Activists call for Michigan to declare racism a public health pandemic

Experts say COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates larger problem

DETROIT – The African American community has been hit disproportionately hard by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and experts say that’s a symptom of a problem that runs much deeper.

Activists and advocates are calling for Michigan to declare racism a public health pandemic and take the steps needed to end it.

“We are definitely done dying,” Michigan State Conf. NAACP President Yvonna White said. “We do not have the full right to live in this country, and only you can change that.”

It’s a call to action to end the systemic racism that contributes to health inequities in African Americans.

“In Michigan, COVID-19 rates of Blacks are four times that of Whites,” Michigan State Conf. NAACP Health Chair Dr. Pamela Pugh said. “Black infants are three to four times more likely than White infants to die during their first year of life. African American children in Michigan are over 70% more likely live in high poverty areas where schools lack the resources to meet the needs of all children.”

Several groups, including the Michigan NAACP, Black Lives Matter Michigan and On Love Global joined Black female public health leaders in calling for change in policies and practices.

“This is a time for completely deconstructing, dismantling and rebuilding systems that actually produce equitable results, and that repair the harm that has been done, not just over the past decades, but over the past 401 years,” said Angela Waters Austin, of Black Lives Matter Michigan.

That includes everything from high-profile examples such as the Flint water crisis to ending discrimination in housing, health care, education and beyond.

“We know that when we address the issues and the needs of the people, we’re talking about now, it will impact all,” Pugh said.

The organizations want to see a declaration of racism as a public health pandemic on a state level, along with action and resources to address it. Resolutions were introduced in the state Senate and House earlier this month.

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