The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
Over the past few weeks, the world has been experiencing something like never before seen. Coronavirus, AKA COVID-19, has shaken everyone to their core. The pandemic caused thousands of deaths, economic shutdowns, and safe at home orders almost everywhere. As many are soon approaching week four of social distancing with no solid ending in sight, it’s time we turn to each other to discuss ways to aid the black community that is being disproportionately affected by it.
Thursday (April 10) night, Diddy hosted a virtual town hall on REVOLT’s YouTube channel. “State Of Emergency: The State of Black America & Coronavirus” tackled healthcare, the economy, and the role of influencers and young people during the crisis. The conversation provided educated POVs from the likes of Van Jones, Big Sean, Yara Shahidi, Angela Rye, YBN Cordae, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Killer Mike, Reverend Al Sharpton, and more.
“This is a very, very crucial time. It’s one of the reasons, the primary reason why I started REVOLT. So, that we would have a platform,” Diddy opened the conversation. “With REVOLT, we wanted to one day have this dream come true where we could all get together, not be edited, uncensored and tell the truth.” Which is exactly what each person provided in the conversation.
“We have a pandemic jumping on top of multiple epidemics already in our community. Somebody needed to step up and sound the alarm,” Van says thanking Diddy for his leadership. “The truth hasn’t been told about how dangerous this virus is for black people,” he continued. “You can be 30 years old and die of this if you have high blood pressure. Your 27-year-old nephew whose got an inhaler can die because of this virus. We have to look at the black experience.”
Van quickly connected with Rye, who has made it her duty before the town hall to share information and mobilize black people on the topic. “This coronavirus gives us a unique opportunity to come together and solve for things just like our community always has. [It] gives an opportunity to teach the masses what we mean when we talk about disparate outcomes in healthcare. When we talk about the ways of which we are oppressed economically. When we talk about racism, structural racism and systemic oppression; coronavirus gives you exhibit A through Z,” said Rye. Highlighting how unprepared America has been during this pandemic, she said this is now the time to work together as a community to take care of each other regardless of color. Rye was followed by Rep. AOC, “We all have to do more than we’ve ever done before. All of us have the power to do that. We all have the power to convene our family, our community or even around policy.” AOC then shared that five areas with the highest rates are within her congressional district, which includes Rikers Island. Those areas are also predominately black and struggling with mass incarceration, over-policing, and low-income residents. “It’s no coincidence, but it’s up to us to connect the dots,” she added.
Like Rye, AOC says the community plan is just as important — if not more — than an actual government plan. “We need to apply pressure and make sure they are responsive, but we can act right now. Go out into your building, knock on every door … find which apartments have elders and maybe you can go to the grocery store for them. Find out what people need, develop a plan and actively build community, so we can look out for each other,” she continued.
Sharpton and Charles Blow joined the chat, as well, and brought black people and their conspiracies about COVID-19 into the discussion. “The thing people always have to remember, this is one pandemic. There will be other viruses.” Blow stated. “They will always be settled at the end of the day on the most vulnerable population.” He continued explaining that once things stop affecting wealthy individuals, attention adverts while vulnerable communities continue to suffer.
As the conversation shifted back to mainstream media, Rye pops back in with a word. “The only thing they will agree with us on is that black workers matter because they’re all essential. It’s someone who has to risk their life for you. That black worker matters, but their survival does not.” She continued to say that is a bridge we must cross and as black people simply being a worker is something we can no longer afford.
Closing this specific segment, Sharpton stated, “I was raised in the movement with one slogan: No one will save us, but us. We are going to do what we need to do.” He continued to say if black people can survive our history, “We can survive this pandemic.”
Camara Jones and Mayor Latoya Cantrell were then added to the virtual conversation. Camara highlighted that the racism factor of being exposed to COVID-19 also brings forth how these disparities also unfairly advantage other communities. “That’s the whole issue of unearned white privilege,” she stated. “The point we often miss is that racism is staffing the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.” Mayor Cantrell brought the census into the picture, as that resource can be extremely beneficial to black communities. “We need to go and get our fair share, even as it relates to the CARES Act.” Thanking the various Congresswomen in attendance, she added, “But, it’s not enough. It does not even go deep enough about how we are losing the revenue to run our city.” As surely everyone agreed, black communities need resources to fight the pandemic. “We need to demand resources go to the black community if we think that there is a higher problem there. We have to provide resources according to need,” Camara added.
As far as testing, she also made strong points by stating that we are in a two-week-old model. “Test everybody who wants the test and is showing symptoms, but we also have to test a large proportion of samples of people who do not have symptoms,” Camara continued. “That will let us know how much disease is there, which will let us know where we have to have medical resources.” She also added that this practice will help weed out asymptomatic spreaders of COVID-19 and further slowing down its reach. “With the public health strategy of testing, we’re not just documenting it. We can change the course of this pandemic,” she declared.
Next, Killer Mike and A$AP Ferg tuned in to speak to the youths. “My fear is that the pandemic is going to further criminalize us,” Mike stated, adding how this would ultimately put those in prison at risk. Speaking for many who are incarcerated, he shared they are just as afraid and panicked as the rest of the world. “In this time of panic, let’s not forget empathy and let’s not forget those that are locked away,” he said. Ferg hopped in with a word for the youths, as he noticed many people still gathering on street corners in his neighborhood. “Yes, we might be able to fight it off, but [elders] may not be able to fight it off,” he stated. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley then added, “I love us. Love yourself. You are resilient, but you are not invincible.”
Switching to economics, both Diddy and Van tapped into the three tiers of crises we face: economic, health and, possibly, democracy crises. “Any change is going to come back to economics and us understanding our economic power,” Diddy stated. Aron Betru then joined and spoke on sustaining during these times whether it be health supplies, food, and financial resources. Bringing back Mike, he added, “What we need us to do is simply be selfish with our own personal health first.” He continued to say that this is the perfect time to stay home, and learn a skill, and bond with the next generation to build a stronger and sustainable future. “If we want to be independent, we have to start producing something. As a community, we are going to have to get more self-determined,” he added before asking celebrities, athletes, business owners and those able to take matters into their hands to create new business classes.
The conversation also spoke to the massive numbers of those infected in one of the top three worst-affected cities: Detroit, Michigan. Big Sean and Royce da 5’9” spoke on behalf of their hometown. “I think one of the misconceptions that’s going on around in my city is that, ‘I had it. I stayed in. It’s done,’ but no,” Sean stated. “It’s not done.” Having known people who have been victim to the virus, he puts into perspective that just in early March, there were only two cases in the city. His message to those watching and to fellow influencers is to lead by example, “But, also encourage people to know that this is a time of exploration of inner space,” he said. Without ignoring the tragedy, he acknowledges black people’s power to make lemonade with lemons. “This is a time to self-discovery, a time to really heal and a time to look within,” Sean added. Royce then shared that his dad contracted COVID-19 as a postal worker. “We need to focus on ourselves year-round, not just when it’s a disaster. Focus on our community year-round,” he stated. “We need to focus on us and we need to stop letting people make us feel uncomfortable with loving ourselves.” Tired of looking for help or being at a disadvantage, Royce added, “We need to start putting systems in place that are going to start offsetting some of the systems in place to destroy us.”
The last group focused on the younger generation, and added Yara Shahidi, YBN Cordae, Dr. Jess and Fat Joe into this discussion. Kicking off the final leg of the town hall, Joe went in immediately. “It’s like the young generation feels like they can’t die from this and they don’t care who dies from this,” he said. Alluding to initial jokes and reports that black people couldn’t catch COVID-19, “Now Black people and Latinos are dying the most,” he continued. “The jokes are always on us!” Shahidi spoke next and gave her strongest piece of advice. “Don’t walk around as though you’re trying to protect yourself from getting Corona[virus]. Walk around as if you already have it and are protecting the people around you,” she said. YBN Cordae added to the young voices by sharing how many people are only taking it seriously when it hits home. However, from his perspective, social distancing is the biggest aspect of it all. “The crib is the move!” he declared.
For those who are struggling with social distancing on a mental health note, Dr. Jess encouraged people to be still. “Being still is an opportunity for you to address anything that’s been holding you back from your past,” she said, while sharing books like “The New Jim Crow” that can be used to help understand certain structures that are being highlighted during this time. “There are ways to stay connected in a meaningful way, so you aren’t suffering from the impact of socialization,” including FaceTime or Zoom chats with friends and family, she said. As Van stated, many prayed for times to sit and be still. Although this isn’t what was expected, it’s what the world was granted.
Closing out, Diddy promised to follow up with action and confirmed that this is only the first conversation regarding the black community and Coronavirus. Thanking everyone who contributed to the dialogue, he ended on a note of love.