Why COVID-19 is a Social Justice Issue
May 15, 2020
By: Jai Phillips, Program Officer, Youth Development
People are like gardens: they require the right seeds to be planted, watered and nurtured in order to grow, but if neglected, will never produce the full harvest of their potential. For decades, Black people have been starved of the investments, the systems of care and quality environments that are needed for sustained, healthy growth and development as a people. For even a rose, as the writer Nikki Giovanni reminds us, can bloom from the concrete, if we give it the resources, care and love it deserves.
Crisis of Justice and Equity
For Black communities all over the country the COVID-19 pandemic is more than just a health crisis, it’s a social justice issue that highlights decades of disinvestment and marginalization. The long history of systemic racism in our country has led not only to economic disparities but to poorer health outcomes for Black people. Factors such as poverty, incarceration, violence, environmental exposure and lack of access to healthy food options and healthcare influence the quality and life expectancy of any individual, making them more vulnerable when a crisis occurs.
This moment challenges philanthropy to be reflective so we can take an active role in healing the harm and transforming society. Our response should include investing in building power through advocacy, organizing and leadership development. Recovery should not be the end goal, but rather a reimagining of the systems, policies and laws that discriminate to protect future generations from being perpetually harmed by a never-ending cycle of social and economic neglect.
In the United States, Black people experience chronic illnesses at much higher rates. Nearly 15 percent of African Americans have diabetes compared with 8 percent of whites. Black children have a 260 percent higher emergency department visit rate, a 250 percent higher hospitalization rate, and a 500 percent higher death rate from asthma compared to white children.* There are similar health disparities in immigrant communities. Environmental factors such as high pollution, lack of access to healthy food options, fewer recreational areas and green spaces where to exercise, fuel the underlying stress and trauma. Additionally, Black and Brown people make up much of our essential service industry workers who are driving our buses, preparing our food, stocking our shelves and cleaning our homes and businesses.
Understand the Past and Choose a New Future
It is important to understand the ubiquitous nature of racism and its historical lineage across various communities of color. The devastating effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws, colonialism and resource-driven conflict have been documented, yet we can do more to challenge the notions of racial hierarchy that supported and sustained these ills.
While an artificial hierarchy of human value formed the systemic racism that produced these inequitable conditions and outcomes, we can stop and refuse to go along with the systems that are failing us. We can make new choices. The choice to believe and invest in the capacity of people and communities. The choice to match the resources to the size of the issue and solutions needed. The choice to grow and nurture our garden of humanity.
Choose the Right Investments
I am reminded of President Obama’s words at the 2018 Obama Foundation Summit, “One of the mistakes all young organizers make—certainly I did when I was young—is to think that societies will change on our timetable. While we should be impatient about injustice—while we should seek to challenge it at every opportunity—the truth is that creating lasting change takes time. It takes effort. And most importantly, it takes listening to our families, our neighbors, and our friends.” Investment is key when building equity within any community. At California Community Foundation our partnerships to build initiatives like BLOOM, LASIF- YMOC, PAT and Ready to Rise has allowed us to learn and grow. We believe foundations should not lead by themselves, but rather should partner with leaders who are closest to the communities we serve. Though community organizations know the landscape and the population, they may not have the infrastructure and the resources to implement what needs to be done—so we must support them to build the necessary capacity and infrastructure.
Reimagining Beyond Recovery
Let’s bring a social justice lens to every solution and listen to our community when choices are being made that can impact their livelihood. We have a responsibility to use our platform to speak about harms to Black people and advocate for equity-based investments. In that spirit let’s use an intersectional and cross sector approach to address the root causes of our challenges by centering on an institution-and-infrastructure-building approach to funding nonprofits. Strong Black-led institutions, alliances, coalitions, groups and individuals are more important than ever while we work with government to identify and transform the structural biases holding our communities back. As we begin to reimagine our post COVID-19 reality, we must keep each other accountable to this important work so we create systems and institutions that will build a better Los Angeles for everyone.
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Excellent article. Thank you for your insight and leadership with addressing systemic and structural racial and race based inequities, and their disparate impacts on communities of color. The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated disparities that often are discounted and/or muted.