The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Surely now is such a time of challenge and controversy – a time when inequity and injustice in our society are jarringly on display. Just a few short weeks ago, America witnessed a group of White Nationalists with confederate flags storm the steps of the Michigan State Capitol demanding that the state reopen its economy, while the police stood by peacefully. No one was arrested, no one was injured, no one was abused or mistreated, and no one died.
A few weeks later, the nation once again is faced with the reality that there is a very different America for people of color. In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death last week at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers; the death of Ahmaud Arbery, an avid jogger shot to death by two vigilantes in Georgia; the death of Breonna Taylor, an EMT worker shot to death in her own home in Kentucky; and countless others killed by the police that have not received media attention like Sean Reed, Tony McDade and Nina Pop; we as a nation are once again confronted with the reality that institutional racism has created two, very different Americas.
Adding to the travesty of another black man dying at the hands of the state, COVID-19 has shone a bright light on how structural racism kills people of color at an alarming rate. In Chicago, African Americans represent approximately thirty percent of the population, but account for approximately fifty percent of the positive cases of COVID-19 infections and over sixty percent of the deaths. At Equal Hope, many of our staff have seen first-hand how COVID 19 is killing Black and Brown Chicagoans at alarming rates. One of us has lost six close family members, twenty-three members of her church, and nearly ten neighbors from the disease. This is tragic beyond words; I simply do not know what to say.
Health inequity and racial injustice have torn at the fabric of American society for hundreds of years. When a wound forms over an infection without that infection being addressed, it festers and poisons the body as a whole. For too long, the disease of racism has festered and been inadequately addressed. To heal, we as a society need to address the inequity and bias at the core of our society. Beyond words, we need real action.
We have an opportunity to rebuild out of the ashes, to rise from the devastation of the COVID 19 pandemic but we should not return to the old normal. As former President Barack Obama in his statement on the death of George Floyd said “Being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal” – whether it’s while dealing with the healthcare system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.”
Now is a time for action and reimagining our society. Arundhati Roy suggested that “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”
Equal Hope is dedicated to fighting healthcare injustice and taking action to create a better tomorrow for people of color in Metro Chicago. Root causes of health disparities are many and we do not suggest we have all the answers. One cause of health disparities that has been seen more visibly recently is that so many Chicagoans, Black and Brown Chicagoans in particular, are disconnected from the healthcare system. Far too many people do not have a regular doctor – a doctor who knows them, a doctor they trust and can help them be as healthy as possible. When the public service announcements tell you to talk to your doctor about COVID 19 symptoms, but you don’t have a doctor – who do you call? When you don’t have a regular doctor you are far more likely to have undiagnosed and untreated health problems. These illnesses, when coupled with COVID-19, may be deadly. Later this month, Equal Hope is launching a new initiative to help our clients and others, many of whom live in the communities most deeply impacted by this pandemic, find and build a relationship with a regular doctor – establishing a medical home. It is perhaps a small step forward but it is a start in addressing the disparities in health outcomes. Before we have a second or third wave of COVID 19, it is the right time to try to help as many as possible to find a regular doctor and a medical home.
Equal Hope will also be collaborating with other organizations on their efforts to break down structural racism and to rebuild a new, more equitable normal. As we attempt to address the structural racism that has stained our national consciousness since America’s inception, let’s figure out how to put our values over our own comforts, for that is the only way we can honestly deal with the true causes of our national pain.