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We are not all in this together

By Jamala Rogers, April 12, 2020

If people are saying this because they think we should be or they hope we will be, they need to say it exactly so. U.S. history has shown us that we have never been all together in this country and the COVID virus is not the magical super glue to start putting us together now. Still, there are some concrete actions fair-minded people can do to move us closer towards genuine togetherness. The virus has done its job of highlighting our human interdependence.

To date, I believe the St. Louis Region is the only major city where all the COVID-19 deaths have been Black folks—proof that all things aren’t equal if just one racial group is dying. This alarming news has made its way into headlines around the country. So much so, I had friends contacting me to ask if I was OK. No I don’t have the virus, I said, but I ain’t OK.

Some of us knew African Americans would be disproportionately impacted by the virus. Many more have since found that out. I outlined this reality in my featured St. Louis American column, Coronavirus in black and green. For the people who want us to all be together, we got some serious work to do. It may sound noble but we’re not ready yet to harmonize on “We are the World.”

First, I’m suggesting that we revisit two groundbreaking reports. One is For the Sake of Alland the other is Forward Through Ferguson. For the Sake of All was published in 2014 after an 18-month research collaborative by major stakeholders. The report graphically underscored how the health and well-being of African Americans affects the entire region.

The Ferguson Commission Report illuminated factors that helped contributed to the explosive uprising in 2014 after the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson cop Darren Wilson. The proverbial ink from the Sake of All report hadn’t even dried before the region erupted into flames. The region spent another 18 months looking at the contributing factors, which mirrored the previous report.

 Dr. Jason Purnell (Sake of All) and Rev. Starsky Wilson (Ferguson Commission) did their human best to get public attention on the reports that might lead to community action on the recommendations. Dr. Purnell is still working to operationalize the recs through Health Equity Works. The implementation of the Ferguson recs are now in the capable hands of David Dwight at Forward Through Ferguson (FTF).

I keep thinking:  Where would our region be six years later if we had taken any of the reports seriously? Would the gaps in our health care system be methodically closing? Would communities placed in risk have access to information and services to make better decisions about their lifestyle and health?

Six years is not a lot of time to reverse decades of racial and economic inequalities. However, by now we should see some forward motion on something! None of the recommendations from either report were unrealistic—unless you believe that poor or Black folks are not worthy  of such resources and time.

For example, the FTF action steps to Increasing Access to Care are expanding Medicaid eligibility, providing gap coverage and increasing more access through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

The Sake of All report reminds us that there are real challenges to Black folks making a personal choice to lead a healthy lifestyle. This is contrary to the clueless U.S. Surgeon General telling us to simply stop doing “alcohol, tobacco and drugs.”

A section in the above report relates to where we are with COVID-19. It’s the recommendation to “coordinate and expand chronic and infectious disease prevention and management.” It talks about the human cost for the region if we don’t invest or when we fail to address barriers to health in medical settings. In short, this gets to the heart of decreasing the racial gap in health disparities.

It’s been all laid out for us. Before the pandemic. Now we’re running around like headless chickens and the black bodies keep piling up.

There is plenty of room for finger pointing. Some people strongly believe that our elected officials have failed us. This is valid. We’ve given them control of our tax dollars to help us in times like this. They also get valuable information that never quite makes it into a comprehensive coordinated response.

That brings the action to us, we The People. We need to bring the fire where it’s appropriate. A new website has identified areas of concern that reflect gaps and policy conflicts that need more than lip service. For most areas, there’s a petition that goes to the right person. Sign them and spread the word. That’s as simple an action that we can take while stuck in the house. It’s a starting point to get us to the next steps.

Michael Jackson told us there comes a time when we must heed the call. When people are dying, it’s time to come together. He cautioned us to stop pretending that someone else is going to make the change. It’s on us because we are the world.

This pandemic requires all able-bodied people to act. It cannot stop with the pandemic. If we build the momentum during these terrible times, there’s no doubt the region and the country will be in a much better place beyond the ravages of COVID-19. Only then we can truly say we’re in this together because we are in the same fight for racial equity and economic justice.

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