Harlem (A Dream Deferred)
What happens to a dream deferred
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun…
Or does it explode?Langston Hughes, Harlem Renaissance writer
New York Outpaces the Rest of the Nation
COVID is laying claim in every part of the United States, but the state of New York vastly outpaces the Nation with 214,452 cases (4.15.20). Additionally, New York accounts for 49% of the deaths. I was watching the corona mess on the news and sipping some Twisted Tea when a Yamaneika Instagram post appeared on my cellphone. She had over 80,000 views. The colorful language she used to describe happenings in Harlem was not what you hear on the nightly news. It was raw and real. She mentioned one friend that just might as well “make love to the corona virus,” because she wanted to be in a crowded, tight space. I wanted to know more about what was going on up in Harlem.
African Americans Have Higher COVID-19 Death Rates
Harlem is the most densely populated neighborhood in Manhattan (New York City).
Recent COVID-19 numbers specific to Harlem showed a higher percentage of positive cases than Manhattan as a whole.Tweet
News articles confirmed the disregard of social distancing occurring in Harlem around eating establishments, such as the Gourmet Deli, sneaker shops, and public transportation.
Perhaps this was a bit of foreboding, as one week later there were reports of higher death rates for African Americans in various cities/states(see table).
Many experts said this news was not surprising, but there didn’t seem to be an effort to address this in advance. Members of Congress have now called for reporting of racial and ethnic data from the CDC. It is important to have racial and ethnic information to focus our efforts in areas with large Black populations.
Currently there is no race specific data for the state of New York, but many of the areas with high African American populations, like Brooklyn and Queens have significant numbers. Recent data for New York City show that death rates for Hispanic and African Americans are greater than other populations.
Jerome Adams (U.S. Surgeon General) offered advice to the Black community. His message received mixed reviews. Judge for yourself. What do YOU think?
Call them from their houses and teach them to dream.Jean Toomer
2020 marks the 100 year anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, a year that was supposed to be a grand celebration until COVID-19 crept in. Harlem was conceived by the Great Migration when southern Blacks traveled north starting around 1905, thirsting for a slice of the American pie.
The Harlem Renaissance, the New Negro Movement, began in the 1910’s, peaked in the 1920’s, and ended in 1930 during the Great Depression.Tweet
The Renaissance was a social, cultural, and artistic movement. During this period there was a dramatic rise in literacy levels among Black citizens, pride for the race, and flourishing businesses. Langston Hughes was perhaps one of the most notable greats during this period. His life story and literary contributions stand as lasting evidence of the impact. After the Great Depression and World War II, Harlem was struck by poverty and increased crime. In the 1960’s housing issues led to a decline in the population and 1990’s brought gentrification.
COVID- 19 Realities
Fast forward to 2020 and now there is coronavirus (’rona) disease 2019. ‘No one’ saw it coming and when it did come some rumored that Blacks were immune (couldn’t get the virus). Though some clung to the myth, it was busted when everyday Black folks were featured on CNN as victims of the virus, when Harlem’s Reverend Graham died from COVID-19, and the silky smooth Kevin Durant tested positive. Some people may not have understood that COVID-19 does not play! They didn’t understand that history would continue to play the same reel that characterized health inequities since Blacks landed on American soil.
Yamaneika implies what health providers have been saying about COVID-19.
When ONE person is infected, that person can infect 2-3 or maybe more people. Before you know it, more than 400 people are infected.Tweet
Not all infected people will die, but no one knows who will die. We do know that chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, other lung diseases, and even high blood pressure increase the risk of getting COVID-19 and dying. For most of these conditions Blacks have been disproportionately affected for decades.
Life Ain’t Been no Crystal Stair
So, when people continue to crowd in close quarters is this a death wish? Not necessarily. The life of Black people ain’t been no crystal stair as Langston Hughes wrote. Perhaps they have lost their Gig job due to COVID-19, the small business they worked for went under, or they were the last hired on a job that had to let employees go. Perhaps they don’t have a home. Perhaps their home is too small to create enough distancing for the family. Maybe there are limited food options in the neighborhood. Maybe public transportation is the only way to get to the job that requires them to show up despite COVID-19. Or perhaps there is no hope for a better life.
Is this a dream deferred, having no choice but to explode with no hope in the country where African Americans have always been relegated to second class status or to the back of the bus. Harlem is like Black communities in many cities. Do we just let Harlem and other black cities go down like this or do we rise up?
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”Dr. Martin Luther King
Decades of inequity, unfulfilled dreams, obstacles, economic hardship, no health care, mistrust of the systems- medical or otherwise. This has laid the foundation for where we are now. But, WE can take action, help others, and control of our fate:
- Do not just stay home if you have significant symptoms- cough, fever, and shortness of breath. Contact a doctor/clinic, be seen, advocate for yourself, family, and friends.
- Find a doctor you trust and get the information you need.
- Be informed- https://www.cdc.gov/.
- Reach out to the FAMILY. Ask them to stay at home, as much as possible. Text, email, or call on the telephone.
- Practice social distancing, six feet apart.
- Churches (400 in Harlem) – Fed your flock online. There are ways to stream the WORD.
- If you have to take public transportation, try to space yourself as much as possible. Use hand sanitizer and consider a mask, especially while on the train. It could be unsafe for a Black man to wear a mask in public spaces, so do what you think is best, off the train.
- Create your own campaign in your community to save lives.
- Don’t lose hope! We have been through a lot and have survived. The virus is dangerous, real, but it doesn’t have to kill. Protect yourself.
Last week the CDC released a COVID -19 racial and ethnic report that covered approximately 10% of the U. S. population. They are trickling out the data.