NAACP and BET’s four-part initiative examines how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting African Americans. The series, titled “Unmasked: A COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall,” looks at the federal response to the pandemic, plus the economic impact and mental health toll on communities of color.
“Loving others is anchored in how we love ourselves. So my question is: How are you doing? Are you loving yourself? Are you making sure that you are well and healthy? How are you dealing with your own stress?” asked Robert Brace, spiritual wellness coach during the first tele-townhall. “Never before has the state of our own health been inherently tied to the health of our neighbors.”
Black Americans are dying from coronavirus at far higher rates than their white peers.
By mid-April, Black residents in Louisiana made up 70 percent of coronavirus deaths. In Alabama they accounted for 44 percent of deaths. In Michigan, Black residents were 41 percent of coronavirus deaths. Black people made up approximately 70 percent of Chicago residents who have died from coronavirus. And in Milwaukee County, Wis., Black residents made up 81 percent of coronavirus deaths.
“Remember when the country gets a cold, the Black community gets pneumonia,” said Oliver Tate Brooks, MD, president of the National Medical Association. He referred to the global virus as a “slow time bomb.”
Brooks noted that following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations could flatten the curve of the outbreak so the healthcare system won’t continue to be overwhelmed. The CDC recommends handwashing, cooperating with states’ stay-at-home orders and wearing a face mask in public. He pointed out that 1 in 4 coronavirus carriers are asymptomatic.
“It hit and now it’s exploding like an extended release pill. You take it and it just grows and grows in your body,” said Brooks.
The coronavirus pandemic has also had an outsized negative financial impact on African Americans, who have historically been relegated to low-wage jobs. A survey conducted by BET found that 54 percent of Black American adults reported that they are in need of help with their bills and 50 percent said they were in need of food assistance
“This COVID-19 virus is compounding the preexisting health and financial vulnerabilities that many African Americans face,” said Scott Mills, president and CEO of BET Networks. “It’s showing up in the infection and death rates that are far exceeding the rest of the population and it’s also showing up in the adverse financial consequences that are impacting our community disproportionately.”
In response to the alarming statistics, BET Networks partnered with United Way Worldwide, a nonprofit fundraising organization, to create an emergency relief fund for African Americans affected by COVID-19. It aired a special broadcast called “Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort” to help raise funds.
In 2017, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) conducted a survey that found the number one concern for Black Americans was wealth creation. “Many of us have not recovered from the economic recession of 2008,” said U.S. Representative Karen Bass, chair of the CBC, during the town hall. Bass noted that because of the pandemic and the past economic crisis, many minorities are worried about losing their churches and small businesses. As a response, the CBC is looking to draft specific legislation for communities of color.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also referenced the CARES Act, a $2 trillion relief fund passed by Congress. Households began receiving stimulus checks to help with rent, food and utilities the week of April 12. The House passed a second $484 billion stimulus package April 23 which increased funding for small businesses and hospitals.
“We want to use this coronavirus crisis as a way to just say we’re realigning,” said Pelosi. “It’s a lot different from now on.”
— Mariah Stewart