May 27, 2022

COVID isn’t over for vulnerable communities of color


A little girl was jumping rope on her grandfather’s farm in Bergen County, N.J., a 99.9% white community, when a storm window suddenly crashed on top of her, shards slashing her shoulder

She remembers the shock of blood flying, hitting the corn stalks she ran through. She remembers a hand coming from out of nowhere as her mother grabbed her and held her close wrapping her

Her father was close behind with a towel that he wrapped around the wound. As the father sped to the hospital, he plotted the route to safely get his daughter to the nearest one using back roads. In the 1960s, driving while Black and speeding could literally cost your life.

“What’s the rush?” The officer who pulled up beside growled. “Where you coming from? Pull over.” The clearly stressed father said, “I can’t.” The mother spoke through pouring tears while comforting her daughter, who was going into shock from the loss of blood. “Please. I need to get my daughter to the hospital.” The officer relented, but stayed alongside the car, joined by a phalanx at least three more patrol cars.

It could have been so different.

Arriving at the hospital, everyone looked like they had never seen a Black person up close — and likely hadn’t.

The young mother insisted she was not leaving her daughter’s side.

The mother felt lucky. She knew she could have been sent to another hospital … one that mostly served only Blacks.

At that time, both hospitals and health care were segregated.

I know of what I speak — the little girl in this story was me.

It burns me up when I hear stories about my people that are so simplistic concerning the history of why our community was vaccination averse. They mention the infamous Tuskegee experiment where Black men, without their knowledge or permission, were injected with syphilis. They omit that segregated hospitals where treatment or lack of it exacerbated chronic conditions is something we have faced for generations.

Fast forward to today, and the COVID pandemic was supposedly not as bad for folks of color as people thought. Bull.

If it were not for the quick actions of U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, then Acting Mayor Kim Janey, CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers Michael Curry, former chief of Health and Human Services for the City of Boston Marty Martinez and La Colaborativa’s Gladys Vega, COVID would have decimated Boston’s communities of color even more than it did.

But COVID is not over for us. The virus is still ravaging communities like Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park and Roslindale. If anyone believes for one minute that as mask mandates and other restrictions lift, that those who live in those neighborhoods are safe, you are sadly mistaken.

So I’m sounding the alarm. We need to keep the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition’s bus rolling on to finish the job in those neighborhoods. The COVID-19 Coalition bus went to the people, driving to places such as Bivens Park and the Reggie Lewis Center. They did more than educate people, they were trusted. They collaborated with communities, brought groceries to food deserts, and information on resources to avoid eviction. The need is quantifiable and the stats speak for themselves — 23% of COVID cases in Boston are among Black/African American people. That and the legacy of disproportionate access to health care make these communities especially vulnerable.

Joyce Ferriabough Bolling is a media and political strategist and communications specialist.