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Monday, January 25, 2021

Back on track does not mean out of the woods for African Americans

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“Remember (fill in the blank)? She (or he)  just passed away from COVID-19.” This is a conversation that is becoming all too familiar. Each announcement is as surprising as the last. In the past few weeks, the conversation has played out for many of us far too often. It starts with a phone call from a parent, friend, colleague or a former classmate. Each time the update on the latest COVID-19 casualty is met with thoughts such as, “I just saw that person a few days (or weeks) ago, and they appeared fine.”

The harsh reality is people continue to die every day from a virus for which there are still a lot of unknowns. Another fact is African Americans are one of the hardest hit populations. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, one out of every five COVID-19 deaths is an African American despite the fact that we only represent 9.8% of the state population. This virus is devastating to our community for a number of reasons such as the environments we live in, the jobs we do and the prevalence of health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

As Indiana and other states prepare to reopen, it’s important for the Black community to remember the high risks that still very much exist for us. Just because a business hangs a welcome sign does not mean the right thing to do is walk through the door right away.  

COVID-19 affects people in different ways. Some may never experience symptoms while others may have mild to severe symptoms. Those who may have undetected asymptomatic COVID-19 and are out in public spaces are dangerous for a population that is already at a greater risk due to underlying immunocompromising illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure. 

Staying at home is hard. Especially when we are entering the time of year when we find ourselves wanting to fellowship more at family reunions, neighborhood cookouts, weddings or graduation parties. We are all ready to get out of the house and get back to normal. But there is nothing normal about the havoc this virus continues to create.  

Yes, I will be the first to tell you I can’t wait to get back to the hair and nail salon. Three months ago, I joked about being a professional chauffeur on the weekends, taking my kids back and forth from lessons, games, playdates, repeat. More than 60 days into shelter-in-place, I would do anything now to be back in that same place. In order to get back to that place, all of us are going to have to take accountability for our actions. As much as I want to go shopping again, it’s not worth putting myself at risk in a public setting, knowing I have 7- and 11-year-old children and a husband who are depending on me. I also have parents who can’t wait to see their grandkids.  

Each interaction you make in a public place is a risk you are taking. This includes our churches, barbershops and nail salons — all gathering places in Black communities.  

The African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis (AALFI) recently launched a public awareness campaign called “Let’s Stay Together.”  The purpose of this campaign is to create greater awareness of the health and socio-economic effects of this global pandemic. We want our African American families to remain intact, and we don’t want to lose another unnecessary life to COVID-19.

So, what can we do? We can continue to stay home and limit our interactions with others. Pay attention to the health experts who update us daily on best practices for controlling the spread of the virus. We all have an obligation to help protect those around us. Our state may be getting back on track but African Americans here in Central Indiana are not out of the woods yet.   

The commitment I’m making to myself is one I hope everyone else will make as well. That’s because we are all in this together.  

Brandi Davis-Handy is a marketing and communications executive and a founding member of the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis (AALFI).

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