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Local minority community leaders want more input into Rhode Island’s COVID-19 response

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“In order to properly address these issues, it is essential that our communities be engaged and empowered, so that our life experiences and unique perspectives can be synthesized into actionable measures that can effectively combat today’s pandemic, and any future crisis that may arise.”


State Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) and several leaders and allies of Rhode Island’s minority community released the following open letter to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo concerning the effects COVID-19 is having on Rhode Island’s minority population.

When asked about the letter during her daily press conference Governor Raimondo said that she had not read the letter but that it sounds like a good idea.

Here’s the letter:

“Dear Governor Raimondo,

“This crisis has shed light on many issues within our society that need to be further addressed, and systematically changed, as evidenced by the disproportionate infection rate of COVID-19 throughout the state’s minority population. We are writing this letter to recognize the strides that have been made to confront this crisis, but also to acknowledge the additional steps that we must take to protect vulnerable communities who, due to social, economic, and healthcare inequities, are highly susceptible to the ravages of this disease. In order to properly address these issues, it is essential that our communities be engaged and empowered, so that our life experiences and unique perspectives can be synthesized into actionable measures that can effectively combat today’s pandemic, and any future crisis that may arise.


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“Rhode Island is among 15 states in the nation with the highest percentage of immigration from a variety of countries with diverse social and cultural backgrounds, yet these integral members of our state are being left behind, which also includes our state’s homeless population and residents with disabilities.

“Recent reports have highlighted that Latinos represent 46% of all confirmed cases of COVID-19, despite the fact that they only represent 16% of Rhode Island’s total population, and the numbers continue to rise with each passing day. There is also significant social devastation resulting from COVID-19 which is being felt throughout Rhode Island’s Southeast Asian and Asian communities, manifesting as discrimination and racism. This malignant environment has more seeded fear in members of our very connected community. That fear stretches beyond the corporeal and into the heart of their economic future, and the uncertainty of whether their families and businesses will confront even greater barriers to the American Dream.

“Information is power when it is met with a path toward effective change. Our diverse communities of color, along with other vulnerable populations, have been unable to access crucial public health information. There have not been sufficient efforts expended on the accessibility and delivery of translation and interpretation services, which has left many within our community wondering, whether anyone is truly looking out for them. The lack of inclusive outreach efforts in various languages has predisposed our communities to widespread transmission, as a result of not providing timely information about the disease and necessary preventive measures. This has predisposed families within our communities to access challenges as it relates to essential resources, which include, but are not limited to, financial support services.

“It is also important to recognize that throughout the country, we have also seen a disproportionate number of African Americans affected by this virus, yet, data for Rhode Island’s African American population has not been released by your administration. It is important to recognize that our communities of color are diverse, representing African Americans, Cape Verdeans, Haitians, and many others. In order to protect our communities and to ensure equitable care, it is essential that all available information and testing datasets be immediately released to the public. Our communities have advocates and strategic alliances that can support our efforts to interpret that information for our communities. This information has the ability to offer insights that will help to counteract the fear, which is spreading throughout our communities at an alarming rate.

“The social determinants of health that have contributed to the disproportionate prevalence of chronic diseases in communities of color are associated with lack of access to economic opportunity, proper nutrition, affordable healthcare, quality education, affordable housing, financial support services, as well as, income inequality. The status quo is no longer viable to solution. The first wave of COVID-19 has exposed the already existing social and healthcare disparities, but a second wave of COVID-19 has the potential to completely destroy our communities, economy, and health systems. Therefore, as elected and community leaders, and more importantly, as human beings, it is vital that we work together to collectively confront the greatest threat that we may ever face.

“Rhode Island’s minority population deserves to be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect, therefore, our calls to action should not be met with silence. We are all Rhode Islanders first and foremost, and it is only through open communication, collaboration, and transparency that we will succeed. At this moment, our shared duty and responsibility is clearer now, more than ever. Today, we must declare that the needs of the vulnerable, the needs of our minority communities, and the needs of those struggling families living paycheck to paycheck will be met with proactive measures that will ensure equitable healthcare, the necessary systematic changes that will lead to generational opportunity, and the restoration of our economy.

“The selected and elected bodies tasked with preparing communities for the impact of this COVID-19 surge, and future resurgences, must include our community members and leaders that are rooted within our communities of color, since they can better advocate for the needs of our communities. Without inclusion and fair representation within current or future task forces and committees assigned to quell the spread of COVID-19, it is likely that communities of color will be continually left behind. It is a moral obligation that the community of color have a significant place at the table moving forward, so that all of Rhode Island’s communities emerge from this and future emergencies stronger, more resilient, and healthier, together.”

Sincerely,

  • Anastasia P. Williams, RI Representative – District 9 (Providence)
  • Channavy Chhay, Executive Director, Center for Southeast Asians
  • Rev. Dr. Chris Abhulime, The King’s Tabernacle Church
  • Omar Bah, Executive Director, Refugee Dream Center
  • Morris Akinfolarin, Executive Director, Oasis International, The African Center of R.I.
  • Eduardo Sandoval, President, Olneyville Neighborhood Association
  • Annajane Yolken, Executive Director, Protect Families First
  • Eugene Monteiro, Executive Director, Mt. Hope Neighborhood Association
  • Pastor Sherrod Jones, Judah Multicultural Church
  • Bernard Georges, New Bridges for Haitian Success (NB4HS)
  • Jacqueline Watson
  • Iasha Hall
  • Kelly Nevins, Executive Director, Women’s Fund of RI
  • Bella Robinson, Executive Director, Coyote RI
  • Chhorm Chea, Chief Monk of the Dhamagosanaram Buddhist Temple
  • Steve Ahlquist, upriseri.com
  • Dwayne Keys
  • Catarina Lorenzo, Director, AMOR
  • Pastor Gerald Wright, New Heights Homeless Ministries
  • Carol Aguasviva, Community Angels