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Thursday, January 21, 2021

I’m just sayin’: Where’s the data?

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Why hasn’t the Indiana State Department of Health been collecting race data on COVID-19, given the well-known health disparities in communities of color?

During the governor’s press conference earlier this week, we learned that the health department had only just started collecting data on race. 

Honestly, the Black community has struggled to trust the medical profession anyway, and this kind of oversight does not help. 

We know COVID-19 does not discriminate, and health disparities, including underlying conditions within the Black communities, are well known.

• RelatedBattling COVID-19: ‘Is this my death march?’

Black people make up approximately 9.8% of the state’s population based on 2019 estimates. The Latinx community is 7.1%, and the Asian-American community is 2.5%. When we include people who identify as multi-racial, Indiana is approximately 21% non-white. 

Just looking at Black Hoosiers, according to information pulled from the ISDH website, Black people were more than twice as likely to get Type 2 diabetes. Their own data also notes that as of 2017, 13.4% of Black people had asthma in Indiana, and Black people were hospitalized five times more than white people.

Data matters. 

But this isn’t all on the ISDH. Health systems in Marion County — home to the largest Black population in the state — should’ve known better and made the case that race data mattered, especially given the false information circulating in the Black community about COVID-19. 

Diversity statements, charters, committees and councils ring hollow without actual cultural proficiency, equity and inclusion. 

Due to the current testing policies — which were driven by the availability of tests — we may never know the true number of people who had COVID-19 and recovered because they were never tested. We may not know all the people who died due to COVID-19.

• Chart: Tracking COVID-19 in Indiana

But we will have a picture of how Black people — a group known to be disproportionately vulnerable to this non-discriminatory virus — fared during this global pandemic. And that matters not only now, but for history. 

The health department is correcting the oversight and working on compiling the data. OK. 

Marion County health systems need to assist the ISDH and better yet provide their data on race to our community. The real question is what is happening in Indianapolis? 

This matters now for the Black community because if our systems are overwhelmed, there will be protocols to decide who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t. Then we may see the consequences of the institutionalization of disparities. 

We are in this together, but all of us aren’t in it the same way. 

What I am hearing…

There are many people who are doing all they can to preserve the “village.”

I’ve been heartened by stories of pastors who have pushed their ministries beyond the church walls to serve the hungry. The Near Northwest Faith Partners, under the leadership of Bishop Tyreese Bowman  of Greater Zion Fellowship Community Church, are working to provide meals to families and people in their community daily. 

Community churches — Pastor Carl Z. Liggins of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, Bishop Charles M. Finnell of Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Assembly and Pastor Ivan Douglas Hicks of First Baptist North Indianapolis, to name a few — are working together on this effort to provide an important service to the community. 

But they aren’t the only ones. 

When the Midwest Food Bank received an influx of 110,000 pounds of fresh produce, soups and dairy products from restaurants that were forced to close due to COVID-19, they contacted the city, but the city needed help. 

Leaders with B4U Fall, 46218 Community Engagement Group, Evolve and The Fathers Foundation came together with churches from across the city to seize the opportunity, leveraging their collective social capital and organizational capacity to get approximately $140,000 worth of food to the community. 

Barnes United Methodist Church, Hovey Street Church of Christ and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church stepped forward as distribution sites.

In speaking with the Midwest Food Bank staff, they noted the excellence of the operation and appreciated the capacity and the passion of the team that executed on the effort. 

They don’t do it for the spotlight or recognition, but I would personally like to thank the leadership of Shane Shepherd, Joi Redmon, Al Montgomery, Curtia Taylor, Shonna Majors, John Grice, Pastor Denell Howard, Rev. Charles Harrison, Rev. Ronald Covington and all of the volunteers, especially the young people who made this possible. 

My hope is that we can see more of these pop-up food distribution programs in our community. While we appreciate the pantries that serve our community on a regular basis, the energy of this particular pop-up was focused on the dignity of Black people during these tough times. 

When executed properly and safely, like this effort, it also facilitates an opportunity for people to fight back against this pandemic by helping others.

The community collaboration among grassroots — we can all appreciate that. 

No doubt, if there are other efforts underway, I want to hear about them. We need to talk about how we are helping ourselves. 

Finally, as banks begin the process of distributing our tax dollars to local businesses, we should be paying attention to whether Black businesses get the funding. More on that soon.

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.

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