FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 14, 2020
CONTACT: Heather Cabral | firstname.lastname@example.org | 202-550-6880
Erin Williams | email@example.com | 202-748-0699
WASHINGTON – Activists and leaders with Faith in Action, the nation’s largest grassroots organizing network, are calling out the systems that have created the space for Black and Brown communities to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Decades of underfunding programs that build healthy communities has left cities like Detroit and Chicago with death tolls in the Black community at disproportionately higher rates. Faith in Action has long- worked to dismantle the systems that cause this, from Fight for Fifteen efforts across the country to paid sick leave – issues that have become more critical amid the pandemic.
On Easter Sunday Faith in Action, Catholic bishops and other community and religious organizations voiced their support of Pope Francis’s call for the world to consider a universal basic wage that would acknowledge and dignify the “noble and essential” work carried out by workers who struggle to put food on their tables. And LIVE FREE, FIA’s campaign dedicated to ending mass incarceration and gun violence, launched Masks for the People, a humanitarian effort to bring free masks and hand sanitizer kits to vulnerable Black and Brown neighborhoods.
“The racial disparities that are being reflected in the times of this crisis are appalling. No person is immune from contacting COVID-19, yet those who need to be protected most are people who can’t afford to take a day off to watch their children because they need to feed them, and certainly can’t afford to self-quarantine for two weeks.” said Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director of Faith in Action. “Beyond supporting Pope Francis’ call for a universal wage, we also support directly providing Black and Brown communities with masks, hand sanitizers, and other provisions for combating this disease. As people of faith and common sense, we know that everyone must be included in the protections and support that are being enacted if we are to slow the spread of this disease and save our people.”
Below, federation leaders from hard hit cities like Detroit, Chicago and across the country have provided a window into the racial disparities they are working to fight in their communities.
Alia Harvey-Quinn, executive director, FORCE Detroit
“Michigan is home to some of America’s blackest, poorest, most marginalized communities in America. Amid the current public health crisis, the most dangerous threat to Michigan is our long term failure to protect our most fragile citizens. Failure to protect economically ostracized, over-policed, hard-working Black and Brown families across Michigan has created a plume of dire, life-threatening situations within our communities.
Our public leaders should currently be working on a plan to support and engage hard-to-reach, urban communities. In this process, I would urge them to invite community leaders that have suffered through poverty, experienced violence, and have navigated the choppy waters of a criminal justice system, designed to actively exploit Black and Brown communities to the table to create a nuanced, innovative plan to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our most vulnerable communities.”
Pastor Billy Honor, Director of Faith Organizing, New Georgia Project
“What this health pandemic has done in Georgia is reveal the shameful degree to which extremely impoverished and incarcerated American citizens are invisible to the federal and state government. For example, almost nothing is being done from a public policy standpoint to help those who are homeless in the metro Atlanta area. But, we see construction on new homes for sale continues, under the premise that housing is essential government function. If this is true, why aren’t these new homes being used as temporary housing for people who are living on the streets during this pandemic?
“The invisibility of our incarcerated citizens is of even greater concern because they cannot move freely to social distance themselves and there is really no way for the public monitor they’re being protected from the spread of the virus. Our governor issued a state-wide shelter in place order that did not speak at all to what should happen in our correction facilities. Proving once again that incarcerated individuals, some of whom are being detained to await trial, are invisible to higher levels of government.
“At the core of both of these issues are racial disparities that existed long before this pandemic. The racial makeup of the homeless in our state’s cities and the incarcerated are overwhelmingly black. This is no coincidence and a large part why they are invisible from a public policy viewpoint.”
Onoyemi Williams, Peacemaker community organizer, Faith in Action Alabama
“Currently in our country and in my city the population that is plagued with a litany of social, economic and health disparities are being swallowed up alive by the COVID-19 Pandemic.The horror of the Tuskegee Experiment still lives in my community. Those in our community that are trusted messengers and serve as safe spaces like barber shops, beauty shops, and the churches, have been shuddered. Three weeks after drive-thru testing was conducted in other communities, testing is just now starting to appear in our community if you are able to get an appointment.
“Exposure to the virus is extremely high in communities of color as many of those still working are on the front lines, outside of healthcare, work in the grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants and delivery services. They are unable to isolate at home due to the dynamics of life prior to the pandemic as a family unit that was living on the fringes. There was no internet access prior to the outbreak, no computers for home schooling and there definitely aren’t any streaming services to help occupy idle time. Black men in the community, for whom life expectancy is the lowest, are once again being treated like unfortunate casualties with no extraordinary measures being taken to protect them. Many are resolved to this pandemic in my community, stating that if the virus doesn’t kill them poverty or gun violence will.”
Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, executive director, Missouri Faith Voices
“Even in the midst of COVID-19, The State of Missouri continues to exemplify the Compromise that allowed Missouri to be a state that enslaved Black bodies. 100% of the deaths in St. Louis City and Kansas City are Black people this crisis has amplified what we have known in Missouri – that Black and other people of Color are not safe. This pandemic serves as a poignant reminder that lives of Black people in Missouri are always at risk and easily compromised.
“We continue to hold elected officials accountable for upholding the motto of the state: “Let the welfare of the people” – all of GOD’s people – “be the supreme law.” We collected and delivered over 1,000 signatures of faith leaders to Governor Parson last week and he finally issued a stay at home order on April 3. However, he still has not addressed the issue of testing being predominated in White communities, the safety of those who are incarcerated, or how he and the Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft are considering expanding voter access to include early voting and more digital options for registration in light of the pandemic. Our leaders and staff continue to work to ensure that those who are left out by politicians are included by the people. We are doing remote phone banks, running Census social media campaigns and continuing to organize meetings with elected officials and public safety officials to demand that the least of this be cared for during this time.”
Pastor Ben McBride, co-director, PICO California
“Like the imperial violence facing the Hebrews in the Exodus story, and as evidenced in recent quarantine data, we are also surviving the failed structural leadership that has, for too long, left our black, indigenous, and people of color vulnerable and dying. To be clear, these systems value profit over people of color which breeds violence, constricts the circle of concern, and teaches racial division.
“But our sacred traditions teach us belonging. And so, while the pandemic highlights structural violence and apathy, we choose light and unity, love and sacrifice, bridging and belonging. We are standing with all essential workers, like those who are doing the daily ministry of reducing gun violence, protecting undocumented immigrants, and serving our unhoused neighbors through #MasksForThePeople (getting masks, hand sanitizer and PPE to urban and rural communities).
“We are confronting the narrative poisoning our collective consciousness through digital BELONG Circles, creating opportunities for people to connect and support each other through the pandemic. We are co-creating a new economy through engaging statewide elected officials in weekly digital Town Halls to usher in new structural reforms that have been long overdue like healthcare as a human right, housing for all who want it, and a universal basic income for every human being in California.”
Bishop Jesse Scott, Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH), Board Chair and founder and senior pastor at Word of Life Ministries in Niagara Falls
“What we’re seeing in Niagara Falls is a lack of testing all around. We have had at least one death already, and officials are saying that we are several weeks away from peak. The county has not released demographic data yet, but based on what we are hearing from the community, we expect that Niagara County will follow the pattern we’re seeing in other areas in upstate New York, where people of color are dying of the virus at higher rates.
“People of color and especially Black people in our area and around the country)have higher rates for chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes that raise your risk of getting severely ill from the virus. Black people in particular are less likely to be taken seriously by medical professionals, and we are more likely to be poor and uninsured, which contributes to worse health outcomes. Because of that, NOAH is concerned that as our number of cases and the death toll rises in Niagara County we will see serious racial disparities in who is getting sick and who is dying. We are collecting stories of people who are being denied access to tests, and NOAH will use that information to put pressure on the Niagara County Health Department to increase testing and equitable access to tests. If we don’t know who has been infected and who has been exposed, we’re going to see more cases, and we’re going to see more deaths.”
Charlene Walker, executive director, Faith in New Jersey
“As we sit in this moment of the COVID-19 pandemic all of the flaws of our nation are laid bare before us for all to see. We can not look away from the gross racial and economic disparities that have always plagued Black and Brown communities as they have been amplified. There has been a clear public narrative that those that are elderly, Black, Brown, incarcerated, immigrant, and work low wage jobs are expendable. Over-policing during this pandemic to flatten the curve is leading to large unaffordable fines for those seeking the community that has supported them where our government has failed. Our undocumented families have been surgically removed from any support and are subjetted to the whims of landlords threatening eviction.
“Now is the time to dismantle the carceral state by responsibly de-carcerating our youth, immigrant detainees, and incarcerated loved ones with a path to permanent liberation. We must have the vision and imagination to give a path to redemption for those that have caused physical harm to another in the future while providing them compassionate care. A moratorium must be placed on non-violent arrests and tickets; it is time that the state stop profiting off of those most vulnerable. Our police are needed to support our communities with supplying mutual aid and PPE to those most vulnerable. There is an immense list of actions that can be created. Yet they can all be surmised as we need radical love in action to build the beloved community; one of hope, opportunity, justice, and love.”
Rev. Ciera Walker-Chamberlain and Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, LIVE FREE Chicago
“COVID-19 has unmasked America’s inability to address this country’s most persistent and deadly disease; racism. This nation’s health disparities are a result of chronic policy neglect and consistent economic divestment. COVID-19 has exposed that black people aren’t dying from black on black violence but from poverty neglect and racism.”
Faith in Action, formerly known as PICO National Network, is the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the United States. The nonpartisan organization works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 46 local and state federations. For more information, visit www.faithinaction.org. Faith in Action is a 501c(3). Faith in Action and its affiliates are non-partisan and are not aligned explicitly or implicitly with any candidate or party. We do not endorse or support candidates for office.