February 21, 2023
Marcus T. Coleman, Jr. shares message about MDS-FEMA partnership
In a keynote speech at the Mennonite Disaster Service Annual Celebration, Marcus T. Coleman, Jr., director of the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, spoke about what it means to “choose joy.”
Coleman, who described helping people who are suffering from pain, loss and grief, has served at the intersection of building public and private partnerships with faith-based and non-profit organizations for more than 15 years.
He expressed admiration for the way MDS comes alongside people and organizations from across the country, and works with partners from across the country—with a spirit of saying “yes” to serving.
When it comes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), people often associate FEMA with the word “no,” he admitted. “No, you can’t come any closer into the disaster zone. No, you can’t do that thing that you care about because there’s a system and rules in place and it’s clear that if you come here you’re going to mess it up. When I started working at FEMA, I noticed FEMA said ‘no’ a lot.”
He believes building partnerships with groups like MDS has helped turn that mentality around.
“The word ‘no,’ can be visceral—it can be cold and it can be closed,” he said. “But we can also say ‘No, we are not going to stand for the status quo any longer. No, we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines this time. No, we won’t let any system or circumstance steal our joy.”
"The investments that you make maximize the lifespan not only with buildings but whole communities"
— Marcus T. Coleman, Jr., Director of the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
It’s that kind of “no” that changes people’s lives for the better, Coleman reflected. “And it’s that kind of ‘no’ I’ve witnessed with MDS,” he said. “It’s also that type of ‘no’ that led me to delve into FEMA’s strategic plan.”
Coleman said he believes the theme of the MDS Annual Celebration, “The Joy of Serving,” coincides with the new goals of FEMA. “To install, to lead, to promote, to lead with compassion, to serve with integrity,” he said. “It’s a feeling that resonates deeply.”
There are many places struck by disaster, Coleman added. “There are cities that are known and unknown, towns known and unknown,” he said. “The care MDS provides is something that FEMA has to do a better job of emulating.”
Put another way, he added, “You all do mitigation really well,” he said. “The investments that you make maximize the lifespan not only with buildings but whole communities—and we at FEMA are seeking to maximize that type of environmental awareness.”
He concluded by assuring more than 1,200 MDS volunteers and partners present in the audience that the partnership between MDS and FEMA will only grow stronger. “Yes, we can and should find a way to do this together,” he said. “We’re going to stumble along the way, and our partnership is what keeps us encouraged.”
It comes down to serving with joy, he said. “We resolve to build bridges of hope and justice,” he said. “At the work of His hands, we will all sing for joy.”