Have you taken time to take stock of your well-being, to listen to the voice grieving for connection with those you are unable to physically touch due to social distancing mandates?
This is a time to take a moment to pause and take inventory of who we are as a community. We get to see each other’s true colors, including the systems that make up our society. Things are happening so fast, and the word “essential” has taken on a whole new meaning.
You may have all kinds of thoughts and feelings about what is happening right now, most of which are valid. What you may not know is what will happen next—for you, your neighbors, and your friends. This pandemic is impacting marginalized communities in so many ways, and we’re only beginning to touch the surface of its impact.
Recent data around the COVID-19 outbreak, which does not discriminate based on race, shows it is disproportionately affecting Black communities across the country. In cities like Chicago and Detroit, Black folks makeup 70% and 40% of deaths, respectively, due to complications of the virus, which is disproportionately higher than the population rate. This shines a bright light, as Dr. Fauci (director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) stated in a briefing on April 7, 2020, on the health disparities within the Black community. Diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma are underlying issues that increase the risk of severe complications in those who become infected with the virus.
However, saying that the prevalence of these health issues among African Americans is due only to lifestyle choices, genetics, and other factors overlooks the historical conditions in which Black Americans have had to survive.
Over the past 100 years, our communities have been red lined, disinvested in, isolated, and subject to discrimination in all forms. Our urban core Black communities have poor air quality due to industries such as metal recycling plants polluting our air, which can cause asthma, respiratory problems, and other health issues. The lack of healthy food options in African American neighborhoods and over-saturation of fast-food restaurants and unhealthy dining choices leads to higher obesity rates. Add to that the over-policing of the Black community and safety issues that result from the lack of economic and educational opportunities experienced by many African Americans leads to the prevalence of underlying health issues, as well as mental and emotional health challenges.
All of this has been brought forward over the years with slow to little response from our systems. Only when the issues are exacerbated to an extreme state is there any acknowledgment that there is a problem. Now is the time to address these issues head-on with real solutions.
The African American community cannot continue to be an afterthought in solution development. What works for the mainstream population doesn’t necessarily work for us, and the time for debate is over. We need to be listened to, and we need solutions focused on our needs to come from our community, including the systems we must interact with.
Whether it is computers, tools, and resources for our families (needed to learn remotely); or Universal Basic Income for workers or employees and entrepreneurs that are forced to close to flatten the curve of the pandemic, we need specific and direct solutions.
Despite all this, you’re not alone in your experience of this public health issue. You have an entire community around you ready to step up and be part of the solution.
All you need to do is your part, not as an individual but as part of a larger collective—that collective includes the African American community and Indigenous and People of Color communities that are suffering during this time. It’s not enough for you and yours to be all right; let’s stop that thinking because it doesn’t serve any of us in the long run.
Let us work together to not only recover from this pandemic but also to address the underlying issues that have made our community vulnerable in the first place.
When you’re developing policy, allocating resources, or organizing in support of the community during this time, ask yourself if you’ve done what you can to bring the collective African American community voice to the solutions table. And if you did, what did you do to ensure our voice was received and incorporated into the solution. If you haven’t, this isn’t a time to shame yourself or garner pity; take the next right steps to make a difference.
As the old proverb goes: the best time to have planted a tree was 20 years ago, and the next best time is now.
Marcus Owens is the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum.