit—

LS: That’s fine, that’s fine—

GI: —but what would you want decision-makers and others in the community to understand or consider with more care when it comes to making these plans for flood resilience?

LS: You have families—we have a lot of low income families here. A lot.

GI: Yeah.

LS: And they try to make it seem like they’re doing all these projects and stuff. Well, take care of the people who are here so their things are not damaged. A lot of us single moms cannot afford to get another car if something happens to our car.

GI: Mm-hmm.

LS: So, when you guys are thinking of doing stuff in the street and whatever, consider the families first cuz—their routines and life, consider how we can help them first when you’re thinking about making, like different drainways. Or, let’s go to the neighborhoods first to make sure they’re clear.

Like, if we wanna have a baseball game—if we have a game, we can’t have a game because everything’s flooded, right? The field is flooded. So let’s make sure that their walks of life are still regular before we start to say, “we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna take all this stuff, we’re gonna do all that” and put them first because we’re the ones who are gonna have to deal with it, right? Even when I was talking about that park by Llewellyn—

GI: Mm-hmm.

LS: —the dog park over there—

GI: Yeah, I drive past there all the time.

LS: Right? Like you know, once it gets flooded over there, our dogs can’t go over there…And then they have that…big thing of water over there too. So mind you, we’ve got the water coming in from that lake…

GI: That whole street just floods—

LS: Whole street gets nasty, right? And it’s like that for days…but they don’t even consider that…and we have some really bad drain systems here. I feel like they’re working on everything else besides this.

I feel like when—my neighbor was like, “Do you have clogged pipes?” I don’t. They do in an apartment, and I’m like, that’s because of what we have to go through now.

And where is all this stuff going to, right? Does it come back into our—does it come right back into our environment? I believe it is, and so if it is, then when we take kids to the park, dogs to the park, then we’re still putting ourselves at risk because it’s not pumping out into anywhere.

GI: Right.

LS: Goes right back into what we breathe into, right?

GI: Or eat—

LS: —right, or eat—

GI: —bathe with—

LS: or bathe with. Our animals are going outside, they’re all dirty, bringing it right back into the house… Me and my kids see it all the time. We’ll be at home and go to Chick-fil-A like, “wanna watch the water real quick?” cuz we know it’s gonna be some action [laughs].

GI: [Laughs too]

LS: Cuz they haven’t fixed it yet! How not? Why not? And it’s like, if some person’s car goes through there—man, oh man, oh man. Cuz you might get through it, but the next time you go home…[your car] might not crank back up cuz you go through the flood water.

So I just kinda want them to understand that, hey, single moms can’t afford another car if it gets trapped going through that. They can’t. So when [the city makes plans], implement it in neighborhoods that don’t necessarily have them first. You know? We’re not going to Ghent, we’re not going to Larchmont. We’re going to the Tidewater Gardens—you know, the lower income neighborhoods first to make sure they can get outta there.

So I’ll put those people first. I know there’s taxpayers over there [in Ghent, Larchmont], I understand that. But they’re okay, they can afford another car.

GI: Right, right.

LS: If something happens…they can rebuild, but a lower income person’s on the bus—or the bus ain’t coming cuz of the flood waters, right?

Even with that, too, I was like, maybe they could implement something for that. Because if it floods and you’re late for work because you’re at the bus, what can we say because we live in Hampton Roads?

GI: Right.

LS: That’s not my fault that I have to wait because it’s raining and it’s bad here and I can’t get on the bus and now I’m late. So what do you say to those people who are just trying to get there?

So I dunno if they can make something up as far as like, I dunno, a flood card, something. Because if they truly got on the bus and the bus was late: flood card. But I’m still thinking that’s stressful.

GI: Mm-hmm.

LS: That is stressful. Trying to get through and it’s not—you have no control over that.

GI: Right, and it affects every aspect of your day.

LS: The rest of the day is done. It might get better—and I’m gonna tell you…when we first moved here and didn’t have a car, so we rode the bus—and I remember getting off the bus, and I was on Little Creek Road. And the kids are 18 months apart, so at the time, they were probably 5 and 6, 4 and 5. And I had to get off the bus, so I’m going to Little Creek…where the Farm Fresh is at, Little Creek Road.

It was horrible over there. We lived across the street. I put both of them on my hips and was running across the street—they were so small…they were little, so by the time we get across the street, they were gonna be drenched. Even with that, when you got kids, they gonna put you out. They just put you outside, and they don’t consider that—they just didn’t, like: step in the water with your kids and the groceries and stuff.

So I dunno, I’m about to get emotional, cuz I had to like question, was I—dang it—but what if I wasn’t like able to—it was just so hard. I was like, “Oh my God, I wish the bus would like let me off in front of my house.” You know what I’m saying?

But we have to do all this with these little kids, and then as the mom, it’s like you—it’s kind of a sense of embarrassment a little bit, but it’s not because I gotta—like, the whole ride all I’m thinking about is how I’m gonna get them off the bus with my bookbag and the stuff.

GI: Yeah.

LS: Right? And even going to school, I’m like, Lord, they’re gonna be soaking wet…so how do you get the system to understand, okay? They don’t. So, I dunno…that’s my biggest thing. So me saying all that, they gotta consider the families first.

GI: Mm-hmm.

LS: They have to. They make bus stops with no shelter or…no drain systems near, what in the world are we doing?

GI: Right, these are access needs.

LS: Totally. You know, if you have your bike, gotta walk through the water first to put your bike on the bus. It’s a mess. You don’t see it, but the people are paying to be on the bus everyday, so that’s more money. They’re paying to get on the bus, but they can’t even have a place to sit at, so it’s [laughs]—I could go on and on.

GI: I think you’ve touched on this a little bit, but I was wondering if you could maybe share a little bit more about how, as a single mother raising your kids here in Norfolk, what sorts of needs do you feel like other people are not fully considering?

LS: [Takes a bit] Hm. Because their wants are a little bit different, they think—like, someone said to me the other day, “when you’re homeless, get a job.” Like, it’s hard for the housed people to get a job, so that’s not—

GI: —Easier said than done.

LS: —Easier said than done, right? I don’t think they consider that when you’re a single mom, the normal job is 8 to 5, right? School is 9 to 3 or 9 to 2, so how is that supposed to work, right?

They don’t consider that you have to—like I said again, let’s say you’re someone who doesn’t have a car and rides the bus, okay. If daycare closes at 5 and I get off at 5, how am I supposed to make that work out? I can’t.

Even with the pattern of like, if you have a bunch of moms who are all on the same bus system, the bus stops every five minutes. What in the world? You have working parents out here who just wanna get there with their stuff in the same situation as everyone else. It’s almost like dang, I’m just a number. Unless I make my own lane for myself.

I don’t think they consider the fact that like, all the benefits they have? They haven’t been changed in years. So you want a parent to live off of—not even live off of—or have access or a “stepping stone” as they would say—to these benefits that have been, I dunno, put in practice like 30 years ago.

And in 2023, I’m getting assistance from years ago when times have changed… So I don’t think they understand that times have changed, they’re not as lenient anymore…and I say it because I have a lot of faith, like I’m covered, but everyone doesn’t believe stuff like that…we have to do so much for so little.

I do feel we do have ways here where we could do so much better, but our city doesn’t want to take the time to hear from the community where it’s coming from. We have so many empty buildings that we can do resource needs places, and they won’t take the time to do it because I’m not sure they’re concerned with the quality of life…

Before we came here, we lived in Charlotte, and it’s way different there…Here, it’s classism. If you are military, second-class, and then lower class over here. If you’re over here [in the lower class], you have to make it. I feel like if you came from…the lower class, psh, whatever. Do whatever. I don’t think they think about them.

GI: So what sorts of things do you do to prepare for a flood or things like hurricanes and other storms that amplify flooding?

LS: Park where I know it’s not going to flood at, for sure. If we have to—if we know there’s going to be a hurricane, I have candles…I bought a bunch of candles. I stay on the second floor, so I’m actually okay.

GI: Right.

LS: Only time I—so now I used to stay off 5th Bay in Ocean View, flooding did come into my apartment, and so I had my kids. I couldn’t go to work that day.

GI: Mm-hmm.

LS: My boss took me up because he had a truck, and he was one of those people who was like, “You gotta come to work.” And I said, “You are crazy, I’m not about to drive out here in this!” And I had a little Honda at the time…I took my car…and moved it. I remember Mark [my boss] came and got me from work, and my electricity had gone off…

While we were at work, it flooded at my apartment, and so—this was when I was 22, so I was barely making it, you know—

GI: I know.

LS: And I was like man! My couch was ruined. They had to come in there and they first got the carpet, and the house stunk, so they had to replace my carpet. It was bad. I had to get a new couch though. The water was high.

GI: How high was it?

LS: So imagine the couch was level with the floor, so the water got to like—so it wasn’t in the cushion—it was at the bottom of the cushion.

GI: At the base of it.

LS: Yes, of the couch. And I was like, what in the world? So it didn’t go all the way into the apartment but the front of the apartment, and I had never experienced that.

GI: Yeah.

LS: So since then I’ve never moved—I’ve never lived—on the bottom floor.

GI: Was the apartment itself raised at all or—?

LS: No. I was on the very first floor, and it was not. Our townhouse—so, I moved to a townhouse—that was raised. So I never lived on a first floor since then. I won’t do it.

GI: Yeah, once you experience it once, it’s—

LS: One time. I’m done. That’s another reason why we moved from Ocean View because if we stayed out here, we’d have to walk through water.

I saw this girl’s car, and she let the car stay out there. It was the same Honda. It got flooded. And I was like, if that car’s so low, why would you leave it out there?...If it floods, you gotta move your car…

GI: And so, back then, how easily do you think you were able to rebuild from that flooding?

LS: I didn’t have kids then, so it was different then. My boss, he paid—[laughs] cuz I didn’t have any kids—my boss, he told me I had to go to work, and so I didn’t have any lights that worked at home either…It was hard and not hard…because it wasn’t my fault. But again, what if I didn’t have a boss like that? What if I’d had a boss who said, “I don’t care about your flooding in your home.” Right? And…I didn’t have flood insurance back then either…

But I had a boss who said, “I’ll buy you a new couch.” So I said okay, but he took it out of my check as well, so even now? Now? No! Absolutely not…

And again, everyone’s not me. Everyone doesn’t have a nonprofit, doesn’t have friends and access to a circle, right?

GI: Right.

LS: So I always say everyone’s not me, so they can’t just be like, hey, let me call somebody, right? Literally, if something happens to us, I can call somebody. Everybody can’t do that.

GI: Right, right.

LS: And even the thought of it… That’s why I say absolutely not… I think—I don’t know if there’s any way for water to not get inside the homes, but at least if you raise the homes—that’s a lot of raising houses we gotta do, you know?

GI: Mm-hmm.

LS: Again, it depends on the person, but everybody don’t have that.

GI: And it’s a balance, I think, of both community and the systemic stuff.

LS: Yes.

GI: I think one might not be enough to cover it.

LS: No, it’s not. It’s definitely not. And the community is drained, you know? Like, I haven’t asked for anything in a minute, but I always ask for something Like: “Can I get 5—3—dollars?” People always need something.

But the community has their own problems as well.

GI: Mm-hmm.

LS: And then it’s the same people that are always helping out, and it’s like sheesh Louise. People who have two homes have no problems—hey, hello, right? [Laughs]

GI: Yeah. So what do you know about the plans the city has for addressing flooding, and do you have any thoughts on those?

LS: I don’t know about their plans. I’ve heard, like—when I hear the talk, I’m gonna be honest with you, I tune out. I’m like, I don’t wanna hear it because I think sometimes they’re just talking.

I did see something about maybe a new dam or something. Am I making that up?

GI: I’m not sure about dams, but I know that there are pumps that they’re trying to install in different parts of the city, and then for some people they’re elevating houses. They’re starting to do that already, I think.

But I know some people are frustrated because some neighborhoods are getting more protections than others, which goes back to what you were saying—

LS: I’m telling you, so when I hear them saying they’re gonna go to Larchmont and Ghent—you guys are gonna go to areas where you know they already have—they’re good. Like they’re good. But they go there first because those are the ones who they feel like pay the top dollar—tax dollars…that’s not fair…so I don’t wanna hear it. Because y’all do not include the people who need to be included, you know?

I’m like, why do we gotta be out in Downtown Norfolk during a flood? For what? But they go to Downtown Norfolk to get…money…so soon as they start talking, I tap out. And it’s terrible, right?...

GI: It’s been the same story throughout history.

LS: Then help your friends out, you know? So you’re gonna help that guy out who comes to the council just to talk about his home, his property, his tax dollars…

GI: So I think you’ve talked about this a little bit, but what concerns do you have regarding the future of flood protections, maybe more specifically in your neighborhood or in your community?

LS: That they’re not gonna change it. I feel like they’re gonna waste the money on…the better places that are already—they’re not 100% good, but I feel like they’re not gonna put any, enough, money into neighborhoods to make them better places to live at.

I feel like the same people are gonna keep getting fed, and then the ones who aren’t being helped out are gonna have to keep coming down here to be like, “Hey, what about us? What about us?” And we clearly see that they are right here…

I was thinking about Hurricane Katrina, and I was like, man. If that came here, we are dead. Like, we are doomed. We don’t have—like, there’s water all around us. I was telling [someone] I’m okay because I’m on the second floor, but we’re up. And I was thinking, “Good Lord, imagine the water in the hallways…” and downstairs—my neighbors, they’re done, right?

And I guess I was thinking about Hurricane Katrina, but Norfolk would not survive that. So many homes would be lost. So many. And some people’s things would just be ruined, right? How are they gonna replace that? How?

GI: Mm-hmm. Entire communities.

LS: Right? Entire communities. So it’s almost like, y’all can’t replace that. So why not prepare now? And Hurricane Katrina happened years ago. So if we knew what happened years ago, why are we not making sure this is not gonna happen to us—because we can’t say they’re doing what, climate control?

GI: It takes the whole world to change—

LS: Right, right, right. So it’s like how are y’all going to predict that? So…I don’t pray that on Norfolk. But New Orleans didn’t think it was gonna happen to them—

GI: Right.

LS: —so we can’t be sitting here like it won’t happen to us when we got flooding constantly.

GI: And [our sea level rise] is second, right. Right after New Orleans.

LS: God does what he wants to do, so if He wants to make a flood here, get some boats. I’m telling you, I’m on the second floor, so we’re gonna be alright, but other people—like, trailer homes going down the street. You know what I mean? Their stuff is gone. Cars, gone. My car is definitely gone, oh my God. But again, I don’t wanna replace my car. If we can prevent the waters from going inside the neighborhoods so bad, or have drain systems, we’ll be okay. We don’t have that.

GI: So what would you say your relationship is with water in general?

LS: I’m afraid of the water. I love water, but I don’t swim. I tried to swim like one time… My kids, they can swim. I let them play in the water. I’ll go to the beach on 49th street, at the end of the street, you know?

GI: Yeah, yeah.

LS: That’s my spot, so…I go to the beach, I get in the water, but I don’t swim. I like to look at it. I think it’s beautiful. It’s very unique because it’s something that has no kind of math, it just does whatever it wants to do, right? But it doesn’t have any control.

So how are we—we can make a system up, but it has to be really, really good, cuz God can do whatever He wants to do with some water. So if we don’t have a good system, then, again He can overpower whatever he wants. Water’s powerful, and humans are not meant to survive in water. We need air.

GI: How do you think—or how do you envision what else we can do to keep adapting to its presence. Because it’s not gonna go anywhere, right?

LS: No, just improving our water systems, but again, in neighborhoods that need it first. We have a lot of water around here no matter where you go… Invest in what we need…

Let’s make sure our city is a good place to actually live, where you can say: “We don’t have flooding here. Norfolk don’t have flooding no more because we invested not even a billion, trillion dollars in a waterworks system that actually does it.”

I feel like they could actually get it done if they put the money in the right place… They just don’t wanna do it—or they do, but it’s how they wanna do it and where they wanna do it at. We’re stuck with having the same neighborhoods affected over and over again.

So the first thing I’d do is say, “Look…we already know this place is gonna flood, so we’re gonna work on this place first.” So we can stop saying the same story over and over again… That just makes sense…

And maybe you have to educate those people too. Maybe they’re not educated enough to understand. If you invest in this city, you have to educate the people too. Once you do make them feel, you know…they’ll agree. Maybe not a hundred percent but most will.

That’s why we need to have a community discussion where you bring everyone together and see it. That’s what I’d do, I’d make sure each community is together…to implement their thoughts so they can understand where everyone is coming from.

GI: That would be great.

LS: …[The city] doesn't circulate information around here correctly to me. I feel like the same heads, same noses are in the business, and the ones who need to know aren’t included. They hear about it afterwards and then once they’re affected by it. It’s not fair. That’s why I post on Auntie Advocate, “They’re doing this, they’re doing this.” It’s important that we know about it. So we can share and say, “this is not right” or talk about it at least.

And I’m thinking about community as a whole, you know? Love thy neighbor, help thy neighbor? Let’s practice that… It doesn’t have to be your neighbor right beside you. We’re in a whole neighborhood, community, together. So I’d like to spread that as like, a love message. Just something our city needs. We’re so keen on money and classism that we forget that people really have needs here…