By Barney Blakeney
Last week, protesters led by the S.C. NAACP and S.C. National Action Network converged in Columbia to challenge the state’s relaxation of social restrictions implemented because of the Coronavirus pandemic. The state has stopped enforcing its stay-at-home order and will allow restaurants to resume outdoor dining, two moves meant to boost businesses that were impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. That challenge was made because African Americans in the state are disproportionately impacted by the effects of the virus. I asked some of those challengers their thoughts as the state moves forward with reopening.
May 2 Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III, Vice President, Department of Religious Affairs and External Relations of the National Action Network announced THE MOVEMENT: Testing, Healthcare-Access and Economic Equity Movement, a campaign to bring equity and justice to the recovery from COVID-19 in South Carolina.
“I learned from the recovery after Hurricane Hugo and later Hurricane Katrina that while the disaster may not discriminate and, in this case, the pandemic may not discriminate, the recovery will,” said Rivers. “Those lessons are driving the urgency of our pushing for equity and justice in this period of recovery from COVID-19.”
After conversations with a group of thought leaders in this area, Rivers convened a series of meetings and discussions with S.C. Cong. James E. Clyburn, Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, Precision Genetics Laboratory, executive leadership of the Medical University of South Carolina and Franklin C. Fetter Federal Community Healthcare Centers to discuss launching an initiative to provide COVID-19 screening and testing in underserved and endangered majority-Black counties and communities in South Carolina.
THE MOVEMENT first will focus in the Black-majority counties and communities in the Lowcountry and along the I-95 Corridor also known as the Corridor of Shame. THE MOVEMENT will do similar work in other parts of South Carolina using lessons learned to develop effective strategies to bring equity, fairness and justice across our state in the recovery from the disaster.
Charleston State Sen. Marlon Kimpson added, “I think that people need to be mindful that there is no vaccine for the coronavirus. We are seeing alarming numbers (of infected victims and COVID related deaths) in the underserved communities. While some measures of relaxing restrictions may be warranted, there is too much uncertainty surrounding the virus for most people, especially people in high risk categories, to take a chance at this juncture.”
Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce CEO Marilyn Hemmingway said as the state reopens businesses workers and consumers want to be assured they are safe. Without personal protection equipment and a national plan for reopening, the state’s reopening is more complicated than merely swinging doors open, she said. “Everybody wants the economy to reopen, but that needs to happen in a coherent manner where health and safety are first priorities,” Hemmingway said.