Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had always been a refuge for Langston and Sabrina Galloway — a college town that has inspired generations of athletic greatness. Langston’s father played high school ball there and ultimately went to training camp with Julius Erving and the New York Nets; Sabrina’s father played football at LSU.
When Langston was a local basketball star, and Sabrina a volleyball standout, they met through a mutual friend.
“You knew your neighbors, you know your church family,” Sabrina said. “That saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? That’s kind of how the South is. It’s a melting pot already, Louisiana is. You go anywhere, someone’s gonna say hello to you.”
Baton Rouge was spared some of Louisiana’s recent traumas. The worst of Hurricane Katrina missed by 80 miles or so. Hurricane Gustav came three years later but is mainly remembered for knocking out the power for a couple of weeks.
But one summer upended Baton Rouge unlike ever before.
It began with a professional peak for Langston: Undrafted in 2014, he worked his way up from the NBA D-League to earn a two-year, $10 million deal (with a player option in Year 2) to play close to home with the New Orleans Pelicans.
On July 5, 2016, the day before he officially agreed with the Pelicans, though, trauma struck. Alton Sterling, an unarmed black man, was killed after being pinned to the ground by two white police officers and was shot by at least one of them. Less than two weeks later, three officers were fatally shot and three more were wounded.
“So much stuff has happened in so many other places,” said Sabrina, whose late father was a police officer, “but for it to happen at home really made it more surreal.”
“This Baton Rouge,” Langston said. “Little ol’ Baton Rouge.”
“That’s the police force my dad worked for,” Sabrina said.
One month later in August, while Langston trained in Los Angeles, the disarray continued.
Rainfall, estimated at 6.9 trillion gallons of water in the span of one week, affected more than 60,000 homes, led to an estimated $30 million in damage, and caused 13 deaths in what is now widely considered the worst U.S. natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“It’s just supposed to rain,” Sabrina said. “The rivers and the canals are supposed to fill up and deposit, fill up and deposit. But then they’re not depositing. They’re about to breach.
“My mom has been in her house for 30 years and she didn’t even have flood insurance. No one in my neighborhood had flood insurance, because they’ve been there for 30 years and it’s not in the flood zone. But they got 4 feet of water, so clearly it is in a flood zone now.”
Langston was in Los Angeles, training for his first season as a Pelican.
“This is our family, these are our friends that got directly affected,” Sabrina said. “Lang was in L.A. and was just like, ‘What can I do? What can I do?'”
“When the flood happened,” Langston said, “we just wanted to be a part of [helping out]. At first we didn’t know what we should do.”
They started with those they knew best. As Langston worried from afar, group texts among friends and family began. Soon, Sabrina was heading to Walmart to buy cleaning supplies, pulling out wet carpet, knocking down sheet rock. Langston’s childhood home withstood the rain, but Sabrina’s mother’s house was submerged in water the height of a preteen.
“She has walls now, but she’s still not back in it,” Sabrina said.
The Galloways donated $25,000 to the East Baton Rouge school board toward technology, school supplies and uniforms. Langston had held a basketball camp for grades 5-12 there before the storm, and the Pelicans visited a Red Cross shelter at the end of August.
“I know how it is to start school with your three shorts and your four shirts,” Sabrina said. “It’s like, ‘If I don’t have that, my goodness. What am I gonna do?'”
But the Galloways think the aftermath of the flood ultimately brought out the best in their community.
“Baton Rouge is a city that’s very resilient,” Sabrina says. “It’s unfortunate that we had to see both sides, with the police officers getting killed as well as an unarmed black man getting killed again. It’s a trying time, but with the flood happening and seeing the city unify over tragedy made a big circle. It’s coming together. There’s a brighter future.”
The Galloways say there’s still work to be done, and to do their part they intend to open a foundation with the goal of helping schools and students.
To emphasize the point, Langston flashed back to a conversation he had with his mother-in-law when the storm’s damage first came into focus.
“I just kept telling [Sabrina’s] mom, trying to calm her down, saying, ‘This is going to be a long process,'” Galloway says. “I’ve been telling the school systems, too. So we’re definitely in it for the long haul.”