Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Dana Lyles: Two Pandemics at the Same Time

Today's post is by Dr. Dana Lyles, Director of Multiethnic Ministries at the General Board of Global Ministries.

For me, the past twelve months have been particularly challenging. Our nation has been grappling with the devastating impact of COVID-19, and 2020 saw multiple shootings of unarmed Black people. These two pandemics—one of COVID-19 and one of racism—at the same time have taken a heavy toll.

COVID-19 amplified healthcare disparities between White and non-White people. According to the APM Research Lab, people who identified as Native American/Indigenous, Black, or Pacific Islander had a higher mortality rate than those who identified as White. Now as vaccines are being made available, non-White people are being vaccinated at lower rates than White people. During the first month of the US vaccination program, 60.4% of those receiving the COVID-19 vaccine identified as White.

Between April 1 and May 25, 2020, the United States grappled publicly with the killings of Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Arbery and Taylor died in February and March respectively, but their deaths did not gain widespread media coverage until months later. Arbery’s death was first reported by national media on April 1st. Taylor’s death was reported on May 13th. Two weeks later after Taylor’s death was reported by national media, George Floyd died on a Minneapolis sidewalk while in police custody. Taylor and Floyd’s cases caused outcry across the nation as two unarmed Black people died from the actions of police officers.

As a self-identified Black person, I was angry.  I was angry that members of my collective Black community were dying at a higher rate due to COVID. I was angry that members of my community were being killed by those who had taken an oath to protect and serve. I didn’t feel safe.

Not only has the Black community been impacted by acts of racism, our Asian brothers and sisters have been subjected to an increase in racist attacks since the pandemic occurred. In the past year hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by 150% in major US cities, and most of those acts were against women.  Hate crimes against Hispanic and Latino communities continue to increase to an all-time high.

After the killings last summer, we saw multiple statements released by companies, organizations, and even The United Methodist Church condemning racism and acts of violence. Many annual conferences and even the Council of Bishops released statements condemning racism. Beautifully crafted statements are meaningless unless there are actions behind the words. In the Council of Bishops statement, they requested actions included asking “United Methodists to read all they can on the subject of anti-racism and engage in conversations with children, youth and adults” and to “join in prayer at 8:46 AM and PM for 8 minutes and 46 seconds for at least 30 days.”

As a denomination, we must move beyond surface-level actions of acknowledgement and begin to actively engage in mission in our local communities for change. We cannot continue to read books and have “uncomfortable conversations” without subsequent action or change in our communities.

Our local communities have mission opportunities to engage in mission with our non-White brothers and sisters. There are many communities that have immediate needs being overlooked. Flint, Michigan still does not have clean water. Water access to some parts of the Navajo Nation is nonexistent, and residents have to rely on a water truck to bring clean water each week. Food insecurity continues to be a pressing issue in many of our major cities, especially in non-White neighborhoods. Rising home and rent prices due to gentrification is making it increasingly difficult for families to find safe and affordable housing.

As part of the church’s missional response to these injustices, the Multiethnic Ministries Unit at Global Ministries connects and collaborates with US Annual Conferences and congregations for mission programs related to racial/ethnic ministries through various programs.

The Community Developers Program has been in ministry and mission with racial/ethnic congregations and communities since 1968. The Community Developers Program (CDP) is a network of racial-ethnic congregations and communities throughout the United States committed to advancing the church’s capacity to be in mission partnership with the communities where they are located. Work includes advocacy, economic development, youth organizing, addressing local needs, creating an awareness of national and international causes and effects. Currently, the CDP Network has 22 community sites in 16 states spanning all 5 jurisdictions. Our sites are engaged in advocacy work such as affordable housing, access to healthcare, and immigration concerns.

Last year, the Multiethnic Ministries Unit awarded dedicated grants to Black and Brown communities to assist in multitude of COVID-19 relief efforts. Grants were used to provide access to food, rental assistance, and healthcare assistance.  The unit also awarded grants to congregations in the Minneapolis community to assist residents directly impacted by the social unrest after the killing of George Floyd. The grant was used to assist residents with access to medication, healthcare, food, and mental health support.

There is much more work to be done, though, in responding to the two pandemics affecting racial/ethnic communities. I encourage you to work with your local congregation, district, and/or annual conference to explore potential mission opportunities in racial/ethnic communities. It is time for The United Methodist Church to move beyond beautifully crafted statements and align our words with actions.

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