More than 1,000 people gathered in Boston Common on Sunday for Boston Pray. (WBZ-TV)
Following George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis, and the protests that ensued thereafter, some strange emails and texts started showing up on my phone. They went something like this:
Lisa, I just wanted to let you know I’ve been thinking about you. We are all in mourning. I’m wondering how you are and how tired, enraged, saddened you are by the chronic failure of our country and maybe a little hopeful that some modicum of change—though not nearly enough—may be on the horizon. One thing I am doing, in addition to taking actions, is reaching out to our black friends and saying we are here and want to listen and support.
This outreach, that came fast and furious, left me asking my African American husband and friends if I had missed something in the news cycle. It slowly became clear that there was something different going on in response to the death of yet another African American man by white men. White people in the USA, maybe because they were all locked up in their homes thanks to COVID-19, were being forced to experience the truth. The truth that African Americans have lived with since they came to this place called America as slaves, and before that when as Africans, they were colonized. Given that white people seem to be getting intimate with this painful truth, shouldn’t I be reaching out to them to see how they are doing?
Dear white friend: How are you feeling as you recognize that your privilege and power has come at the expense of millions of Black, Brown, and Native people in this country and around the world? That the disparities we are seeing from COVID-19 have always been there, and your ability as privileged white people to get any health care you need while Black, Brown, and Native Peoples can’t get any healthcare is the fruit of that disparity? Forgive me for my uncharacteristic bluntness, but did you know that your African American friends and colleagues design their lives in ways that protect them from well-intentioned, progressive, clueless and dangerous people such as you, as well as the KKK and white supremacists? I would think you might be struggling as you internalize all of this. As your friend I am here for you.
White people keep asking me if I have hope that things are changing. My African American friends don’t ask me this question – not even the most optimistic. As a community we have to have hope, otherwise we wouldn’t get up every day. To quote Cornel West, all of us who have the experience of systemic oppression are “prisoners of hope”:
“Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tends to be based on the notion that there’s enough evidence out there to believe things are gonna be better, much more rational, deeply secular, whereas hope looks at the evidence and says, ‘It doesn’t look good at all. Doesn’t look good at all. Gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.’ That’s hope. I’m a prisoner of hope, though. Gonna die a prisoner of hope.”
But what I don’t yet have is more hope. What would it take for me to have more hope you might ask? It would require white people actively seeking to become deeply intimate with the truth that is their own history and identity – to own their particular role and implicit responsibility for what they are watching on the news and protesting about in the streets. It requires white people to not skip truth and go straight to reconciliation to avoid the pain and discomfort (thank you Malcolm Jenkins of the New Orleans Saints). African Americans are socialized from an early age to be conscious of our truth and history if for no other reason than to survive – literally. If we get confused or try to forget or ignore the truth of our country’s entrenched racism, that intersects with patriarchy and capitalism, we might not survive another day on this earth.
I recently read an interview with John Stewart (formerly of the Daily Show). He made plain the truth white people have to come to terms with and what will be required for change:
“…every advancement toward equality has come with the spilling of blood. Then, when that’s over, a defensiveness from the group that had been doing the oppressing. There’s always this begrudging sense that black people are being granted something, when it’s white people’s lack of being able to live up to the defining words of the birth of the country that is the problem. There’s a lack of recognition of the difference in our system. Chris Rock used to do a great bit: ‘No white person wants to exchange places with me, and I’m rich.’ It’s true. There’s not a white person out there who would want to be treated like even a successful black person in this country. And if we don’t address the why of that treatment, the how is just window dressing.
“Truth Telling” is about listening. It is about coming to terms with the truth that your version of the world is predicated on what is lacking for or has been taken away from someone else. White people in pretty much any country on this planet did not get rich relative to people of color because of “hard work”. White people got rich because they stole land, murdered indigenous people, enslaved Read More
Dandelion Africa Director Wendo Aszed looks at how COVID-19 is affecting women in rural Kenya.
Greetings to you wherever you find yourself on the pandemic curve! Some places are beginning to open up, others are still in full or modified lock down. Wherever you find yourself, we are all still very much in a time of great uncertainty requiring us all individually and collectively as organizations to adapt and pivot to best respond to the needs around us. Everywhere around the world, women are disproportionatly leading on the frontlines of the COVID19 response. As this global pandemic continues its advance around the world, we are honored to share this update from Frank Beadle de Palomo, President & CEO of mothers2mothers about how they as an organization have adapted their regular programming to respond to this still unfolding global pandemic. Like all organizations doing this COVID19 pivot, m2m is centering it’s response around maximizing and preserving what is at the core of their work which, in this case, is a powerful community network centered around “Mentor Mothers” who are finding themselves well positioned for this frontline work.
“What gives me hope during this time is the fact that we did not go into hiding and wait for the pandemic to be over and then come back. No, we stood with our clients, we ensured that they received health services, we ensured that they stayed safe during this pandemic. As a result, we are going to come out stronger, better, and more knowledgeable.” – Wilbroda Akuro, mothers2mothers (m2m) Mentor Mother in Kenya.
Five. That is the number of ICU beds per million people across Africa, compared to an average of 3,400 in the United States. In many countries that we serve, the shortage of medical professionals defies belief. Mozambique, where m2m has been working since 2017, has only 3 doctors for every 100,000 people and more than half of Mozambicans must walk an hour or more to reach the nearest health facilities. It’s hard for those who have grown up in the U.S. or Europe to conceive of such shortages, especially in the face of pandemic. But that is why m2m’s Mentor Mothers have such a critical role to play as they fill in the gaps of healthcare systems further weakened by COVID-19.
m2m Mentor Mother with a client at the Namulenga Health Center in the Mulanje District of Malawi before COVID-19
Differentiating sub-Saharan Africa from the western world is a population of more than 20.6 million immunocompromised individuals living with HIV, according to UNAIDS. COVID-19 poses greater risks to populations living with HIV that are not on effective treatment. There are over nine million people throughout the continent who are not accessing effective treatment. COVID-19 not only infects individuals, it has been shutting down economies and services across the world. For individuals living with HIV who are on treatment, accessing their lifesaving prescription refills and viral load testing at this time is getting more and more difficult. Meanwhile, UNAIDS has recently estimated that – if HIV treatment is interrupted for six months – an additional 500,000 people could die.
Faced with these daunting realities, it is no wonder that COVID-19 has been described as a ticking timebomb for the African continent.
m2m is determined to play our part as COVID-19 rapidly spreads across the African continent. The nearly 1,800 women living with HIV who are employed by m2m as frontline health workers called Mentor Mothers – like Wilbroda Akuro in Kenya – are standing by the more than one million individuals they serve each year across nine African nations. These brave women have been designated “essential workers” in countries under full, or partial, COVID-19 lockdowns. This designation means they are able to continue to deliver health services and education to women and families – not only about HIV/AIDS – but also other serious health issues including COVID-19. At this time, their support is more important than ever to make sure that families access vital health services, stay in care, and adhere to treatment regimens. Mentor Mothers also ease the load on doctors and nurses, so they can focus on urgent and acute medical needs.
m2m’s approach to the emerging health crisis has been two-fold: ADAPT and PROTECT.
We have rapidly adapted our services to address the new reality of COVID-19. This has meant dramatically altering or reducing face-to-face services, and a pivot to eServices. We are reimagining how we reach and serve clients using tools such as WhatsApp and phone calls to engage clients where possible, and developing new, interactive platforms which will be rolled out soon.
In addition to providing core health services around HIV/AIDS; Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (RMNCH); pediatric case finding; and adolescent health needs; Mentor Mothers have adapted their expertise to deliver a new curriculum around COVID-19. Fearlessly, they help ensure those with symptoms access testing and health services.
Given the additional risks posed by HIV, we are also focused on ensuring everyone knows their HIV status and is adhering to treatment, if needed. HIV viral suppression is key to ensuring that those living with HIV are on equal footing to fight COVID-19. m2m already reports exceptional numbers on adherence (in 2018, 94% of our HIV-positive clients were adherent to their treatment more than 95% of the time). We need to keep that bar high and ensure that COVID-19 does not wreak devastation through this extremely at-risk population.
Concomitantly, and a major priority for us, m2m is also taking steps to protect Mentor Mothers and their clients to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. We have implemented measures to promote social distancing and are equipping our frontline staff with personal protective equipment—no small feat across nine diverse countries.
Fear and stigma can fuel the potential devastation of COVID-19. However, m2m’s Mentor Mothers are Read More
The Imago Dei Fund is looking to add to our team! Some of our partner organizations are also hiring. Please pass along these opportunities to anyone you think may be a good fit.