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An all-star panel of local experts discuss COVID-19’s impact on Black community

April 27, 2020 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
The fourth installment of “Don’t Let Democracy Die,” a weekly online series started by PA State Senator Vincent Hughes (7th Senatorial District) to address the specific impacts of COVID-19 on the Black community, took place Saturday, April 25, via a Zoom conference.

Hughes was joined in conversation by a panel of venerable guests, experts representing a range of sectors and disciplines affected by the pandemic including education, labor and economics.

Panelists included Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League; Barbara Arnwine, founder and president of the Transformative Justice Coalition; Dr. Priscilla Mpasi, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia pediatrician and co-chairwoman of the Women’s Physician’s Council of the National Medical Association; Harold Epps, of Bellevue Strategies and former commerce director for the City of Philadelphia; Chris Woods, executive vice president of 1199C; Donna Frisby-Greenwood, president and CEO of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia; and Hughes’ wife, actress and activist Sheryl E. Ralph.

While no one is immune to coronavirus or its wide-ranging effects, some preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control suggests that Black and Latinx communities are infected at greater rates than other racial and ethnic groups, and are dying at disproportionate rates.

"It has been said that, ‘When America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia.' I don’t know what we get when it’s a pandemic."
Harold Epps

They are also being hit harder economically as rates of unemployment and food scarcity rise. Underlying all this are the systemic socio-economic inequalities that have historically disadvantaged these communities.

“It has been said that, ‘When America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia,’” said Epps. “I don’t know what we get when it’s a pandemic.”

This exposure of the extreme vulnerabilities of communities of color is leading to more searching for answers. Just as there is still no cure-all for the coronavirus, no quick fix exists for inequality. However, mobilization, information and knowledge sharing, as well as collective organized action were offered as long-term and ongoing approaches.

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“If we’re not strong, not loud, not demanding, it is easy for us to be marginalized or rolled, meaning rolled over,” Morial said.

Later in the conversation, in response to a submitted question regarding whether there might be summer educational programs available for Philadelphia public school students, Hughes emphatically echoed a similar sentiment: “What are you gonna do? Are you gonna stand up and demand it?”

The panel of participants identified the following potential solutions to areas of concern:

  • Guaranteeing protections for frontline and essential workers;
  • Increasing and equitably distributing testing;
  • Retaining already limited diversity in new and media;
  • Ensuring structural support  for voter registration and voter contact systems.

The latter is particularly important in ensuring that Black voters turnout in crucial upcoming elections that can help solidify political influence to mitigate some of these other issues. According to Arnwine, Black participation in both mail-in elections and representation in new voter registration have significantly declined.

Taking personal accountability towards greater community self-determination was the final takeaway.

“We gotta be nimble, we gotta be flexible, and we have to support each other,” Epps said.

Ralph added: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

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The full videos of each episode of the  “Don’t Let Democracy Die” series can be found on Sen. Hughes’ Facebook page.

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