The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 Require Dismantling More Than the Virus: How Intermediaries are Centering Racial Equity in their Responses

By Ally Margolis, Every Hour Counts

Longstanding, structural inequities seem to seep their way into every crevice of our country. The coronavirus further exposes this problematic pattern, unveiling entrenched racial inequities in education, health care, criminal justice, employment, technology, and more. Clearly these disparate impacts involve dismantling more than the virus.

COVID-19 has ripped away the curtain on deep-seated racial inequities embedded within our country’s systems and institutions. Weeks of protests following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Amaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and far too many other Black Americans — amidst a global pandemic disproportionately impacting Black people — make clear that racial inequity is unrelenting. Wokie Weah, President of Youthprise, spoke to this on our recent virtual event, Connections and Solutions: Local Intermediaries Leading the Charge for Afterschool, “We are experiencing two pandemics — COVID-19 and racism. Both are connected, and both hurt the black population more than others.”

Protestors across Minneapolis, the country, and the world are speaking out against these dual pandemics. So too are many afterschool leaders and organizations, continuing the fight against structural racism and working tirelessly to increase access to quality learning opportunities for young people. Several Every Hour Counts organizations are modeling strategies organizations can take to mitigate inequities in their communities, actions that can inform efforts in other communities both to fight the impact of COVID and structural racism. These intermediaries are working across sectors and bridging silos, collaborating with vast networks of community partners, and calling on local and state policymakers to mobilize shared ideas into action-oriented solutions.

Several Every Hour Counts intermediaries — Youthprise in Minnesota, Collective for Youth in Omaha, NE and Greater Tacoma Community Foundation in WA — are working towards more racially equitable responses to the virus by empowering youth through advocacy, leading advocacy campaigns, and convening community stakeholders.

Youthprise’s Youth Lead Advocacy Efforts to Increase Access to Digital Learning

The phrase, “Nothing about us, without us, is for us,” is painted across Youthprise’s office walls. Youthprise, a statewide afterschool intermediary organization in Minnesota, views youth engagement and racial equity as the key drivers in fulfilling its mission to increase equity for indigenous, low-income and racially diverse populations. In the wake of COVID-19, the organization’s youth leaders are mobilizing to rectify the digital divides they’re experiencing.

Youth leader Salma Abdi shared, “The way distance learning is going is not equitable, but equal, so it’s like putting everyone on the same scale when in reality some people’s parents have different education levels, more access to tutoring and other services, and have the time.” Her colleague, Ava Kalenze, noted, “I don’t think we’re learning as much, and there aren’t really any parameters we have to stick to make sure we’re retaining the information.”

Youthprise teamed up with other local nonprofits to address gaps in digital access in this letter to state officials and at a virtual town hall event where youth leaders shared the challenges and inequalities surrounding virtual learning and advocated for a new set of priority recommendations. State Representative Adri Arquin seemed to agree, identifying the first step as ensuring everyone has access to education, and next figuring out how to catch up those who have fallen behind because of inequitable access. Representative Arquin stressed the importance of looking not only at the immediate responses to the virus, but the long-term impacts.

Youthprise, the Minnesota Youth Council, and the Minnesota Alliance with Youth also called on policymakers to implement the following recommendations:

  • Universal access to devices and broadband.
  • Standardized pass/fall for all students across Minnesota for this period of time.
  • Increased access to mental health resources.
  • Lower student to counselor ratios to provide academic and emotional support.
  • Provide free meals to students this summer to fight hunger and support the struggling agricultural economy.

Youthprise is building on this work, putting pressure on representatives to update Minnesota’s income limit for the K-12 Education Tax Credit, which they see as an achievable and bipartisan solution to accomplishing two key goals: 1. Ensure every low-income student has access to a device for distance learning at low or no cost, if they were not provided one by their school; and 2. Offer avenues for low-income students to access affordable and high-quality academic enrichment services to compensate for the learning loss caused by distance learning.

Greater Tacoma Community Foundation (GTCF), WA Addresses Disproportionate Outcomes of COVID-19 on Black Washingtonians

During a recent call with the Every Hour Counts Network, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation’s Fahren Johnson spoke to the glaring, disparate impacts that COVID-19 is having on Black people across Washington state and the country. Among the many inequities, Johnson explained how funding and relief information from the “CARES Act was my biggest trigger. When funding rolled out, our expanded learning providers — small, grassroots organizations and black-owned businesses — were the last to know what was going on.” Several organizations did not have the technical assistance or relationships with banks that were so helpful in securing CARES Act relief like small business loans and paycheck program protection. As Fahren explained, “If you’re not in that space of haves, you don’t get information rolled out to you in that way or if you do it’s too late, the application is closed, the money is gone.”

Greater Tacoma Community Foundation is joining forces with local nonprofit organizations to disrupt current inequities and shape long-term changes for Black Washingtonians. In their open letter to Washington state, GTCF and Washington’s Urban League call on state policymakers and financial institutions to devise a comprehensive plan for ensuring that equal economic opportunities are afforded to black communities across the state. The letter advises that as COVID-19 shuts down schools, businesses, and restaurants, plans must be enacted to ensure that Black Americans and underserved populations can recover and rebuild. The letter points to historic examples where this was not the case, such as the 2008 recession response, where Black Americans disproportionately faced economic insecurities like job and housing loss, and in 2013, when the unemployment rate for Black Washingtonians was twice as high as the overall state rate, with nearly 60 percent of Black children living in poverty.

These numbers are simply unacceptable. GTCF is advocating for legislators to address longstanding racial inequities head on, instead of repeating problematic responses of the past. To do this, the organization suggests that the state appoint a task force of leaders from nonprofits, financial institutions, and state agencies to implement the following recommendations:

  • Insert equity into outreach efforts and funding decisions to ensure smaller organizations, especially those in harder hit communities and inclusive of the African American community, are part of that mix.
  • Ensure funding for career readiness programs, training and certifications for careers in demand.
  • Provide a quick, streamlined process to receive low interest loans for small business owners.
  • Limit funding cuts towards cash assistance programs.
  • Provide an economic stimulus package towards those missed in the CARES Act.
  • Increase support in housing counseling to ensure that homeowners and renters have the support to stay in their home.
  • Plan a new revenue structure that does not rely on sales tax and low-income residents.

The role of racial equity in funding decisions is vital, as Fahren points out, “If you don’t have a racial equity lens, it’s going to affect every other space we’re trying to navigate.” For Tacoma, the impact sheds light on two key challenges — technology and data. Despite being one of the most tech-savvy countries in the world, many young people in Tacoma are still without access to laptops, in a time when these devices are gatekeepers to learning.

Why is this problem persisting? According to Fahren, “Racial equity has to show up in data or else we are not going to be able to capture what we need. It’s so important when it comes to data because we will capture free and reduced lunch data, special education data, discipline data, but we’re not able to capture data on who we are serving on the front line during this epidemic of COVID 19.” Tackling this challenge, explains Fahren, will require careful thought around how to build sustainable systems in the expanded-learning space that center around racial equity and develop providers’ capacity to understand their own data so they can get the funding and resources to continue the work they’re doing.

Collective for Youth (CFY), Omaha, NE Reimagines Community Conversations on Racial Equity

Inspired by the Every Hour Counts Racial Equity Training in June 2019, Collective for Youth hosted in-person racial equity trainings in February 2020, led by the Racial Equity Institute, for nearly 150 community members, including nonprofit leaders and young people, who found the experience particularly meaningful. CFY’s Executive Director, Megan Addison, shared that “Middle and high schoolers were excited about what they learned and sharing the information with their peers and teachers,” which helped foster “real conversation in the community.” Facilitators from the Racial Equity Institute led discussions on race and racism in America that provided youth and adult participants alike an opportunity to visit or re-visit truths about our country’s history and work collaboratively to think through solutions to racial disparities.

When the global pandemic hit, halting future in-person trainings and exacerbating racial disparities across the country, CFY had to rethink its approach to continuing the conversation. The result: weekly Let’s Talk About Racial Equity discussions led by CFY’s Program Quality Director, LaRon Henderson, which take place over Zoom for CFY’s vast network of afterschool partners. Each Friday, anywhere from 40 to 70 community members participate, prepared to discuss topical pre-readings such as these ones and draw connections between past events and present conditions and systems.

LaRon begins every discussion by setting group expectations, noted left, to help participants “get proximate to the problem [and] talk about white and black, institutional racism, and how it affects everyone.” Henderson also focuses on staying grounded in the facts, rather than emotion, to help people challenge previously learned mindsets and narratives.

These guidelines serve as a kind of blueprint to ensuring the discussion remains respectful while pushing people to navigate feelings of discomfort. According to LaRon, “When it comes to racial equity or racial inequity, some people think, ‘It’s not a white person’s problem or we need to help the black folks out.’ Many of us have been equipped to have these conversations, but for some folks, this is new, so we want to encourage people to stay engaged and stay committed.”

A Look Ahead: How Afterschool Intermediaries Can Advance Racial Equity

Youthprise’s Wokie Weah shared sound advice for intermediary organizations across the country, looking to advance racial equity and dismantle inequities in their communities, during our June 4th national event, Connections and Solutions: Local Intermediaries Leading the Charge for Afterschool:

  1. We do not need to go back to how things were. We need to advance with a new normal.
  2. Do a complete diversity audit of your organizations. Look at your board. Do you have representatives on your board that serve the communities you are trying to serve?
  3. Look at different policy actions. What type of policy actions do we need to take, and do we need to take now? This is about looking for economic justice, asking ourselves the question, ‘Are we innovating to build systems, or do we build systems to innovate?’

A network defined by connections, solutions, social justice, and the spirit of collaboration, Every Hour Counts is committed to fighting against disparities, racism, and injustice to create more equitable communities.

Together as a network, we will continue to raise awareness of structural racism and its consequences on youth and work to address systemic racial inequities — both in our organizations and in the communities where we work. We will also continue to illuminate voices in and beyond our network and the strategies system-builders employ to inspire and inform racially equitable policy and practice around the country.

Additional Resources:

Collective for Youth, Omaha, NE: Collective for Youth is a connector for advocacy, resources, and training for out of school time providers. CFY is committed to connecting youth to high quality programs and to growing a community of thriving partners who ignite the imagination and grow the minds of youth. To accomplish this, CFY partners with more than 60 providers to oversee out of school time activities for over 7,000 elementary- and middle school-aged students in 37 Omaha Public Schools each year.

Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Tacoma, WA: Greater Tacoma Community Foundation provides resources that include philanthropic services, funding, support for community partnerships, community connections, and community dialogue around pressing issues. GTCF believes in strengthening its community by fostering generosity and connecting people who care with causes that matter and ensuring that Pierce County, WA is a thriving, engaged, and caring community.

Youthprise, Minnesota: Youthprise works to increase equity with and for Minnesota’s indigenous, low-income, and racially diverse youth. Youthprise envisions a Minnesota where outcomes for youth are no longer predictable by race, geography, or socioeconomic status. Youthprise’s impact areas include learning and leadership, economic opportunity, and health and safety.

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