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What does a coronavirus reopening look like for the inner city? | COMMENTARY

The Rev. Donte' Hickman wonders what the post-pandemic world will look like for inner cities.
The Rev. Donte' Hickman wonders what the post-pandemic world will look like for inner cities.

Who cares about the black and brown communities of Baltimore?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began all we continue to hear about are the comorbidities and health disparities that African Americans and impoverished communities have to endure. And yet there are no widespread testing, education and preventive measures on the horizon. Instead, there is the romanticizing of charity with food drops without the necessary investment for the future health, wealth and sanity of the neglected among us.

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It appears that the plan to reopen society has not taken into account the reality that many of our underserved communities will have to continue to endure. For them, an after the pandemic shutdown reality will look no different than their reality before and during the pandemic. The lack of healthy foods, safe housing, amenities and other resources will likely continue to leave these communities vulnerable to the virus and violence that poverty sustain.

COVID -19 exposed the human neglect, indecency and inability to provide a constructive corrective to urban impoverished communities. Now is not the time to look back and blame the past or cower in a corner of stagnation. We need transformative investment that directly shifts the trajectory of African American communities in Baltimore.

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Our city cannot expect to be healthy and wealthy in its corporate image if we don’t engage in a major open heart surgery of inner city communities.

The immediate question that must be answered is: What does recovery look like for inner city communities? Surely the answer cannot continue to be that liquor stores are essential businesses needed for the sustainability of our neighborhoods.

Instead, urban communities need digital justice and better access to technology. We need increased capacity for electric power, as well as power source alternatives that are not cost prohibitive. It should include a better health care infrastructure to mitigate against diabetes, heart disease, blood disorders, asthma, obesity and other health disparities in the African American community.

These communities need laptops, internet access, educational infrastructure and parental and administrative accountability measures in every home so that no child is truly disadvantaged and left behind. Economic empowerment and sustainability is needed for those who work in the service industry that make up the bulk of the people who live in the inner city and who are also the most vulnerable to viruses, violence and economic oppression.

The recovery has to rethink and reconstruct our idea of the prison industrial complex so that it prioritizes health standards and safety for those who are still pursuing the right to be productive citizens. It is inhumane to subject inmates to infectious diseases without the proper immunizations and health care provisions.

For urban communities a post-pandemic world also needs to take into account that government stay-at-home orders are luxuries to people who can afford them. But for the poor these orders are depressing, demoralizing and disorienting. To stay home in substandard housing, with not enough food, limited amenities and mobility, and lack of technological access can seem like a death trap for many. Staying at home is a luxury that most residents of urban communities cannot afford. And neither can the sustainability of our city and state afford to allow the disintegration, dilapidation and deterioration of our urban communities to persist. Instead we must use COVID-19 to fuel our passion and politics to prioritize the recovery of these communities.

Going forward the faith-based community must be a valued partner and voice at the table of decision and distribution of community health guidelines and resources. For many in our urban centers the church is not just the place people go to worship, it is the institution that people trust for information and inspiration. Throughout this pandemic I have been encouraged by the partnerships that many of our faith-based institutions have formed to consistently collaborate on best practices, proactive safety measures, virtual children’s summer camps, community food distribution, meals for front line workers, support for minority-owned restaurants and small businesses and community testing hubs.

While many have argued over the separation of church and government, whether it’s lawful to open and close a sanctuary, we have been more interested in finding relevant and meaningful ways to connect people to hope, opportunity and normalcy. But we realize that we cannot do this alone. And if there is anything we all should learn from COVID-19 is not the need for social distancing, but for social determination and social development toward equality, economic empowerment, educational parity and emotional well-being.

COVID-19 exposed our separation and our initial reaction has been to further separate. But could it be that the solution and salvation for us all is to come together.

Donte’ L. Hickman is pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore City, Harford and Howard counties. His email is pastorhickman@me.com.

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