By Rosie Spinks
City on a Hill Press Reporter
Curtis Reliford is a man of action. With blue denim overalls, a wide-brimmed hat, and an even wider smile, this local activist and Louisiana native has been working to improve the lives of Hurricane Katrina victims and others since 2005.
In the minds of many, the urgency of helping those affected by Katrina has come and gone, but Reliford remains committed to them and all those in need.
“I’m targeting all the poor areas and I’m serving them,” he said. “Katrina was just a wake-up call for me to look at our country and the shape it’s in and see how nobody cares about each other.”
Reliford hasn’t always been an optimistic activist. Growing up on the streets with no mother or father in his life, Reliford found himself “in and out of trouble.” When the storm hit many years later, Reliford was living in Santa Cruz and was severely disheartened by the mistreatment of the victims living in Louisiana. Reliford credits his then-eight-year-old daughter with giving him the strength to be proactive.
“I was depressed and angry at the system and that it wasn’t coming to their rescue,” he said. “My daughter said to me, ‘Dad, if anybody can do something for these people, you can.’ That was my trigger to stay strong.”
Since that trigger, Reliford has founded his own organization called the Follow Your Heart Action Network, which has donated countless necessities and support to victims of Katrina.
Driving around Santa Cruz in his recognizably decorated truck and trailer, Reliford raises awareness about what he’s doing and garners support and donations from the Santa Cruz community through lectures and demonstrations. He has done multiple cross-country trips to Louisiana to distribute his loaded trailer full of goods to those in need.
He now also plans to both localize and expand his efforts to meet the great need right here in Santa Cruz County. His hope is to set up a facility in the Santa Cruz and Watsonville areas to distribute clothing, food and necessities.
“There’s a population here that’s sleeping in cardboard boxes, migrant workers picking our vegetables; they need our help,” he said. “I would like to find out what the need is and then let it be something where it’s not so much bureaucracy, but just straight-up direct aid to help serve these people.”
Reliford would also love to get UC Santa Cruz students involved in his work and his action network. He envisions a day of art and activism at the town clocktower where students and other community members could create paintings that represent the causes they care about.
Reliford’s remarkable optimism has been compounded since the election of the first African-American president. Reliford sees the Obama presidency as a launch pad for him to do even more.
“The blacks have never been on the map like this before and I have never had this exposure and opportunity,” he said. “I’m so grateful [for Obama]. What he said about peace is what I’ve been doing since ’05.”
With increasing exposure, Reliford hopes to inspire more and more people to turn their lives around to something that’s productive and positive.
“My encouraging words to people who are like me and where I come from is don’t turn to booze, drugs and self-destruction,” he said. “Just keep marching on with what you got because there are people out there that care.”
People, it seems, like Reliford.
<i>On Sunday, Feb. 15, Curtis Reliford will host a Black History Month celebration at Memorial Square (across from the post office at the top of Pacific Avenue) at 12 p.m. For more information about this event and Reliford’s work, visit followyourheartactionnetwork.com.</i>