For Montclair Local

The protests across the nation for racial justice and the heightened attention to the gross health disparities amid the world’s worst health pandemic highlight the urgency to accelerate addressing the matters of racism and bigotry in the context of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

The impact of racial injustice is highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic and the attendant economic crises that hit Black, brown and Indigenous people harder, and promise to have a greater and more lasting impact on these persons of color.

African Americans were the first to lose their jobs and businesses, and because they reside in households with lower net wealth compared to white persons and have more persons per household, the impact is more severe.

My colleagues and I frequently discuss the medical, psychological and spiritual adverse impacts  of years of systemic racism that are borne out by the data. We note, for example, that Blacks, browns and Indigenous people have higher incidence of diabetes, heart-lung disease, hypertension, obesity and other life-compromising maladies. These and other compromises to the health of these persons of color, coupled with economic insecurity and attendant food and housing insecurity, are compounding the economic crisis in these communities that data indicate never fully recovered from the 2008 recession and financial crisis. 

To make sure that this pandemic and the current recession do not become other racial and ethnic generational retardants, New Jersey and Montclair must recognize race and ethnicity as high-risk factors, and appropriately prioritize Black, brown and Indigenous people for vaccinations. 

They must increase their targeted marketing and education efforts to assuage fears, especially of Black Americans who are still reeling from the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” in 1932-1972, and the stealing and misappropriating of the cells of Henrietta Lacks that were used for cancer, the flu, Parkinson’s disease and other groundbreaking research. Medical fields made billions from using her cells, and the Lacks family has received neither an apology nor compensation. 

These two cases, along with the fact that the COVID-19 vaccines have only Emergency Use Authorization and not full FDA approval, make it even harder to get these populations to feel comfortable receiving the vaccine. 

To move more Black, brown and Indigenous persons to receiving the vaccine, Montclair must highlight the contributions of 35-year-old Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black female who developed the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (along with Dr. Barney Graham). This young brilliant scientist and activist was determined to be on the front line of the global race for a SARS-COV-2 vaccine. She wanted people to see her as a Black woman, a doctor of microbiology and immunology. She also publicly received the vaccine to encourage other Black, brown and Indigenous people to get vaccinated and to continue wearing masks and social distancing. So, too, did Vice President Kamala Harris and I, in my capacity as a recognized physician, health, well-being and healing agent, and health policy advocate.    

The Montclair Health Department, in collaboration with persons who are trusted in the community, is providing a lot of helpful information. That includes but is not limited to trusted faith leaders, educators, individuals in medicine, sports coaches, public safety officials, human needs services providers, and social, fraternal and Greek letter association activists who live in Montclair. 

There is a role for everyone to play. We must all be on the front line of a concerted marketing and mobilization campaign to move every Montclairian, especially underserved persons of color, to getting vaccinated, and ensuring that every other Montclairian is vaccinated and continues to adhere to coronavirus protocols of mask wearing and social distancing. 

I propose that we engage in a “We’re Going to Be…COVID FREE!” campaign. Every multiple-dwelling residence in the township should identify “We’re Going to Be…COVID FREE!” building captains, and every residential area should have “We’re Going to Be…COVID FREE!” block captains. Every ward should have “We’re Going to Be…COVID FREE!” ward coordinators. 

These persons would be information, coordination and transportation agents to ensure that every Montclairian adheres to proper coronavirus protocols — wearing double masks and socially distancing — and that every eligible Montclairian receives vaccinations.

Perhaps the township could use some of the most recent coronavirus appropriation to offer residents a stipend for their services. In a small way, this could mitigate the dire adverse impacts of the coronavirus loss of employment and business and engage every resident in making Montclair a gold standard-bearer in becoming a COVID-free township.

Dr. Renée Baskerville is a Montclair resident, a physician, a political activist, a former school board member and a former Fourth Ward councilwoman of 12 years. 


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