Our Humanity’s New Campaign Demystifies COVID-19 To Protect BIPOC Americans


( ENSPIRE Health & Wellness ) URU The Right To Be, Inc.’s New Campaign Strives To Demystify COVID-19 To Protect BIPOC Americans

ENSPIRE Contributor: Adam Cetorelli

Based out of New Haven, CT, Our Humanity is a new messaging campaign created by Crystal R. Emery to bring accurate information about COVID-19 to protect BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Americans across the country. Emery, a quadriplegic afflicted by several serious diseases, is a filmmaker, director, and educator whose nonprofit URU The Right To Be, Inc. creates content that strives for a more equitable and humane world. URU’s Our Humanity campaign naturally follows its parent organization’s mission, as COVID-19 infection and death rates are significantly higher among BIPOC Americans than their white counterparts. For instance, The CDC reports that American Indians and Alaska Natives are 1.8 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than White Americans, while Black and Latino Americans are 2.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White Americans. These gross disparities reflect the continued legacy of systemic racism in the United States and its effects on BIPOC access to quality healthcare and financial security.

Working in partnership with nearly 30 organizations across the US, Our Humanity brings critical information about COVID-19 to protect BIPOC Americans. Our Humanity works with scientists, advocates, and artists of diverse backgrounds, building trust in the flow of information where a history of medical exploitation of BIPOC communities—like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which required Black men to live with untreated syphilis against their informed consent, and birth control studies and sterilization campaigns that targeted Puerto Rican women—has given many BIPOC Americans reason to be suspicious of doctors, scientists, and public health campaigns. Through infographics, educational videos, and Instagram Live interviews with BIPOC experts, Our Humanity facilitates the spread of information within communities and builds coalitions between them around public health.

Infographic created for Our Humanity by Shanina Khighton

Our Humanity has also partnered with the First Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven, which has founded a learning hub for students to have a safe environment to access computers and Wi-Fi for remote schooling. Working with First Calvary Baptist Church, Our Humanity is extending this successful model to churches nationwide.

Read below for my interview with Emery on URU The Right To Be, Inc., the Our Humanity campaign, and what the US federal government should do right now to protect BIPOC Americans against the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate effects.

Photograph of Emery with a group by Michael Benson (pre-COVID-19)

What does the name URU The Right To Be, Inc. signify?

URU The Right to Be, Inc. is dedicated to working at the intersection of arts, humanities, science, and technology, using multimedia solutions to move all stakeholders toward a more equitable and humane world. “URU” signifies that literally “You are you,” and you have the right to be here. No matter who you are, everyone has the right to be on this earth. Otherwise, you would not be here.

Why do Our Humanity’s COVID-19 information materials, like its videos and PDFs, require user registration to access?

We request that organizations and individuals provide basic information before accessing our materials for a couple of reasons. First, it is essential for us to know how our materials are being used and by whom. This allows us to see where we are already gaining traction and making an impact and where we need to focus more. Secondly, this information allows us to provide more meaningful support to our partnering organizations and individuals. Our Humanity is more than just a catalog of multimedia materials; it is a movement to protect Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities from COVID-19 and uplift our communities through this crisis. In order to make this happen, we must be interfacing in real-time and in meaningful ways: person-to-person.

What was the involvement of Our Humanity in the establishment of the learning hub at the First Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven, CT?

The learning hub held at the First Calvary Baptist Church . . . was the brainchild of Reverend Steven Cousin. We are assisting in utilizing this learning hub as a model and assisting other churches nationally to establish learning hubs—spaces in which students affected by remote learning mandates can go to have access to Wi-Fi, laptops, instructors, and other educational materials—particularly in churches that already have an education ministry.

Photograph of Emery by Uriah Monk

Why did you decide to seek out partnerships with churches around the country to establish these learning hubs?

The Black church has long been a staple in our community and a source of leadership and strength through difficult times. Guided by the spirit of service, and well-established and trusted in their local communities, the Black church is an ideal space for young people to access necessary educational resources and safely continue their learning. Our partnering churches’ space, personnel, and eagerness to help, combined with the resources and expertise of URU, are empowering us to craft unprecedented solutions to this unprecedented crisis.

These faith-based organizations are carrying on a longstanding tradition of dedication to serving the people in their communities, and we are honored to be doing so with them.

What should the US government be doing right now to protect BIPOC Americans and address the disproportionate COVID-19 infection and death rates in BIPOC communities?

There are several things that the US government needs to be doing to address the disproportionate COVID-19 infection and death rates in BIPOC communities. Our country desperately needs a second coronavirus relief bill. People are hurting. Things like the second round of stimulus payments, tenant protections such as rent cancellation and eviction moratoria, and support to small businesses are all essential. It is the responsibility of the government to cover the bare necessities that will enable people to take the necessary life-saving precautions, and not be forced to choose between feeding their family and staying safe. 

Public health efforts such as mask mandates, limits on gatherings, and establishing contact tracing infrastructure continue to be urgently needed. 

We must also understand that racial health disparities have existed at a catastrophic level throughout our country’s history. COVID-19 is only the most recent example, bringing this perennial issue into a new light. The causes for the disproportionate suffering of BIPOC communities are systemic, and systemic change to address these horrifying problems is long overdue. For example, it is morally wrong that healthcare is treated as a privilege rather than a basic human right in this country. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer than ever that our country must do better; that we must create a system in which everyone has access to quality health care and public health resources.

Photograph of Emery with a group by Michael Benson (pre-COVID-19)

Will Our Humanity continue after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, addressing other health concerns?

The short answer is yes, Our Humanity is designed to continue supporting and uplifting communities of color after COVID-19, addressing the large-scale issues that are most pressing in these communities. The network of partnerships and collaborative infrastructure that Our Humanity has built, including local, national, grassroots, and faith-based organizations, is uniquely poised to leverage the power of collective impact to uplift communities and save lives no matter the circumstances. Specific components of Our Humanity, such as our Learning Hubs and support structures for people managing chronic conditions/illnesses, will continue to be valuable after we have gotten COVID-19 under control.

However, we must also be aware that even with a vaccine on the horizon, the COVID-19 crisis will not simply disappear overnight. Mass vaccination is a daunting challenge from both a logistical and public messaging standpoint. As vaccine candidates approach widespread availability, Our Humanity will be leveraging its collaborative resources to engage these challenges. 

Furthermore, the impacts of this crisis on our communities will not disappear with the virus. The pandemic has upended all of our lives and unfortunately has already caused damage—particularly in communities of color—that can’t be remedied by a vaccine. Our Humanity will continue to strive collectively and work diligently to support communities in their recovery from this unprecedented crisis. 

This pandemic and the disproportionate devastation it has wrought on communities of color have made it clear that the “normal” we were living before was never acceptable. Our Humanity will remain dedicated to creating a new normal in which our people are not treated as expendable while being labeled “essential”—a normal in which our communities are stronger and healthier than ever and our lives are valued.

You can access useful infographics about staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic at urutherighttobe.org, and follow URU on Instagram to watch IG Live videos featuring BIPOC experts and activists on the pandemic, Wednesdays at 12 pm EST.

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Feature photograph by Taea Thale