HBCUs and Black Doctors Address COVID-19

As the deadly Spanish Influenza killed 675,000 Americans between 1917 and 1920, that era’s Black healthcare practitioners took the initiative to help African-Americans avoid and recover from that flu because they saw that the public health system would not or could not do so. 

Now, as America steps up its 2021 COVID19 vaccination phase, Black doctors and their HBCU (historically Black college and university) colleagues are again filling a void born of the same variants of systemic and structural racism their great grandparents experienced a little over 100 years ago. One example of the parallel is that in 1918, according to a study published in Public Health Reports, Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell, the Black medical director of Philadelphia’s 75-bed Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital, established a 40-bed emergency annex at St. Peter Claver, a Black parochial school when his hospital beds were quickly exhausted by the Spanish Flu.   Mossell got no funding for this from Philadelphia’s Board of Health, although the city had opened many emergency clinics for sick whites.   

In early 2020, in response to the current COVID19 pandemic, Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, president and chief executive officer of Meharry Medical College, and other HBCU leaders sought and received $25 million in diagnostic and testing equipment from Thermo Fisher Scientific, which they initially used for COVID19 testing for  students and faculty on their campuses, testing that was slow coming from other sources for these students and the communities they came from. “We’ll be having discussions on how to do this for the wider community,” Hildreth said.  “We see an opportunity for the wider community to be enhanced.  We’ve asked the Ways and Means committee of Congress for $5 million to allow medical schools to set up a consortium for a national testing approach.”

Hildreth also envisions a role for HBCU’s in making vaccinations more efficient for communities of color. “The solution is we must take the vaccinations to their communities, to meet the people where they are,” Hildreth said.   “With the right training and coordination schools, churches and other community organizations could develop model field hospitals for testing and vaccinations, and once we have an easy to transport vaccine, we can use a mobile approach—medical vans that will extend the reach of vaccines and testing.” 

Other Black doctors share Hildreth’s view that Black people and other people of color suffered a big spike in infections and deaths early in 2020 because they were never surveyed or tested properly early on.  Health officials, they asserted,, simply surveyed and tested areas and locations where Black folks do not congregate so they got missed, and studies support their conclusion

In December 2020, a study of public health departments was published in the Journal of the NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security in conjunction with NCCU (North Carolina Central University), an HCBU in Durham, North Carolina. 

This study outlined troubling details about the readiness of public health departments across the country in terms of dealing with a pandemic like COVID19. 

The study showed that state and local public health departments were steadily cut in size and scope as state legislatures cut state and local taxes.

CPS Reopening Fuels Elected School Board Talk

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

After an ongoing conflict between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union to reopen schools for in-person learning during the pandemic, education advocates argue that tensions between Chicago Public schools and the CTU wouldn’t have arisen if the Chicago Board of Education was elected and more responsive to the community. CTU approved a back-to-school deal with support from close to 55% of its members after teachers argued that the initial reopening plan fell short of safety expectations. The reopening debate has renewed energy around an elected school board for the Chicago Board of Education as CPS is the country’s third-largest school district and the only district in Illinois with an appointed school board. “I think an elected school board would make a huge difference because the school board will be responsive to public demand,” said Jitu Brown, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance. “We know that the majority of the district is Black and brown and they’re not sending their children to school right now.

Dead But Not Forgotten: Police Brutality Lives On

Jon Burge is still in the news, though he died in 2018. Often referenced as the disgraced and notorious former police commander of the Chicago Police Department, Burge, who served half of his prison sentence and was allowed to keep his police pension and serve some of his confinement near his Florida home, is again newsworthy because of the release of the Chicago Police Torture Archive. On the police website, the first image is of a broken storefront and a request by the police for the public’s help with the “looting and civil unrest task force.”

The police equate pilfering with protest – even if these protests are protected under the First Amendment. This conflation reflects hostility and is part of the calculus many members of the public are forced to consider at all times. Studies have found that victims of interpersonal violence, undocumented individuals, and members of other marginalized communities are less likely to call the police for fear of being further harmed by antagonistic police officers or unsupported by wrongful policies and procedures.

The Flag in the Song is the Flag I Saw Today

Editor’s Note:By now millions of words and hundreds of thousands of pictures have been shared about the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. No doubt, those words and images have elicited a broad range of emotions among people around the globe. The Chicago Reporter is pleased and proud to present one of those reactions, unfiltered by editing, from a former Chicagoan who has a new appreciation and understanding of the meaning of the U.S. flag. Lady Gaga sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the inauguration of Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris today. She sings the lyrics, “that our flag was still there”, and motions toward the flag on the Capital.

COVID-19 forces changes in strategies for anti-violence groups

COVID 19 forces changes in strategies for anti-violence groups

Like much of the country, Autry Phillips was caught off guard when a worldwide health crisis descended on Chicago last year. In addition to his long-time, ongoing efforts to reduce neighborhood violence, he now faced the challenge of conveying his organization’s message to residents who were increasingly vulnerable to a rampant virus. “When COVID hit back in March we didn’t know what to do,” says Phillips, executive director of Target Area Development Corp.. “If COVID was part of a street organization and carrying a gun, hanging out on the corner, I would have known exactly what to do. We had no idea what to do with COVID.”

Aside from sharing federal safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (“We said, ‘It’s time to put the guns down, but you gotta put a mask on now,’” recalls Phillips.), he and other peace activists have been forced to regroup and re-strategize.

Black and Latinx owners are barely a blip on the cannabis revenue radar

Patrons waiting outside of a south suburban dispensary is becoming a common sight. Black and Latinx owners are barely a blip on the cannabis income radar. Kara Wright followed the rules and  could be considered a winner, since the state awarded her and her applicant team the right to maybe get cannabis dispensary licenses in a yet to be conducted lottery. Yet after months of delays, the lottery hasn’t been conducted, and Wright, one few  Black  step away from legally selling cannabis in Illinois, still doesn’t have a license. “We are almost at a billion dollars [of sales] here in Illinois,” said Wright.

COVID-19 affects Illinois’ local Latino-run soccer industry from the bottom up

The soccer team Santas plays a match at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge, Illinois. (Photo by Rita Oceguera/The Chicago Reporter)

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AURORA, Ill. – The first thing visitors hear opening the door of the facility is Spanish music. While the sound makes it seem as if nothing has changed, the building is still. The children who once ran freely, spilling chips as they chased one another, are gone.The screaming mothers and friends at the sidelines are no longer there.