Looking over the past 20 years, African Americans have witnessed and been on the receiving end of some of this country’s greatest travesties: the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina; traumatized over and over by the recorded murders of Trayvon Martin and other unarmed Black men and women; and, right here in our own city, the gridlock and madness following Atlanta’s Snowmageddon in 2014.

All these events happened, leaving their own lingering effects on our collective psyche, only for 2020 to welcome African Americans with both a global health pandemic and civil unrest with a looming presidential election and US Census count in the midst of it all.

As one looks at all these experiences, he or she learns that understanding the definition of an “emergency” is just as important as knowing how to survive one. Considering the current climate of this country, this state, and this city, one might ask themselves “How — or maybe even if — he or she can survive this global pandemic and national uprising?”

Granted, it is not as if African Americans haven’t faced uprisings and pandemics before as a collective. So, what is it about this time that has made preparedness so crucial?

“It shows that we (as African Americans) are still not prepared, and we need to be,” explained Sylvester Pierce, who is one-third of the organization The Black Packerz, an Atlanta-based emergency preparedness and consulting firm. “Because, nothing going on right now is new— not the police brutality, murders, epidemics, pandemics, domestic violence, sex trafficking — nothing! Neither is the unpreparedness of our communities.

“We need to prepare ourselves,” he added. “It is our responsibility. You put your seat belt on before the accident, not during the accident.”

And Pierce’s rationale isn’t flawed. Just last week, a teenaged gunman shot down three unarmed protesters, killing two and seriously wounding a third, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, only days after an unarmed Jacob Blake has eight shots pumped into his back by a Kenosha police detective.

Kyle Rittenhosue, 17, was a former member of a youth police cadet program with an affinity for guns, according to police and online profiles. The Antioch, Illinois, native was one of several armed militias that descended upon Kenosha in the wake of protests over Blake’s shooting.

While Rittenhouse’s victims were all white, most of the protesters in Kenosha were Black. Pierce said that those victims could have easily been African American citizens instead.

While communing one evening in downtown Atlanta, two long-time friends Sylvester Pierce and Tarik Livingstone shared many experiences about their love for camping, exploring, self-defense, and community service.

They decided, after witnessing the lack of local emergency preparedness following Snowmageddon, it would be highly important for people within their community to know how to engage in basic life-saving survival skills.

With a few quick scribbles on a bar napkin, “Black Packerz” — in homage to the presence of Hip-hop backpackers throughout the late 80s and early 90s — was formed with the inspiration of Harriet Tubman in mind. Both Pierce and Livingstone agree that Tubman was and is the ultimate “Black Packer.”

“Tubman recognized that she was in an emergency and had to leave, using all of the resources she had available to her to get from a bad place to a safe place, repeating that life or death journey to help as many people as possible,” Livingstone explained. “In that spirit was how and why our 501(c)(3) non-profit: Black Packerz Crew became a reality.”

Borrowing from the African proverb of “each one teaches one,” both Pierce and Livingstone’s motto for “Black Packerz” is, “If we have learned it, we can teach it.”

They both have acquired years’ worth of certifications in readiness and preparedness; they have become certified to teach by organizations that teach thousands, including certifications in first-aid, CPR, AED, and BLS.

They have also become certified instructors through the American Heart Association.

The duo has also become well trained in firearm safety, a byproduct of extensive years of training and certifications from NAAGA and USCCA to teach concealed carry, firearm safety, and firearm basics.

Ultimately, Black Packerz students are taught that being a “Black Packer” is a lifestyle — a lifestyle that ensures that its practitioners are constantly learning. “This a journey, a process,” Pierce said.

The first class they offered was titled, “G.E.T O.U.T.” In this introductory course, students learn basic survival skills like self-defense and wilderness training for zero to 12-hour emergencies. Additionally, courses explore firearm safety, firearm cleaning, CPR, home defense, and emergency preparedness. They also offer courses for women.

Livingstone shared that Black Packerz has adopted a 10-year plan to emerge as a national firm providing life skills, CPR, and firearm safety training to African American families. Additionally, the duo plans to engage in local legislation to assist with decreasing the number of domestic violence victims.

Since the pandemic began, the national sale of firearms being purchased in the US has seen a 78 percent increase. Additionally, according to the NICS in the state of Georgia, the number of firearm background checks has doubled in the month of June to 106,541 from only 52,557 in January.

Further, with residential fires leading to 70.1 percent of fatalities and 75 percent injuries in Georgia, African American citizens should all set aside time for training to ensure that they all are able to get out and get home—as that is always the goal, Pierce said.

“If the whole family understands safety, then the whole family should be involved in training,” he explained. “Then, if and/or when an emergency happens — even if it’s not as dramatic as a home invasion, medical assistance, missing child, or a fire — the whole family being trained in all forms of emergency preparedness ensures that anyone and everyone in the family can also save Grandma if needed.”

Black Packerz, an Atlanta-based emergency preparedness and consulting firm, teaches a number of courses related to survival skills, including this self-defense class for women. (Courtesy / Black Packerz)

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