Whenever there is a crisis in the United States, African Americans across the country reflect on the axiom that has never failed: “When white America catches a cold, black America catches a cold.” pneumonia ”. In the first half of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought us to our knees; then the justified outrage over the murder of George Floyd brought us back to our feet. We who have dedicated our lives to addressing the challenges plaguing African American communities knew that this time around the worst case scenarios were more deadly than pneumonia and would extend far beyond Minneapolis, Minn.
These double crises challenged us in unprecedented ways and left us no other choice but to commit to demanding change in all places and spaces where inequalities persist.
As the Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute (CBCI), it is my responsibility to bring together other problem solvers and change agents for meaningful conversations about the issues that keep us awake at night. I say “meaningful” and I really mean it – the conversations we have are more than just discussions. For more than two decades, under the leadership of our Board Chairman, Representative Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, CBCI’s annual policy conference has brought together influential local, state and national policymakers, private sector leaders and civil society actors. to address our most pressing challenges and offer viable solutions to the problems preventing upward mobility in African American communities. Nicknamed “Tunica” (in honor of the host city of the Mississippi Delta which welcomes us each August), our gathering does not shy away from difficult questions, quite the contrary; we are looking for them. While the COVID-19 pandemic kept us from meeting in Tunica this year, it didn’t stop us from getting together virtually and opening the conversation for free to anyone who wanted to join us. The changes we are demanding are too big to postpone until the pandemic subsides.
Our theme in August was “Black in America: A Public Health Crisis,” which focused on the disparate impact of COVID-19 and the barriers to equal treatment by law enforcement in communities. African American. We have brought together the most influential voices of these current crises, from the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony FauciAnthony FauciGeorge W. Bush and Bono praise Fauci in Johnson & Johnson’s HIV Vaccine Trial Failed Trailer on NatGeo Watch Live: COVID-19 Response Team the White House holds a press briefing PLUS, civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump and NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson, the students, community activists and members of Congress who have joined us virtually.
Over two days of meaningful conversations, expert leaders approached the pandemic from angles that do not make the headlines. What are the roots and lingering myths around vaccine reluctance in black communities? Is the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated by co-morbidities that disproportionately affect African Americans due to the inequalities and lack of access to health care that predate COVID-19 by centuries? There were no simple answers to these questions, which is the nature of the real challenges. While we would have liked to find a comprehensive solution during our two-day conference, we recognized that the experience of black people in the country is diverse and that we are not a monolith. What decreases the reluctance to vaccinate in Tunica, Mississippi, may not be the same solution for Brooklyn, NY
We asked the tough questions about the interactions between law enforcement and African Americans that disproportionately end in an all too often violent escalation. One of our panelists, Leon Lott, Sheriff of Richland County, South Carolina, where I grew up, frankly admitted, “We need to better train our officers. They need to understand that when you meet someone, start with de-escalation tactics early on. Soledad O’Brien, award-winning journalist and our moderator Tunica challenged us to think about what “funding the police” really means since the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. NAACP President Johnson l ‘ called it a clumsy slogan seized by conservative law to taint the real motives for police reform in our country. There was a broad consensus that African Americans want to be protected by police, not targets, regardless of what may or may not work on a bumper sticker.
Some wonder if all the noble speeches we are making could ever spark real action. To those skeptics, I say look at what we have already accomplished over the past year and a half. For example, in early 2021, CBCI partnered with the East Bay Community Foundation, the National Minority Quality Forum, and Kaiser Permanente Community Health to find a more effective way to reach African American communities with information and the resources they needed to fight the covid pandemic19. Our approach to capacity building at the local level makes good sense, but sadly rare. Our partnership has allocated more than $ 2.4 million to more than two dozen faith and community groups in California, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Washington, DC. aiming to decrease the transmission of COVID-19 to vaccinations, hundreds of thousands of US citizens and communities of color are empowered to survive this pandemic and be better prepared for the next.
This year’s political conference may be over, but the sole purpose of our rally in Tunica is not over, as we still have a lot of work to do. I urge you to have your own meaningful conversations to find workable solutions that will meet the needs of the communities where YOU live. Tell those who stand in the way of progress that you are committing to more than a wish list – these are for fairy tales. Make it clear to those who depend on your votes that you cannot and will not wait until the next election cycle – this is for people with less than our sense of urgency. Fight for the change you demand because our health, safety and lives depend on it.
Vanessa Griddine-Jones is Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.