Since the Coronavirus shut down the world in March 2020, millions of people faced hardship and struggle in a variety of ways. In the United States alone, over 34.2 million people have tested positive for the virus, with around 610,000 losing their lives to it, according to The New York Times. From job losses to the losses of loved ones, the negative impacts of the virus continue to pile on, leaving many displaced and exhausted.
Almost 18 months later, the world is finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. As vaccinations become more and more available, life seems to be transitioning back to “normal” for many. Communities of color, however, are still being disproportionately affected by racial disparities that were only heightened during the pandemic.
Right now, 1% of white Wisconsin children live in poverty, while the numbers increase to 35% for Black children and 18% for Latinx children. Resources that were scarce for people of color pre-pandemic only became less and less available as the Coronavirus surged on. For example, while food and housing insecurity dropped nearly 50% for white families post-COVID-19, the rates were still four times higher for Black and Latinx communities.
Chaplain Gloria Manadeir-Farr, Nehemiah Director of Community Chaplaincy & Allied Empowerment Services, described how the Black communities she works with at the Allied Wellness Center face these challenges every day, specifically lack of housing.
“I don’t believe everyone really understood that families before the pandemic were suffering… we’ve got families receiving basic [resources] that might only last for a few days, and the expectation is that that should have been enough, and it’s not.” Farr shared the story of a young woman who is currently pregnant, lost her job at a fast-food restaurant and is without a place to live. Her mother is on Section 8, a part of the Housing Act of 1937 that allows private landlords to rent property at lower rates to qualify low-income tenants, meaning she cannot take her daughter in right now with the fear of losing her own housing. Farr explained that as hard as she tries to help, the available resources are not always adequate, for this woman and the Black community in general.
Many of the challenges these Black people are encountering are a result of systemic racism as a whole. Farr explains how lack of information and fear of misinformation to Black communities furthers distrust and wariness in medicine and the vaccine, stating, “we had plenty of outside outreach where we had families coming in and getting tested, but when it was time to get vaccinated, we had a lot of families that were not only reluctant, but just weren’t willing to take a chance on the vaccination.” Compared to white people, Black people are 0.6 times as likely to get vaccinated and are 2.1 times more likely to be hospitalized. Latinx people are 0.7 times as likely to be vaccinated and 1.7 times as likely to be hospitalized, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Farr also touched on minimum wage, addressing how we are failing our communities of color by brushing over the issues that could be saving lives instead of pacifying the pain. Farr used the saying, “‘you can take someone to the water, but you can’t make them drink;’ but we haven’t taken them to the water, we’re bringing water to them.” She insists that instead of sending out barely-passing amounts of money and resources, changes need to be made by the government, by the state of Wisconsin, and the city of Madison to allow Black people to work and live, not just survive.
The combination of these daily stressors for Black communities is also taking a toll on mental health. Lack of jobs, housing, food, fear of the vaccine, all on top of the persisting pandemic have created an environment so taxing that the very worry of how to make it through another week is the only thing on most peoples’ minds. While Farr and the Allied Wellness Center have worked to set up an Essential Pantry, a place where Black folks can come for free resources such as shampoo, gas cards, diapers, and much more as needed, the lack of supplies and aid for communities of color in Madison is apparent. The donations and support are inconsistent and not sustained so that Farr has to consistently seek out more resources.
Clearly, there is no shortage of need to provide support for our people of color, not just in Madison, but across the country. The issues brought about by the pandemic are not new, but merely brought to a new light by the impacts of the virus. As the number of COVID-19 cases decrease and the number of vaccinated Wisconsin residents increases, it is important to remember we still have a lot of work to do in terms of improving life for our communities of color, and it won’t happen overnight. The pandemic proved that resources and structures could be effectively reallocated to address the wellness of large communities, so when will we be willing to address the poverty and health disparities rooted in systemic racism? Are we willing to tackle racial disparities with the same sustained energy as the pandemic?
This article was researched and written by Molly Jacobson in collaboration with the work of Chaplain Gloria Farr, Director of Community Chaplaincy & Allied Empowerment Services.