By Sen. Adam Hollier
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials and government policymakers made a critical error: We thought everyone would be equally impacted by the virus, yet now we know that’s not true.
We’ve heard it plenty now: Michigan’s Black population represents roughly 14% of the state’s total population, and yet we account for nearly 40% of COVID-19-related deaths statewide. The disparities the Black community have experienced have only been exacerbated by an inadequate response to the social and economic needs of Black people, past and present.
Indeed, this moment in which we disproportionately see Black and Brown communities affected by COVID-19 while also calling for an end to police brutality calls us to confront not just the discussion that Black Lives Matter, but how much Black lives are worth. If ever there was a doubt that economic circumstances and public health outcomes are intertwined, there ought not be any longer. A refusal to not only acknowledge as much, but to let the status quo remain, is a certain kind of ignorance that we should no longer tolerate.
To combat these inequities, I am introducing legislation that would appropriate $300 million from the COVID-19 response funds to help create an independent fund — modeled after the Michigan Health Endowment Fund — and develop a sustainable, long-term funding mechanism to address systemic injustices.
A public-private partnership, that includes the philanthropic and business communities of Michigan, would ensure the success of this new fund and provide the monies to be used to:
- Address and reduce the threat of dual health disparities, including COVID-19 and other health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity;
- Eliminate barriers to stable employment and target programming to provide sustainable living wage employment; and,
- Help minority-owned businesses, including offering them increased capitalization, access to short-term and long-term capital, and more.
During this time of great economic hardship, our duty in the Legislature is to ensure every Michigander has equitable access to resources to help them succeed. Ultimately, the goal of the fund would be to unite the public and private sectors of our economy in the best interests of Black and Brown people, put an end to policies that specifically create barriers for people of color, and create a system whereby Black lives and Black success is treated as equal to all others.
Bridging these gaps is an issue that affects all of us. As Americans, we are taught that our collective power of positive actions will lead to a better community and country for us and our children. When a system has become so efficient at its barriers for a specific set of people that people no longer see racism because it’s embedded in long-held public policy, it is time for a different system.
Black lives — and their worth in society — have been overlooked for too long. With every passing decade, the ability of people of color to achieve that ideal “American Dream” seems to be slipping further and further away.
But now — in this moment — when we have every opportunity to change the conversation and course of history, the discussion should not be about what statues should we take down. Instead, we should be asking, “What will we build?”
This fund is about the future and something we should build, so let’s come together to find a solution that works for all of us. I know we can do better.
Adam Hollier is a Democratic member of the Michigan Senate, representing the 2nd district.