Living in the Shadow of COVID 2: Caring for Our Communities

I ended our Mother’s Day FaceTime conversation with my son telling me to be careful and stay safe. As I sat in my solitude, I thought about the irony of him telling me to be careful and stay safe as that had been my mantra to him for years.
I grew up learning that to be Black in America, especially if you were male, was tantamount to walking around with a target on your back. My parents talked to us, but especially to my brother, about Emmett Till, James Chaney, and other African Americans who had been killed just for being Black. We were warned repeatedly of the dangers just for living while Black.
From the day I had to let my son go out into the world, his safety has been paramount. We had had “the talk” several times, increasing its urgency as he grew into manhood. When he moved to Chicago to attend college, we talked about it recognizing he was as much at risk from the campus police for being Black on a predominantly white campus as he was hanging out on the southside at parties or clubs.
When he moved to New York again for school, we had the talk after unarmed Amadou Diallo was killed by four New York City police officers.
I’m supposed to tell him to be careful and stay safe but because of COVID-19 we closed our Mother’s Day conversation not at I love you but with, “Please be careful and be safe Mom!”
I understand his concern. I am an older, African American woman, living in the Metro Detroit area, which has been recognized as one of the hotspots in this pandemic. In Michigan, deaths from the virus as in many urban areas across the country have disproportionately affected the African American community. Over 40 percent of Michiganders that have died from the COVID-19 virus are African American, a racial demographic that makes up only 14 percent of the state’s population.
I get it! I’m staying indoors as much as possible. When I go out, I wear a mask and gloves and practice social distancing. That’s taking care of me, but how do I/we take care of our community?
Battling this pandemic has turned a spotlight on systemic disparities that we in the Black/Brown/LGBTQ community have known all along. Poverty, inadequate access to health care, food disparity immediately come to mind, but drilling down that there is so much more.
LGBTQ people collectively have a poverty rate of 21.6 percent, which is much higher than the rate for cisgender straight people. Among racial and ethnic groups, African Americans have the highest poverty rate, 27.4 percent, followed by Hispanics at 26.6 percent. Workers earning poverty-level wages are disproportionately female, Black, Brown or between the ages of 18 to 25 years of age.
Essential employees stocking shelves, providing care for the elderly/infirmed in facilities and homes, along with the baristas, waitstaff and others we take for granted every day, they often don’t make a living wage or have sick time. Schools are closed and many have not only to deal with childcare but homeschooling.
What about the children? A high percentage of young black children — under age 6 — live in poverty. Many of these children relied on schools for one-to-two meals a day. And although we think everyone has access to the internet, broadband is not available to many. The education gap between children from the most disadvantaged homes and their peers is now at its highest level, and it has been for more than a decade.
And while many folks complain about having to wear a mask at Kroger with its one-way aisles for social distancing, others don’t have a store to go to in their neighborhood. The Michigan Department of Agriculture has labeled 19 Detroit neighborhoods as food deserts that lack access to quality and affordable food.
While mainstream media has bombarded us with statistics, images of fools marching on Lansing or more concerned about their personal freedom than spreading the virus and those daily briefings of misinformation from the White House, there have been heroes/angels working at the grassroots level.
I’ve seen the best coming from my communities. We are delivering food to those who are house-bound and/or collecting food for distribution. We are setting up hotspots so children can have access to the internet and study from home. We are driving by in car caravans so special birthdays and other occasions are acknowledged. We are putting money — sometimes from those stimulus checks — on others’ Cash Apps. And we are sitting down together virtually, putting aside differences, to find ways to get resources to those doing the work.
I don’t know what the days ahead might bring as we come out from this pandemic, what normal will be. I do know this: I want to be careful and safe, but I want to live in a community where we are all cared for and safe. The good news is I’m not alone!

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