COVID-19, MLK's Legacy, & Communities of Color in the Upstate
COVID-19 has illuminated many racial disparities in our society that contribute to the disproportionate disease burdens in the Upstate.
The Center for Inclusive Communities arranged several events to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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On Jan. 14, Furman University’s Center for Inclusive Communities (CIC) released an email outlining how the Furman community will commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK). This year, several annual celebrations such as the MLK Day of Service were transformed into virtual events due to COVID-19 concerns. Despite these limitations, the CIC still hosted opportunities allowing the community to safely celebrate, an example being Monday’s independent opportunities for reflection.
As part of these celebrations, on Jan. 20, the CIC is hosting a webinar titled “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Impacts on Communities of Color in the Upstate.” The CIC explains that COVID-19 has illuminated many racial disparities in our society, such as structural health and social inequalities, that contribute to the disproportionate burden the pandemic has placed on local communities of color. This virtual panel features four community members: Jalen Elrod, Community Organizer; Traci Fant, Organizer for the Freedom Fighters Upstate SC; Geri Kinlaw, Teacher at Travelers Rest High School; and Carmen Ogles, Community Faith Coordinator at Bon Secours. As COVID-19 cases are rising in the Greenville area, understanding how the virus impacts communities beyond Furman may inform and strengthen student commitment to the empathy that MLK encouraged.
Deborah Allen, Director of the CIC, shared that the goal for this panel is “to be more thoughtful about what’s going on in our world in connection with MLK’s teachings, particularly around racial and economic justice.” The MLK Day programs this year focus on how communities outside of Furman have been impacted by COVID-19. “This is an opportunity to hear about the real impact,” Allen said, further describing this event as an opportunity to learn how the pandemic “has affected and transformed individual lives in our communities of color.” Panelists will discuss their work in addressing infection rates in the prison systems, local education systems, and other facets of life at the grassroots level and frontline during the pandemic.
Allen also hopes that Furman students will take current COVID-19 guidelines seriously, understanding that every individual action affects others during this time. “We know that COVID-19 is at an all-time high. The time is now - this is not something that is only impacting your life, and just remembering the greater good is important.”
The Paladin also discussed the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color with Dr. Shaniece Criss, who serves as a Health Sciences professor here at Furman and as a member of Travelers Rest City Council and Prisma Health’s Board of Directors. Dr. Criss stated that fortunately, the numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Upstate are easy to track. “We can see that we have higher numbers of people infected with COVID-19 here,” Dr. Criss explained. Dr. Criss also noted that COVID-19 highlights health disparities between racial groups that already existed. Dr. Criss elaborated that “many symptoms connected to COVID-19 are based on people’s pre-existing conditions. There’s already many types of health disparities between African-American, Hispanic, and white people living in the same area.” Higher rates of heart disease, asthma and obesity, as well as working in service jobs or living in multi-generational homes, are a few of the pre-existing conditions and circumstances Dr. Criss mentioned that may cause an increase in the severity of COVID-19 cases in minority groups.
To Furman students, Dr. Criss advises: “Take the advice on Furman Focused. There’s a committee of professionals who are spending hours each week making decisions to keep us safe. Everybody has to be willing to do their part and make a sacrifice now, so that we can be together in the future.” Dr. Criss’s advice for students extends past Furman’s gates, as the decisions of students, faculty and staff may contribute to the health disparities for communities of color beyond campus.
“The COVID-19 Pandemic and Impacts on Communities of Color in the Upstate” is available to the Furman Community over Zoom on Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 6:30 pm. Students can register for this event here.