What is Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19 Project Solution Circles:
In the “Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19” solution circles, we learn from Black women in counties across Mississippi about the deep-seated challenges the pandemic magnified in order to report their stories in deep historic and data-driven context. Our journalists then take those county-level discoveries and report them through a solutions-journalism lens, seeking actions that can work in counties across Mississippi. For the sake of this project, all participants were Black women of various ages, professions and backgrounds. We’ve done 8 virtual solution circles to complement our “(In)Equity and Resilience: Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19 Project.”
Zoom Link Goes Here
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.
This is how most of the group felt: afraid of dying or getting sick, being vulnerable due to being older or immunocompromised, uncertain of the government, struggling with cabin fever and anxiety coupled with depression, overwhelmed at work and at home (whether single and living alone in fear, or parenting children at home, struggling to balance personal life and homeschooling). The silver lining was also acknowledged, though: society seemed to be getting back to enjoying family time, artists and creatives were inspired, and the spirit of entrepreneurship washed over Black communities. It was a time of reflection, introspection, spending quality time, rest and revitalization.
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.
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.
Dr. Nekeitra Burse,
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.