We mark our lives by the memorable moments, events, occurrences and reactions that date and define us, that chronicle history and future aspirations. Indeed, these benchmark moments, let us know who we are and how we showed up. It is particularly in times of crisis—like the one we are all living through now–leaders must show up ready to put our shoulders to the wheel of change and progress. For me, that means we especially must show up for the Black community.
In fact, over the last twenty years, I have tried to use my time as an elected official to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic that disproportionately affects Black people in America. I continue the work we must do to root out poverty and expand access to reproductive health for women of color and women with low incomes. We must address the systemic and structural racism that exacerbates these issues and others that plague our community.
While this country has made progress, it is no surprise to my colleagues and I that the COVID-19 pandemic shines a light on the systemic racism and structural inequity people of color and people with low incomes face. At this critical moment, our response must not ignore their plight. So far, the data tells us COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting the Black community in deadly ways. This is an unacceptable reality.
Along with my colleagues, I am fighting for legislation to gather and disaggregate the data on all aspects of this pandemic by race and gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. We insist on rapid testing in communities most impacted and access to immediate treatment and care. We must ensure that our Community-Based Organizations and Black media outlets are funded to deliver important messages and services.
We must also continue to fight for Personal Protective Equipment for our essential workers, many of whom are Black and to whom we owe a great deal of gratitude. In order to truly have our voices heard and protect our communities, we must have adequate resources targeted to those communities disproportionately impacted by COVID 19. Without it, this is a pandemic upon a pandemic in the Black community.
As we weather the storm we must not forget that we can all do something to show-up and lead for our communities.
Like you, I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of neighbors checking on each other by offering to shop for an elder or virtually tutor our young people. I’ve seen the spirit of our community shine in the ways we’ve used the arts to stay connected and find joyful moments. We will get through this crisis together but we must show up for one another.
We show up by issuing a clarion call to participate in the 2020 Census and ensure our households are counted. If not, we will be counted out when decisions are made to fund and deploy resources that make the difference between having a well-funded school for our kids or adequate access to health services.
We must show up on Election Day. I am standing with my Democratic colleagues in urging states to make vote-by-mail and absentee voting available to everyone who wishes to use it. No voter should be forced to choose between their health and participating in democracy and we must not allow this pandemic to give more reason for voter suppression.
This year, the stakes are very high and our future hangs in the balance but as our beloved Dr. Maya Angelou said, “and still [we] rise.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) is a leading member of the United States House of Representatives from Oakland, California, former Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and the highest-ranking Black woman in the United States Congress.