(reflections on past, present, and future, in the midst of COVID 19)

Corbis via Getty Images


A friend I had an email exchange with used that word to suggest that they hoped my family and friends had not been directly impacted by the tragic events of COVID-19.

The sentiment was meant genuinely, sincerely, and yet that word conjured up several thoughts in my head. Mainly, it made me realize that at my age, I am not sure I know what it actually means to be unaffected.

A recent Pew Survey came out indicating Black Americans are more likely to know someone who has been hospitalized or who died due to COVID-19. The impact from COVID continues to be felt in ways even the epidemiologists and researchers are only beginning to unpack. As more research comes online around comorbidity rates for example, the data begins to tell a story about the men and women disproportionately affected by the virus. The majority of these individuals have been Black and Latinx.

As more states “open up,” to navigate getting Americans back to work, it becomes apparent that with the unprecedented rise in unemployment figures, a significant portion of the population will in fact not be returning to work. It doesn’t take great imagination to understand who might be most susceptible. A disproportionate number of those most affected are communities of color. As Morgan Radford of NBC News shared recently, “the virus has moved from taking lives, to taking livelihoods.” Tools, including the opportunity insights tracker, are coming online to monitor the economic impacts on states, businesses and communities real-time.

A few weeks ago, a friend at McKinsey sent their latest report on the disproportionate impact of COVID on Black Americans. It identifies some of the health, geographic, and economic risks at play. The report goes on to suggest “Black Americans will likely sustain more damage across every stage of the wealth-building journey.” While stunning in its data capture and visualizations, this information was not new in some regards.

Just recently, Maya Beasley, sociologist and founder of the T10 Group, shared a letter with me written by sociologist W.E.B. DuBois upon his resignation from the NAACP. The letter reads: “since 1929 Negro workers, like white workers, have lost their jobs, have had mortgages foreclosed on their farms and homes, have used up their small savings. But, in the case of the Negro worker, everything has been worse in larger or smaller degree; the loss has been greater and more permanent. Technological displacement, which began before the depression, has been accelerated, while unemployment and falling wages struck black men sooner, went to lower levels and will last longer”

That letter was written in 1934. Prescient.

So where do we go from here? If anyone tells you they know exactly, approach them with a dose of skepticism. Much of the future is unknown. That being said, if history if our guide, we are staring at the top of a long and potentially very steep roller coaster as our economy begins to come back online and we begin to more clearly unpack the health challenges, as well as the compounded economic ones.

Through my Community Scholars program at Columbia, I audited a Community Health Assessment epidemiology course taught by Professor Bob Fullilove. Bob has spent a few decades teaching at the School of Public Health, focusing on community based AIDS/HIV research. Actually, it was during the late 80s when he first crossed paths with a guy conducting similar research, his name was Anthony Fauci. There are plenty of lessons to gleam from his research methodologies, but one key takeaway was the power and significance of qualitative data. In that same vein, I’m not an economist, but here are a few observations:

I wanted to finish by sharing the story of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old young Black man who was violently shot and killed in February, for jogging in the wrong place in Georgia. Yes, jogging. I won’t be sharing the video content, I haven’t watched it myself. Author Claudia Rankine, in a 2015 NYTimes essay on Black mourning wrote “though the white liberal imagination likes to feel temporarily bad about black suffering, there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black.”

Today is Ahmaud’s birthday. In recognition of his birthday, folks are going on a 2.23 mile jog/run to honor his last day on Earth. I am going to put my mask on, lace up my running sneakers, and do the same. #Irunwithmaud

In the midst of all of this tragedy and uncertainty, a positive I keep coming back to are the number of people in my network, and in others, who see these challenges and are bravely not looking away. They don’t just study these areas, they embody them with a praxis of proximity, and a cultural responsiveness to community that doesn’t come from remaining at arms length.

If you’re a hiring manager, anyone will tell you now has never been a better time to find talent. In my opinion, I feel the same way about those positioned to come together around issues impacting our communities. This is a rallying call, and a not so subtle reminder we need institutions, succession planning, and funding to put these talents to use. If you wish to be supportive of such efforts, send me an email. I know a couple people.

Perhaps ultimately my reason for writing this is with hopes you are affected. Certainly not by COVID directly, but influenced by way of feeling linked to what is happening around each and every one of us. For to be affected is to consider your connection to all of this. And, hopefully, to try and use your position of power to do something about it.

Be Well,

A guy who cares about Harlem. Strategist, HireHarlem Co-Founder, Manhattan Community Board 9, Former EIR @civichall, NMAAHC Ambassador, V.C. Thinker & doer.