“We are here collectively as community leaders, with a collective voice,” said Pastor Howard Jenkins, opening “A Call for Health Justice” – a press conference outside the Rhode Island State House, where BIPOC community leaders called for a mass vaccination event to help put a dent in the vaccine disparities suffered by Black, Latino, Indigenous and Asian-American communities in Rhode Island.
“We are identifying that there is an urgency to address the significant low vaccination rates within our Black, Indigenous, People of Color, our BIPOC communities, within the State of Rhode Island,” continued Pastor Jenkins, who serves at Bethel AME. “Where we need to improve and not fail, is addressing the need to have a major, comprehensive effort to vaccinate people of color.”
“The data shows that people 50 to 64 years of age who are Black and Latino are three times more likely to die of COVID-19. People that are 34 to 44 years of age who are Black and Latino are three times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19,” said Daniel Luis Muñoz, a member of the Governor’s Equity Council, speaking as an individual. “And yet, when we look at the allocation of vaccines, what we see are different numbers – numbers that just don’t add up in proportion to the risk that BIPOC communities are facing.
“Let’s be clear. We are not talking about equality her. We are talking about equity. Are we allocating enough vaccines to address the disproportionate risks that BIPOC communities are facing today?” asked Muñoz. “And the answer is no.”
“We’ve been in a pandemic for over a year now, and we’re still demanding that BIPOC health and safety is prioritized,” said Kiah Bryant, co-executive director of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), who acted as emcee for the press conference. “We already knew what the issues were. We already knew that BIPOC are underserved and under represented.”
“It is crucial for our community to be vaccinated,” said Jim Vincent, executive director of the NAACP Providence Branch. “We want access. And we’re prepared as a community to provide that access in terms of making sure that we get to a mass vaccination site, or a church, or a community organization. We will be the boots on the ground to make sure that that happens.”
“We’ve had boots on the ground from day one with the Covid,” said Helen Baskerville Dukes, executive director of the Mount Hope Community Center. “First it was the PPE, then we had the fight for testing in our community – and now that that’s ramped up we have issues with vaccines in our community
“More people want the vaccine than don’t want it, and those who don’t want it we educate them as much as we can and let them know it’s a life and death situation, especially with our population and how much we are affected by it.”
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“We need to understand that Black people need to have an equitable way to get the vaccine, specifically lower income families,” said Harrison Tuttle, executive director of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC. “Often times we forget that the Black and brown community has a distrust of the government due to the amount of racism and institutional structures that have held back Black people, which has caused disenfranchisement.”
“All of the disparities that you’re hearing about today didn’t just happen,” pointed out Justice Gaines, Queer Justice Coordinator at the Providence Youth Student Union (PrYSM). “Before the pandemic started, before a year ago, there was a lot of medicalized racism and environmental racism that gave Black folks, that gave indigenous folks, that gave people of color and Southeast Asians in our community a higher likelihood of asthma, of having things like diabetes, of having respiratory problems, of having issues that allowed the pandemic to create these disparities – that allowed this pandemic to create higher death rates in our community and higher hospitalization rates.
“This isn’t a new problem. It’s a problem that’s been built on decades of racism towards BIPOC communities.”
“The situation is still dire in our community, and Covid has simply highlighted the extent of the disparity among people of color,” said Mark Fisher from Black Lives Matter RI.
Eugene Monteiro, former executive director of the Mount Hope Community Center told the story of an older relative who, when she was finally convinced to get the vaccine and scheduled an appointment, had to traverse across the City of Providence, using public transportation, to get her shot. “In that situation we’re asking [older, disabled persons] to possibly put themselves at risk to go get vaccinated,” said Monteiro. “That’s silliness.”
“It has been our communities of color who have been on the frontlines working at the grocery stores, on the frontline working in health care settings to provide the necessary services that all of us have needed to not only keep our economy afloat and that we have the basic services we need throughout the pandemic. Yet when Covid testing was first launched, there was a disproportionate number of individuals of color who were not able to receive the test,” said Representative David Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence).
“The same thing happened when the vaccine was rolled out. Our communities were not prioritized until we actually stood up and said we have been the ones sacrificing our health, earning low wages, yet we have not been receiving the benefit of the actual vaccine itself.”
Closing words from Daniel Luis Muñoz and Pastor Howard Jenkins:
With Blue Cross / Blue Shield threatening to end Covid coverage before the pandemic runs its course, and given that BIPOC communities are being underserved with vaccinations, will the financial impacts of this hurt BIPOC communities more? asked UpriseRI. Pastor Jenkins said the BIPOC community leaders are working to prevent this outcome.
The next question from UpriseRI concerned the Mount Hope Community Center, located in the 02906 Zip code in Providence. Until recently, 02906 was not on the list of Zip codes opening eligibility, possibly leaving the significant population of BIPOC residents unable to get vaccinated. Helen Baskerville Dukes and Daniel Luis Muñoz provided some insights on this.
Q & A with other media outlets.