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Op Ed: I Am Not Surprised by Death Disparity in African American Community Due to COVID-19

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

By Pastor Scott Onqué

COVID-19: Not an Equalizer

This week Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced at her press conference that African Americans in the City of Chicago make up 72% of the COVID-19 related deaths and 52% of cases, while comprising only 30% of the population. While this was shocking to most listeners, it was not for me. COVID-19 is unveiling the deep disinvestment in our communities and the historical injustices that still continue today.

African Americans in Chicago are the only race that is experiencing a caseload double the percent of the population. When we think of the lack of access to health care, healthy foods, good paying jobs, and the dissemination of false information in our communities, it is logical that we are confronting these crises with less resources and less ability to carefully protect ourselves. 

These were the numbers two weeks ago and they are not changing for our benefit:

  • Whites 33% of population yet only 21.3% of reported cases

  • Hispanics/Latinos 29% of population with 19.4 % of reported cases

  • Blacks/ African Americans 30% of population with 49.4% of reported cases

  • Asians 6% of population with 3.8% of reported cases.

Given this, we need a twofold response: it is critical we protect ourselves and have our political leaders ensure economic and public health policies protect us as well. 

As individuals, we must rigorously practice social distancing, carefully and regularly wash our hands and shelter-in-place unless impossible as an essential worker. While we are dealing with systemic racism that likely puts us at risk due to the types of jobs we have in our communities, we must work together to protect ourselves in the ways we can and compact the disproportionate death rate our African American communities are facing. 

Faith leaders need to emphasize education and meaningful outreach that addresses the needs of our community. As Hosea 4:6 says, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” I can say our people get sick and many perish because of lack of education or access to critical health care. Leading in education so our communities can protect themselves and know how to engage with their political leaders is essential. 

Not Just a Chicago Problem

This is not only an issue in Chicago. It is also happening in other densely populated cities. A recent article in ProPublica, Early Data Shows African Americans Have Contracted and Died of Coronavirus at an Alarming Rate, published on April 3, 2020 sheds further light on the issue. 

The article explains that everything from social media conspiracies touting immunity from COVID-19 among black people to the natural reaction against shelter-in-place as it brings up other historical restrictions like segregation, put black communities at increased risk. The statistics shared by ProPublica were staggering. From Detroit to New Orleans, COVID-19 hot spots and disproportionate rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths are seen in black communities. 

I am not surprised. We have been here before and must address this disparate crisis with courage and conviction. We must have policies that understand what is happening in marginalized communities. We have an opportunity in the state of Illinois and in the City of Chicago to direct resources to the most at-risk communities. 

A Call for Our Political Leaders

I applaud Mayor Lori Lightfoot for her effort to fight poverty in the City of Chicago. I urge her now to put that plan at the top of her list. 

I applaud Governor JB Pritzker for his sensitivity to the issues in the African American communities. I urge him to now make it a priority. Every piece of legislation must consider how it will address the needs of the least among us. 

For example, safety net hospital funding is critical right now. Limited resources have closed or will close many of hospitals, which will prevent those with the highest rate of cancers, heart disease, diabetes and those who are immunocompromised from receiving quality health care. We need equitable distribution of relief package funding so all communities are protected. 

May we use this time of suffering to guide us into a healthier future where elected officials choose to address disparities at their roots, communities are educated, and political leaders refuse to accept solutions that overlook the depth of racism and inequity in our community. 

More About Pastor Scott Onqué:

Pastor Onqué currently serves as Pastor of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church, a 100-year-old historic church on the south side of Chicago. He has served in this capacity for 14 years.  Under his leadership the church has grown tremendously both spiritual and numerically. He serves on several community boards and commissions and realizes that volunteering his time in community efforts is an integral part of his ministry.

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