The COVID-19 pandemic has bought to the forefront the great American divide and the racial fault line of the haves and the have-nots. Thus, it is prudent for the leadership in the black community to speak with one unequivocal voice of outrage.
For years, the health disparities between the well-to-do classes and the black masses have been published, cited and debated. We have grown accustomed to hearing dire health statistics on the African-American community but have seen no sustainable actions taken. We have also grown complacent in seeing no additional new financial resources allocated to level the health and wellness playing field.
We have been studied. But a study is only useful when it is followed by meaningful action to alleviate the focus of the study. If this isn’t achieved, then a well-financed study at best becomes the domain of academic literature used as the academy sees fit or at worst thrown into the trash pile of yet another example of governmental inaction.
The vulnerability of our communities to this pandemic should be widely circulated and discussed. To keep data shrouded in secrecy or partially concealed is a crime of the highest order. It would be yet another blatant example of institutional racism.
Our community must speak with a united voice by creating a broad alliance with other progressive communities. This alliance must make a frontal attack on not only the coronavirus health disparity but on all related health issues impacting the black community. We need to demand that our state, county and city health officials provide us with accurate information on the COVID-19 infection rate in the African-American community – the ethnic and racial demographics related to testing, hospital stay, treatment modalities, outcomes and the death rate.
We need to demand that a significant portion of the federal $2.3 trillion in stimulus spending be used to address the health issues of African-American and other marginalized communities. We need to demand that federally qualified health centers such as Betty Jean Kerr People’s Health Centers and CareSTL Health and local hospitals be provided with surplus financial and medical resources to handle the surge of patient services related to coronavirus and the related explosion of chronic illnesses impacting vulnerable populations.
We need to demand that community schools, that have been closed, be re-opened and restructured as community testing and treatment sites. And we need to demand that community and grassroot organizations such as Better Family Life be provided with the financial resources to mobilize marginalized communities on the ways and means of protecting ourselves from contracting the novel coronavirus, how to gradually reduce chronic diseases and preventable illnesses, better ways to manage pre-existing health issues, and practical guidelines of achieving optimum health outcomes.
Protective healthcare, the de-escalation of community gun violence along with economic empowerment, criminal justice reform, and environmental justice are some of the new fronts of a revitalized human and civil rights struggle. We must organize the black masses to stand up for equitable treatment.
Malik Ahmed is CEO of Better Family Life.