COVID-19 is a Civil Rights Issue
I have heard it said that this dreaded virus is “an equalizer.” It attacks indiscriminately all ages, races, classes, and cultures. I know that is not true. In the last few days, more reports fill the news about how this disease disproportionately attacks the poor and minorities in our country.
READ MORE: Why COVID-19 is a Civil Rights Issue
The chronic companions of people in Orange Mound are weak lungs, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It appears that those are the “qualifiers” for alarming results of contracting and succumbing to COVID-19.
There are many reasons for the inequity - ignorance, naiveté, mistrust of leaders and refusal to study up. Misinformation and no information have quietly spread at the same rate as the dreaded virus to many homes in Orange Mound.
No, the coronavirus is not an “equalizer.” Black people are being infected and dying at higher rates. As the virus insidiously migrated to the United States, the majority of the women at the House were indifferent. When COVID-19 arrived in Memphis the first week in March, I could not find masks, gloves or hand sanitizer to buy anywhere in East Memphis. The dollar stores in Orange Mound had plenty. I bought sanitizer products for our employees with instructions to begin safe practices. We have worked outside, kept safe distances and followed the recent recommendations about masks and gloves. Many didn’t come to work, though they didn’t stay home either. Our management team has kept employment possible so that the income stream would not dry up. We have delivered donated food to all. None have gone without food, but many have ignored the local news reports.
One of our employees was in the ER last weekend for strep throat. She panicked and didn’t call her primary care physician at Christ Community Health. The hospital told her that she didn’t have COVID-19. She is a single mom with 5 children and is under the false impression that once cleared, she is immune.
One of our women lives among 12 children and grandchildren in a 3-bedroom house. Safe distancing is impossible. The adults and children have been free to come and go throughout the neighborhood.
Public health warnings, free food distribution and the Mayor’s mandates are broadcast on the news. Yet, two of our youngest mothers didn't know that the community center provides school lunches daily. None of our mothers knew that school packets are available to keep the children on grade level. We have urged them to home school. COVID is unmasking the scarcity of reliable information in the poorest parts of our community.
An invisible wall remains between the resourced and under-resourced dividing our city.
We, who are called by God, must erect scaffolding over the barricade separating the tale of our two cities. We must be willing to climb over them. We are on the front line too. We are the first responders fighting a disease much more odious and deadly than COVID-19.
Loving our neighbor in Memphis right now means securing the food supply and showing hospitality at a distance. We can love with generosity, humility, justice and communication. And prayer is the medication Orange Mound needs most.
Our pursuit for a cure for racism lies in advocacy, repentance and forgiveness. Those most vulnerable in this siege are the same ones who have been the focus of the mission at My Cup of Tea.