A Discussion on COVID-19 and Communities of Color

"We can’t fix the problem until we identify it. And the problem right now is far bigger than just COVID-19."

Bbernard/ Shutterstock
Bbernard/ Shutterstock

We have a pandemic in this country. A pandemic that we have been far too slow to confront. A pandemic that is now claiming the lives of African Americans at an alarming rate.

That pandemic is systemic racism. It is simply exposed by another, more recent, more sudden one: COVID-19.

I thought Van Jones, CNN contributor and CEO of Reform Alliance, put it simply on this week’s “Leading Through Change” live show that we host at Salesforce: “What this virus is trying to teach us is something about wellness and oneness. We don’t just have sick people. We have sick systems that have allowed certain types of disadvantages to accumulate.”

It’s these sick systems that we need to meet head on. Those conversations aren’t easy, but they’re necessary. And they’re long overdue. We can start with a simple acknowledgment: racism is real.

Many people in this country are in staunch denial that racism continues to exist and have profound impacts on the health and well-being of the nation,” said another Jones — noted family physician and epidemiologist Dr. Camara Jones — on our “Leading Through Change” show. As Ellen McGirt of Fortune Magazine put it, it is “deep seated systemic racism that actually has gotten us to this moment right now.”

So let’s start there. Because we can’t fix the problem until we identify it. And the problem right now is far bigger than just COVID-19.

Then let’s figure out what we can all do about it. Now is no time for thought leadership. We need action leadership. That includes you. This is no time to “stay in your lane.”

I’m using my platform as a leader in the tech industry to push for conversations like this one. I’m supporting efforts that benefit the people who need it most, like the BET and United Way COVID-19 relief fund that provides food and emergency assistance to our communities of color, in places like Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans and New York.

Van is working with his Reform Alliance organization to help support people in the criminal justice system. Ellen is using her platform as a Fortune editor to amplify stories about this issue and help people better understand it. And Dr. Jones is continuing to leverage her allegories and other tools for a National Campaign Against Racism to enable people to name racism, ask, “How is racism operating here?,” and organize and strategize to act.

Now ask yourself, what can you do? Maybe that’s supporting the BET and United Way relief fund by texting BETGives to 51555. Maybe that’s hosting conversations at your job or with your friends and family. There is no such thing as small change.

Ultimately, this isn’t about awareness. It’s about action. It’s about enablement. It’s about empowerment. It’s about making sure the new normal is one where we all have a seat at the table, where one community is not disproportionately vulnerable because while this virus does not discriminate, our society does.

As Van Jones said, “The next normal is up to us to define.”

Let’s define it. Let’s make change. 

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