In a response to the challenges being brought by the coronavirus pandemic, BET Networks president Scott Mills said the virus is “compounding the pre-existing health and financial vulnerabilities that many African Americans face.”
He made the observation in the opening remarks of an online town hall given Thursday night by partners BET and the NAACP. A panel of lawmakers, medical officials and community leaders focused on the crisis as it continues.
Mills noted that in a survey done by BET, 54 percent of Black Americans reported need of assistance with bills and another 50 percent said they needed food assistance. “This obviously underscores that this is an extraordinary crisis...in particular for the African American community.”
Mills was joined by NAACP president Derrick Johnson, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, Rep. Karen Bass, and Dr. Oliver Tate Brooks, president of the National Medical Association, for a panel discussion led by CNN commentator Keith Boykin.
Brooks called coronavirus a “slow time bomb,” which has seen 451,000 cases and almost 16,000 deaths with 24,000 recoveries. “For some reason, for coronavirus, this pandemic, the CDC has released location and age data only, but it has been silent on race,” he said. “We’re getting the race data from different areas. There is no repository right now for race data and that would be very helpful.”
He said that in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, New York and other places the data has been noted by officials.
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But other panelists discussed the broad economic impacts that are coupled with the health impacts that coronavirus is having on African Americans.
“Many of us have not recovered from the recession in 2008, when we lost so much of our housing,” said Rep. Bass, who is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “The Black Caucus is calling on, number one, the data that was mentioned before. We absolutely have to have the data...we need to have focused testing and we need to have rapid testing. We’re concerned about losing our churches, losing our small businesses, so the negative impacts on us are profound.”
Johnson spoke about the crucial nature of ensuring that voting is still available as the nation is still anticipating the November election.
“We’ll be looking at what will be required in this new environment, said Johnson. “Whether or not we will still be under some level of quarantine because of the public health concerns or whether or not we go back to business as usual.
“This election will be determined thanks to Black voter turnout,” he continued. “If we turnout, we get the outcome that we were fighting for. If we don’t turnout, we will get an outcome that will cause devastating effect not only in our community, but for this democracy as we know it.”
Mills announced the company’s creation of a relief fund targeted at African Americans, saying that it would raise money to support the fund through initiatives, including the BET Saving Ourselves Relief Effort, which gave aid during the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina in 2004.
NAACP, and the United Way Worldwide have come on board for BET Saving Ourselves Relief Effort, which will be broadcasting a coronavirus crisis relief special on April 22, co-hosted by Grammy winner Kelly Rowland, TV personality Terrence J and actress Regina Hall. The special will feature virtual appearances and musical performances from DJ Khaled, Charlie Wilson, Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, Fantasia, Melvin Crispell III and several others. Additionally, the special will give up-to-date information and drive viewers to needed resources.
Proceeds will be being donated to African-American communities severely impacted by COVID-19.
The full conversation can be heard by clicking here.
(Photo by Pablo Monsalve/VIEWpress via Getty Images)