By Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer
Founding Director, Salvation and Social Justice, SandSJ.org
This week has been a roller coaster ride of phone calls and teleconferences. I have had to work with our team to answer one long pressing question: How do we advocate; to abolish the drug war, for the incarcerated, for police accountability, to demand more equitable and inclusive schools, for deeper investments and restoratives justice centers for youth, to eliminate the racial wealth gap, and Black maternal health in our current environment?
Admittedly, I started the week at a loss. But as the week progressed it became very clear to me that our work was more necessary than ever. In the midst of a pandemic not only will the most pressing racial justice issues take a back seat, even more problematic racial justice issues will emerge.
It is extremely important to state that SandSJ applauds Governor Murphy, whose leadership in such unbelievably trying times has been exceptional.
We applaud the legislature for quickly activating to push through emergency legislation to sure up as many aspects of our state as possible. But even with these valiant efforts Black communities will experience disproportionate fallout from this crisis. Therefore, our work as a racial justice organization is more critical than ever. It is our job to bring attention to leadership of the potential blind spots that Black communities are too often situated in.
As a state we must release vulnerable people incarcerated. Now is the time to seriously consider compassionate release and letting those go who are nonviolent and others who have served extremely long sentences. There are people incarcerated over fifty years old who no longer pose a risk. The Department of Corrections and the Parole Board should let people go now whose sentences are up in the next two to three years. Additionally, the state must stop putting new youth behind bars and let those go who are due to be stepped down.
We must look at the existing health disparities in Black communities. Many Black people do not have primary care and don’t have routine visits. Because we are far less likely to have coverage and access to quality care we use the emergency room instead. The new demand will further crowd out Black people from health care access.
Black mothers were already underserved in the health care system. The strain the pandemic has put on the health system will severely exacerbate Black maternal and infant mortality rates.
Homeownership will further decline as people lose employment furthering the racial wealth gap. Historically, when relief funds were distributed Black people were disproportionately denied relief. We only need to look at Hurricane Sandy to see that out of the shore towns, Atlantic City had an extraordinary 80% of its applicants denied. While others were rebuilding their lives, Black people remained devastated and have yet to recover.
Several of us have been working to promote energy efficiency programs in Black communities. This strategy is the most direct way to include us in the green revolution and most importantly the “green” economic benefits through savings which are desperately needed. Our energy bills are one of our hardest burdens. Those bills will only get higher as we are forced to stay in our homes.
Undoubtably the inequity in our apartheid level segregated schools is glaring now that we see how difficult it is to do home schooling in certain school districts. The impact the pandemic will have on Black children’s education will be incalculable.
Black led organizations such as ours will be particularly vulnerable as we do not have the cash reserves necessary to hold us through this transition. We are not discouraged. In fact, we are excited to build capacity to work on these racial justice priorities. We will build our online organizing framework and infrastructure. Our donors and our funders have been the life blood of our work and success.
SandSJ has worked with our team and volunteers to implement systems to stay in contact and collaborate more effectively than ever. We are moving our in-person gatherings to virtual ones and making sure people are able to be plugged in. Here is SandSJ’s command central in my home office.
The work is going on. The Pandemic is a racial justice issue!
I wish I could say I had the answers, the perfect strategy to deal with these inevitable challenges. I do not. But what I do know is when we engage communities with these questions they step up, problem solve, and advocate for their deliverance. The coronavirus is no different.
We look forward to our continued partnership in the days, weeks, and years to come!
That’s the Salvation and That’s the Social Justice!