Shining a Light on the Health Disparities COVID-19 has exposed for Marginalized Communities

In the opening scenes of the movie Just Mercy, Alice Stevenson is forcefully sweeping the front porch of her family’s Delaware home, nervous about the danger her son Bryan could face in southern Alabama.

“What you are doing is going to make a lot of people upset,” she says after Bryan Stevenson finally gets his mother to sit and talk.

Bryan, played by actor Michael B. Jordan, gently reminds his mother that it was the example of her heart for others that set him on his path.

“You always taught me to fight for the people who need the help the most,” he said.

Right now, in our battle against COVID-19, we must fight for more justice and mercy on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society.

The painful reality is that African-Americans are more likely to die of COVID-19 than any other group in the U.S.

The objective for thousands of African-Americans during the current global pandemic is to simply stay alive.

The facts are oppressive.

A Washington Post analysis found that majority-black counties had infection rates three times the rate of majority-white counties.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of nearly 1,500 hospitalizations across 14 states found that black people made up a third of the hospitalizations, despite accounting for 18 percent of the population in the areas studied.

An Associated Press analysis of available death data found that black people constituted 42 percent of the victims, doubling their share of the populations of the states included in the analysis.

In Louisiana, more than 70 percent of the people who have died so far from the COVID-19 pandemic were black, more than twice their 32 percent share of the state’s population, and well above the 60 percent share of the population of New Orleans, where the outbreak is worst.

In New York, African-Americans comprise 9 percent of the state population and 17 percent of the deaths. A similar pattern is emerging in North Texas’ under-resourced communities, according to Dallas County health statistics.

There’s no question that African-Americans suffer disproportionately from hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lung disease, obesity, and asthma—chronic diseases that make it harder for them to survive COVID-19.

African-Americans in poor urban and rural areas are all too familiar with food deserts, inferior or non-existent health care, being uninsured or under-insured, being unemployed, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and, sadly, experiencing the bias and stereotypes that poor people of color in America endure. Cumulatively, these all contribute to their poor health outcomes.

Yes, the root causes for the level of suffering too many African-Americans, Hispanics, and other communities of color are enduring from “The Black Plague,” as The New Yorker aptly named coronavirus, are no mystery.

The result is that this pandemic is exacerbating unacceptable weaknesses in our society that have existed for decades.

“If we say we are committed to equal justice under law, to protecting the rights of every citizen regardless of wealth, race or status, then we have to end this nightmare,” Stevenson says near the movie’s end.

Agreed. Let’s help end this nightmare for so many of our neighbors by fighting to expose how the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the unacceptable racial and ethnic health disparities in under-resourced urban and rural communities and on people living with physical and mental illness.

We invite all people of goodwill to join in a virtual Town Hall Meeting on April 30th from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., presented by the Alliance for Greater Works and funded by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. We will learn the facts, discuss root causes, tackle the myths of the disease, and create solutions together that community leaders and change agents can pursue to address these critical issues of well-being. Register to attend at

In the era of COVID-19, Dr. King’s words ring especially loud in the truth of these historic days: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

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