The (In)Equity and Resilience: Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19 Project

Solution Circles

Solutions Journalism Network chose the magnolia state as investment grounds to train newsrooms and journalists on how the people respond to problems, so that we, the media, can report solutions. This grant funds a collaborative effort joining together the Mississippi Free Press and The Jackson Advocate—the oldest Black-owned and operated newspaper in Mississippi run by Publisher and Editor DeAnna Tisdale. Our mission is to expose the roots of age-old systemic disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which heavily impacted Black women at the onset. In order to create equity for Mississippi Black women, we’ve decided to utilize investigative and muckraking journalism, compelling narratives, data mapping, live video testimonials, and inclusive solutions circles to hold the powerful, the rich and the predominantly white accountable. 

What we learned from solution circles...

  • 1: The first circle was on Sept. 1, 2020 and most of the state was fully in quarantine. Dr. Sandra Melvin, a 49 year-old epidemiologist, says her main concern as a public health professional at this time was effectively educating the public about COVID-19 and ensuring adequate coronavirus testing for the community. She was also very frustrated with the government’s response and lack of leadership.

    “I’m just really frustrated by the lack of leadership I’ve seen throughout the pandemic,” Dr. Melvin said. ”It didn’t have to be this bad, but we’re here. What are we going to do as a community?”

    On top of living in a racially polarized nation due to the slew of social injustices happening against Black Americans, most of them were worried about their own families that they could no longer hug or visit in order to keep them safe.

Sandra Melvin with short hair and a white collared shirt
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  • 2: This solution circle took place on Nov. 16, 2020, with a focus on voting concerns amid the pandemic. Each participant shared their voting story with varying elements such as the long lines, safety concerns as Black women at predominantly white polls, voting misinformation, concern for parents who are immunocompromised going out to vote, as well as those same elders deciding whether to risk COVID-19 exposure or risk their vote being miscounted as as absentee ballot.

    Dr. Corrine Anderson, Co-Founder/Co-Coordinator of S.T.A.N.D. (Sisters Taking Action and Nurturing Decision Makers), now 80, shared her perspective as an informed and involved senior during this election season, explaining how she went back and forth between two trains of thought. The first thought was to take her family and close friends’ advice to just send in an absentee ballot.

    “But the other thought was, ‘I’ve worked too hard and fought too long not to make sure I see my vote go into that machine,’” Anderson declared.

    Solutions:
     more voting and civic education resources going out once a week via various media streams, and make sure all of the information distributed is vetted and true.
     communities need to utilize organizations already in place, then those organizations should be responsible for one task each.

  • 3: The circle hosted virtually on Feb. 22, 2021 focused on experiencing healthcare disparities as Black women in Mississippi and their thoughts on Medicaid expansion. Various stories were shared about being ignored by providers, how Black elders are viewed as “looking good” instead of being more proactive about their healthcare, needing family and friends to advocate on their behalf while enduring pain during labor and surgery, the distrust Black women have for hospitals, and the lack of quality healthcare.

    Solutions:
     A living wage for all citizens
     Affordable, accessible and adequate healthcare including mental health services (expand Medicaid in Mississippi)
     Doulas/midwives; more resources for women (especially for pregnant women)
     Community education around policy, women advocacy, healthcare options and various types of providers (nurses, DOs, MDs, NPs, etc)

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  • 4: Black women feel unheard, unprotected, and forced into silence—just continue to work with their heads down due to the White and wealthy that actually still control these small counties; racism, severe segregation; lack of resources; vaccine/healthcare distrust and skepticism; how the media needs to do more to push out correct information by all mediums possible, including radio and being present in the community; each community needs policies that fit the needs of that unique community—death to cookie cutter policies. We’re also hearing in detail about existing system challenges from lack of access to health care to education inequities.

So far, all 4 of our BWC solution circles have been virtual via Zoom due to the pandemic. We get the word out via promotions on social media and good ole networking by word of mouth and handing out flyers within our networks. It’s also been hard to get really representative groups from across the state actually into the rooms, to show up. They are busy, overworked, homeschooling, whatever, especially Black women in Mississippi, which speaks to the point of the project.

The communities we’re focusing on—Noxubee, Holmes, Kemper specifically—are predominantly Black and rural, so broadband access/phone connectivity is a real challenge. So as we are making strong connections with the pillars in these communities—activists, school teachers, principals, doctors, grassroots orgs—getting each of them to commit to bringing at least 3 community members so that they can safely social distance in a common space where they all can connect to the circle via zoom. I also think collaborating with them on offering real incentives (something the participants actually need and can use) would increase participation and interest. Also, I have to do better with promoting each circle more in advance and make sure to send more reminders leading up to the day of the circle, including direct phone calls on the day of the circles.

Solution Circles

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Focus: Education

Focus: Health  Coming Soon

Focus: Crime and Safety Coming Soon