Nearly four months since its first confirmed case, the state of New York continues to be neck-deep in the war against the deadly coronavirus disease. As of May 20, there were a staggering 192,374 confirmed cases and 16,153deaths reported in New York State with another 4,781 possible fatalities of those who were never tested, as reported by nyc.gov.
Although all of the city’s five boroughs have been impacted, a recent report from the city’s Health Department indicates that Black and Latino people living in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx are dying at a rate double of that of those who live in affluent areas.
New York State Senator Kevin Parker represents the city’s 21st district in Brooklyn which includes Flatbush and Park Slope amongst other neighborhoods. His district is home to approximately 318,000 residents, largely of Caribbean descent and primarily working-class individuals who are essential workers. “Teachers, nurses, those who work for the government jobs for the city and state…it’s the hallmark of my community,” states Parker.
Over the course of his 18-year tenure in the Senate, the elder statesman has proven to be a fierce champion of economic development, education, energy, domestic violence issues, human and civil rights. Currently, he is the 5thranking Democrat in the Senate, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy & Telecommunications and the Majority Whip.
A true blue native New Yorker, Parker was born and raised in Brooklyn. His interest in politics was sparked by a desire to address the glaring disparities in living conditions and access to government services that he saw between the neighborhood where he lived and where he was bussed to for school. Ironically, those same disparities are the very reasons why COVID-19 has devastated his community today.
BET.com caught up with Senator Parker as he painstakingly works to successfully lead the people of his district through this pandemic crisis.
BET.com: From a birds-eye view and those of us in other parts of the country, it seems as if the COVID-19 virus has shut down “the city that never sleeps.” What does it look like from your vantage point as someone on the ground in the middle of one of the worst hit areas?
Senator Kevin Parker: The impacts have been devastating. A lot of small businesses are closed. A lot of people have been laid off and are collecting or are trying to collect unemployment. Families have lost the primary breadwinner in their household. The community, as a whole, has lost a great deal of entrepreneurs, leaders, and people who were really important in terms of the institution.
BET.com: This pandemic caught the health care system flat-footed putting medical staff and other essential hospital workers at high risk. How are they fairing now?
Senator Kevin Parker: I have two hospitals in my district; Brookdale Hospital and Methodist Hospital. They are absolutely fighting the good fight but they're getting slammed. Brookdale probably has more confirmed cases than any other hospital in the state. And it has nothing to do with the work of the hospital and everything to do with the lack of health [care] of people in the community.
BET.com: Since you’re still in the thick of the fight, how do you feel about Governor Cuomo’s plan to slowly start rolling back the stay-at-home order for residents outside of New York City?
Senator Kevin Parker: I'm very much in step with the Governor. He’s been in touch personally a great deal and his staff has been in touch daily. That has been helpful in terms of getting him to be responsive to the things that we're concerned about on the ground. As he said, it's going to be important to get mass rapid testing in place to inform us how we re-open. At present, we have four testing sites in my district.
BET.com: Speaking of on the ground, how are you keeping in touch with your constituents?
Senator Kevin Parker: I live in the community, so I am literally the boots on the ground. I'm talking to everyone from nurses who are working at the various hospitals around the city to my friends and neighbors to members of the clergy and many educators.
For a lot of people, I am also the place that they go to when they need to get information on a sick loved one or decide whether their loved one should go to the hospital. I'm the person that they've had to call when a loved one has passed away and they need to locate the body or a funeral home to take care of the service because many have been filled to capacity.
BET.com: Do you see the way the pandemic is being handled becoming a civil rights issue?
Senator Kevin Parker: It's already there. The COVID-19 pandemic has ripped the ugly scab off of the wound of inequality and health disparities in this country. Although, Latinx folks are currently experiencing a higher rate of death in New York State than African Americans when it comes to health disparities and co-morbidities African Americans lead the way.
Then the kicker is that we are the essential workers. We work for the postal office, drive the trains and the buses. We are the corrections officers. We are the nurses, healthcare workers, and increasingly, the doctors. We're on the front lines and getting sick. And when we seek medical assistance, we're just as likely to be misdiagnosed by a person of color who is our health clinician as we are somebody white. This isn’t just a pure issue of blatant racism; it's a vicious, insidious circle.
BET.com: That’s a lot of pressure. How are you holding up personally?
Senator Kevin Parker: Although I haven't lost any family members, I have lost friends. Three guys I grew up with. Every day, either somebody I know personally, or a friend of a close friend has lost somebody. That's been the hard part. There's just been so much loss.
BET.com: How can people be helpful during this difficult time?
Senator Kevin Parker: Even in the greatest state in the world in the greatest nation in the world, there's a lot of food insecurity. We have a nonprofit here in Brooklyn, called The Campaign Against Hunger run by a woman named Dr. Melody Samuels and she went from serving 3 million meals for the entire year in 2019 to serving a million meals a month in the last two months out of 41 locations. So we know that food insecurity is a real thing and our food pantries need help.
Either financially contribute to a local food pantry or find out where they're located and donate some of your time. As it relates to our hospitals and clinics, contribute financially to their foundations. If you have access to masks or other PPE [Personal protective equipment], please donate them. If you can, try to provide meals for the hospital workers who are overworked and in stressful conditions. Our communities need help on that level.
Mitzi Miller is the former Editor-in-Chief of Ebony Magazine and now works at Rainforest Entertainment production company as the Head of Development.
Photo courtesy of Sen. Kevin Parker/Used with permission.