Whether better or worse than the ‘old normal’ remains to be seen
Part two of a continuing story
The national NAACP is holding virtual town hall meetings throughout the month of April to discuss the health, economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s Black communities.
In addition to providing excerpts from these meetings as they occur over the coming weeks, the MSR also is talking to others both locally and nationally about the impact the coronavirus outbreak is having or may have on our local Black community.
This week: addressing communities’ spiritual and mental states.
We are daily reminded of the mortality toll the COVID-19 outbreak has had on America in general and on the Black community in particular. Less is known of the toll the stay-at-home orders since late March has had and continues to exact on the community’s spiritual and mental state in these uncertain days.
The NAACP’s new Faith Forward Initiative “to acknowledge and lift up the role of religious institutions as beacons of hope, healing, and as direct service providers in communities all across the country and world” was formed earlier this month.
“There is a need to be social, to be connected with others, and for those not used to being alone, this can be very painful psychologically,” said Bishop Richard Howell, pastor of Shiloh Temple International Ministries.
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His church and others have resorted to holding “virtual” services for the past several weeks: “I’ve seen in the faith community a better response to faith at a time when perhaps faith could have been a little waning when the pandemic hit us,” Howell told the MSR.
“Our concern is that the faith community remains strong and encouraged, not lose hope and faith in a pandemic that is unprecedented in our history.” Howell added that he is “amazed by the number of people that are watching us” through social media.
The Pew Research Center, a national non-partisan group, recently found through a survey that four in 10 Americans attend “virtual” religious services, and 59% say their religious habits have changed due to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that Blacks (22%) and Latinos (29%), and persons ages 50-64 (18%) were the top three groups who attend at least two services a month.
“As faith leaders, we have tried to encourage people…to follow our governor’s orders and stay home,” Howell continued. “That is unusual for many because isolation definitely can set in where people don’t know what to do with their time and their energy. But we as a faith community are very encouraged that good things will come out of this.”
Mental health “is taking its time in the spotlight” during this crisis, American Medical Association President Dr. Patrice Harris of the American Medical Association said April 15 during the second in a series of NAACP virtual town hall meetings. Not being able to leave home or perform regular activities can be stressful, and can lead to more anxiety, she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide rates have increased by 9% among Black males and 65% among Black females of all ages from 1999 to 2017. Suicide is among the 10 leading causes of death and the second-leading cause of death for youth and young adults ages 10-34, the CDC reports. “Pre-COVID-19 we have a woefully underfunded mental health system in this country,” Harris said.
Nationally renowned author and motivational speaker Ivlana Vanzant suggested, “We have to be creative, faith-filled and focused” in dealing with the crisis. “I’d rather be in the house for five weeks than be in the grave for eternity.”
Turning Point, Inc. Founder-President Peter Hayden said that stay-home-orders have forced his substance abuse treatment center to adjust how they meet their clients’ needs. “We’re open,” he affirmed. “We can’t take as many clients as we normally could, because we had to rearrange our building” due to social distancing guidelines,” he said.
“We are following all of the rules from the state and the governor” and adjusting normal business hours to maintain Turning Point’s services for existing clients, Hayden said, adding that visitors—even clients’ family members—aren’t allowed inside the building at this time. “You have to call in.”
Both Hayden and Howell predict there will be a new normal for everyone in post-COVID America. “The pandemic is not going to eradicate the disparities,” Bishop Howell stressed, “but something brand new could come out of this, a new normal that we can be more community and really looking out for each other.”
“We got to culturally retrain ourselves no matter what,” Hayden said, noting that the time-honored custom of shaking hands might be a thing of the past. “I personally feel from a psychological point of view that we can retrain ourselves, but it is going to take time, because there is so much that we have in a handshake. Your handshake is a part of your heart.”
“We have to draw on something different than what we are accustomed to, but we can do this,” Vanzant surmised. “We have to prepare ourselves for a new normal. We have to…do things a new way.”
Next week: We will look at the coronavirus impact on the often forgotten members of the Black community.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.