The coronavirus pandemic has not been easy on any of us. We have all made sacrifices, big and small, to flatten the curve and protect our communities from the virus. But looking at the data, it is clear that the burden of this pandemic has fallen most heavily on communities of color in North Carolina, and especially in my own district in Winston-Salem.
A disproportionate amount of COVID cases in Winston-Salem have been African-Americans and Latinos; a disproportionate amount of Forsyth County evictions have been in majority-minority neighborhoods; a disproportionate number of layoffs have been in industries powered by minority workers.
This is not a new phenomenon; we saw the same outsized negative impact in 2008 with the financial crisis. These are gaps that already existed in the health, housing, and wealth of Black and Latino populations when compared to whites. These are issues that I’ve dedicated my life to addressing, issues that are now being exposed and exacerbated by COVID-19.
The fault is not on the virus alone, though. The Trump Administration has completely failed to handle the fallout. This utter incompetence has not only reversed gains made in the health of North Carolina’s communities of color - it has affected progress in housing, the wealth gap, educational attainment, and so much more. And without an Administration that will prioritize proactive measures to close those gaps, I don’t know how we will ever be able to recover.
For example, Greater Winston-Salem Inc.’s Minority Business Grant gives Black and Latino-owned businesses direct access to a $1.2 million fund dedicated to helping alleviate the burden of the pandemic. We’ve had numerous conversations at the local level about the need to to support programs like this, but the truth is we need true leadership at the national level to realize this program’s full promise. The federal stimulus response must include mechanisms that promote equitable access to resources if we hope to overcome the already large gaps in economic opportunity. Otherwise, we are only going to dig a deeper hole for our Black and Latino communities to climb out of.
Over one-third of Winston-Salem’s residents live in a high-poverty neighborhood. Many folks who are already struggling now will have nowhere to turn when evictions resume. We already saw that happen this summer, and absent of additional help, I worry about affordable housing options. The state has discussed allocating additional resources but it just won’t be enough without long term federal support.
So, today we find ourselves in a difficult, but devastatingly familiar position. However, there is great reason for hope. We have an opportunity to choose a different path out of this crisis, to elect a president who recognizes that race-neutral recovery policies will not fix decades of race-based barriers to economic opportunity.
I have seen that leadership. I have seen the inclusion of racial equity and economic opportunity in recovery plans, and I have seen a dedication to ideals of justice at the highest level of our government. Joe Biden has put forth plans to steer us out of this recession that include the advancement of racial equity as one of four pillars. Biden and his partner Kamala Harris have made this an integral part of their campaign.
Just like the Greater Winston-Salem’s fund, Biden proposes a $30 billion small business opportunity fund for minority business owners. His housing plan proposes a $15,000 refundable tax credit for first-time homebuyers and funding to construct 1.5 million homes and public housing units, combatting the impending affordable housing crisis. He incorporates advancing racial equity in each of his plans, from expanding access to health care to building our economy back better.
COVID-19 has forced many of us to finally address and admit to the inequities faced by Black and Latino Americans. I say many, not all. Our current President still prefers to overlook the centuries of poorly considered policy that have led us here, now, under his watch.
But change is on the horizon. Biden and Harris are the only choice this November that put forth plans to ensure the damage done by COVID is not cemented into our communities. I owe it to my constituents, and we owe it to our brothers and sisters to vote for hope, for opportunity, and for a more equitable future.