First, the good news: We had an extremely successful fundraising campaign for the Future Foundation recently, where — thanks to so many donations big and small — we acquired $250,000 for our Foundation’s kids! It was $80,000 OVER our original goal (!!) and will help us address the needs our students and their families are having because of COVID-related issues, such as food insecurity and lack of access to digital learning tools.
Now, the bad news: It’s a drop in the bucket when you consider the deeper, overall needs of black and brown people everywhere.
It’s sad, but it’s true.
Because if there’s one thing that’s had a spotlight thrown all over it in recent months, it’s the disparity between the resources of the “haves” and the “have nots.”
It started with the closure of schools.
When COVID-19 forced our schools to close, the surface level issues became impossible not to see. So many students, primarily those in underserved areas that are predominantly black and brown, had an immediate food problem. Gone were up to two meals a day (sometimes even three) that students (and their families) relied on the schools to provide.
Likewise, the learning gap stared us in the face, too. Kids who were living in a home with a computer or other digital device and had access to good-quality internet had everything they needed for digital learning, while kids who didn’t live in a home with those resources had no way to stay on track, learning with their class.
We saw these issues intimately with the 400 young people we serve each day through the Future Foundation, and we’re so grateful we were able to mobilize and fundraise for them to remedy many of these surface level issues.
But the thing that makes me feel especially ashamed and frustrated is how much deeper this problem is. Our 400 Future Foundation kids are really just a microcosm of what we know is going on more broadly throughout our nation and definitely throughout the world.
At its root are systematic inequalities — when a society is set up in a way that reinforces and keeps discrimination alive against certain races.
It’s evidenced in the way that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color.
Like our Future Foundation students who live in poor neighborhoods in metro Atlanta, many black and brown people live in areas that don’t have great access to grocery stores and healthy food. They typically don’t make as much money as white people, and they don’t hold as much wealth. All of these things lead to less access to good health and ultimately, less access to good healthcare.
People with less access to good health and good healthcare are more likely to develop health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, and not surprisingly, people of color suffer from these conditions at high rates. In addition, the sheer stress of not being able to meet your needs — financially, emotionally, nutritionally, academically, etc. — leads to hypertension, another condition Blacks experience at high rates.
When you have a virus like COVID-19 that makes people with pre-existing conditions more susceptible to getting it (and dying from it), that puts people of color at a huge disadvantage.
The thing that really concerns me, though, is how all of these issues being illuminated now have been compounding on each other for decades upon decades.
As a country, it picks at how much better we have to do for ALL of our people. We can’t pretend we don’t know anymore (as if we ever really could).
At the same time, it once again begs the question: what do we do?
The problem feels enormous and it’s hard to figure out what action to take that will actually make a difference. Although I’m encouraged by the great contributions we’ve witnessed during this time, I am left feeling helpless against the structural disparities that are ravishing many underserved communities, like the ones the Future Foundation serves.
One thing we can do is find a way to impact our little corner of the world. For me, that means focusing on the Future Foundation and putting my efforts toward supporting our staff and continuing to fundraise and help our kids.
For you, it might mean finding ways you can help in your communities, your neighborhoods, or the charitable organizations you support. Again, I’ve seen a lot of people doing amazing work and giving to people in this time of need.
Yet, along with our actions, we need to ponder and make progress with the larger communal and societal questions that desperately need answering.
How can we better support ALL of the people who live in our country and our world?
What kind of neighbors and citizens do we want to be?
What can we do to fix our system so that no one is disportionately affected by crisis?
How do you make our system more just and equitable?
The reality of this situation is: no one is going to swoop in and magically fix these big problems for us. It’s on us, and only us.
And while we can thank COVID-19 for illuminating the inequities in our system, we know COVID-19 is not going to take them away.
What we need is to commit to digging in together and taking actions both big and small to start chipping away at answering and fixing these big questions as best we can. The result will benefit us all.