More than 70,000 people have registered for federal disaster aid. More than 40,000 homes have been damaged. And more than 8,000 people have moved to shelters, while others have been displaced to different residences.
That includes Baton Rouge native Langston Galloway’s parents, family and friends.
They have all been affected by Louisiana’s recent flooding, which the Red Cross called “the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy” in 2012. The death toll rose to 13 this past week, with the East Baton Rouge Parish recording the most fatalities with five. Two more deaths occurred on Sunday when a bus full of flood relief workers crashed heading to Baton Rouge to assist with the cleanup.
While Galloway doesn’t know anyone who died or was injured from the flooding, what “hit home” for him was seeing his wife’s family lose their home they had for almost 30 years. They’re currently working on a contract to rebuild.
This past week, Galloway, who will be playing in New Orleans this upcoming season, returned to Baton Rouge for the first time since the flooding started.
“It was definitely eye-opening just to see all the devastation, and so many places that you remember that were just fine a day ago, now everything’s been affected,” he told the NBPA in Los Angeles this past week, after his workout with trainer Drew Hanlen. “It’s definitely hard to look at Baton Rouge, just trying to bounce back from all the things that have been occurring with Alton Sterling and also the floods. I just want to help out as much as possible.”
Just one month after signing a two-year deal with the Pelicans on July 11, Galloway is already making an impact in the state since the storms first hit on August 11.
The 24-year-old’s help started when he connected with Keila Stovall, the executive director of the Foundation for the East Baton Rouge School System. She told him that out of the roughly 15 schools that were impacted by the flooding, most were in the East Baton Rouge Parish. That included his alma mater, Christian Life Academy.
The schools have had to merge with other campuses to use their classrooms and athletic fields. Schools lost books, Chromebooks, blackboards, chalkboards and school supplies. Even school buses were washed away.
Through Galloway’s leadership, teaming up with fellow Baton Rouge natives and NBA players Garrett Temple and Marcus Thornton, he recently facilitated a major donation with the support of the NBPA Foundation and NBA. The contribution will help cover the missing items, as well as help organize and deploy volunteer teams to clean up the affected schools.
“I just want to help the schools definitely come back, because it’s going to be a long process,” he said. “Right now, we just want to get the kids back in school and get them moving forward. Even the kids that might not have been in school that were affected, those kids’ parents or their families might have been affected by the floods. So there’s just so many people that have been affected by this. I’m just glad to be able to give back to the community.”
The long-term goal of Galloway’s initiative is to improve the education level of the youth in Baton Rouge. He said there are many local kids who are held back a year because of grades.
When he hosted his first-ever basketball clinic in Baton Rouge earlier this month before the flooding—the free event was for fifth- to 12th-graders in partnership with the YMCA of the Capital Area, Baton Rouge—he stressed his biggest message: “work hard regardless of your adversity.” Galloway is the blue-collar example of that in the NBA, signing with the Knicks in January 2015 despite being undrafted the previous summer and starting in the D-League.
He said Baton Rouge’s younger generation has a lot of doubt about their future, and that many pro athletes don’t come back to the community. He wants to instill in them that relentless work ethic behind the scenes, represented in his social media motto #UnseenHours.
“I’m trying to be that role model for the kids in Baton Rouge,” he said. “It’s definitely key, especially one day when I have a foundation. I feel like I could be that role model to help the students to become student-athletes. The academics side of it is definitely key for me and I know that hits my home because I went to college and got two degrees—sports marketing and communications—so that’s definitely huge for me.”
With being close to home, playing in New Orleans, he already feels his local presence alone has paid off.
“I’m pretty much still close to most of my teammates from high school and pretty much all my friends, so they’re all excited just to come down and watch me play,” he said. “At the same time, the fans have been amazing. I haven’t had one bad letter at all. It’s been all love and I’m just excited to go out there and show them what I can do.”
Galloway is also working with the Pelicans to donate food and water to those in need during these desperate times. Being with the Knicks, he said he learned a lot about the “personable aspect” of giving back to the community.
“I’m really just so excited to be back home, number one, and also just to see all the help that the Pelicans have been doing, and the Saints,” he said. “They’re helping out Baton Rouge right now trying to bounce back from this, because both of them have been affected by when Katrina hit.”
Galloway was in eighth grade at the time when the hurricane struck in 2005—one of the deadliest in U.S. history—and he remembers his house being without power for around two weeks in Baton Rouge. But from what he’s experienced through all the years in his hometown, he said, “Nothing can compare to this.”
But he knows the spirit of Baton Rouge will continue to live on.
“It’s definitely a loving atmosphere,” he said. “Whoever you might be or wherever you’re from, we’re always welcoming and definitely just love to have a great time. I think that we’re definitely on the up and up right now—just slowly and surely it takes times to rebuild and just continue to help the community come back. So I think in a few months, we’ll definitely be back to normal and then continue to roll just like Baton Rouge is. We’re strong. Baton Rouge strong.”