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Day of Dialogue forum hosted by Our Weekly

Covering “1619 to COVID-19”

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 10/1/2020, midnight

Our Weekly (OW) hosted a Day of Dialogue session earlier this week, inviting participants to share their views on racism, policing, the pandemic and beyond.

“1619 to COVID-19,” said Avis Ridley-Thomas regarding the scope of discusssion. She is executive director of Days of Dialogue, having retired as the founding director of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Dispute Resolution program.

Days of Dialogue began in 1995, when her husband, then-Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, instituted citywide discussions following the divisiveness seen after the O.J. Simpson verdict that year. Since that time, tens of thousands of Angelenos have participated in discussions hosted in schools, places of worship and community centers by various groups.

Events are provided by the Institute for Nonviolence in Los Angeles, a project of www.CommunityPartners.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Volunteers facilitate discussions during 90-minute breakout room segments.

“We’ve cancelled classes on campus and the pandemic has disproportionatly impacted communities of color,” said W. Franklin Evans, president of Voorhees College, an HBCU located in South Carolina. “The government in my opinion, has not made it a priority.”

Linda McCullough, a Georgia-area teacher, agreed as the group discussed the number of coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths across the country.

“Leadership has caused a lot of this and they haven’t listened to scientists,” McCullough said, specifically blaming President Donald Trump. “If he didn’t want that many people to die, he would have listened to them.”

When the subject turned to the vaccines being developed, however, Evans had doubts, noting that the African-American population does not generally trust science because there is some negative history there.

“We have to be mindful of what happened at Tuskegee,” he said, referring to the government’s deceptions during syphilis experiments conducted on Blacks from 1932 to 1942. “We have to wait and see, before we become a test case.”

The discussion group agreed that the pandemic has revealed institutional racism that has existed since 1619.

“African-American earnings are depressed, we live in dysfunctional neighborhoods, our health is being impacted by low earnings and stress load,” said OW Publisher Natalie Cole. “We’ve been under such incredible stress since we were brought to this country.”

Cole also mentioned the food deserts in the South LA community and the lack of accessible healthcare that have exacerbated the pandemic’s spread.

“That old saying is true,” she said. “If the country has a cold, Black people have the flu.”

Unlike Tokyo, which OW Managing Editor Merdies Hayes said mailed masks to its citizens, the government here has not been that responsive.

“We should at least call on our elected officials before a bad situation becomes worse,” Hayes said, in describing the transportation and economic situations of the poor and homeless, many of whom cannot afford masks or healthcare. “We have to do something to help them before they become another tragedy.”

The discussion group suggested that only grassroots efforts could take charge of the situation by educating and assisting the community through this crisis. Each person should take it upon themselves to spread words of education and provide some support for our neighbors.

“There’s nothing coming from the top, we have to do it on our own. Wear your mask, stay indoors and don’t gather in large groups.” McCullough said. “And we need to go to the polls and vote.”

Again, the group agreed.

“We need to educate our people,” Evans said. “They need to know their vote is important.”