By Chinta Strausberg
What do you do when a high-profile civil rights, religious and political leader like the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. isn’t seen as much in the community and on the national scene during this coronavirus era?
To stop further rumormongering, activist Eddie Read, president of the Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC), stepped up and Friday, May 8, and held a “drive-by show-your-love and respect caravan” outside of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, 930 E. 50th St.
Read was joined by several supporters who emerged from their cars waving and professing their love and respect for a smiling Rev. Jackson who stood across the street at 50th Street and Drexel Blvd. in the shadow of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters he began nearly 50 years ago.
Read quickly organized the caravan of love, after news reporters from one TV station began calling around asking about the health of Rev. Jackson, who is battling Parkinson’s disease.
With horns honking in support of Rev. Jackson, Read told the media, “The idea of the caravan was to keep moving and to show some respect to Rev. Jackson who to many of us is not only a first responder, but he is an essential worker in his own right.”
“That is how we see him,” Read told the media. Those who support us need to know we support them, and that they are not alone. We wanted to say to our brother we value you. We respect you and we love and appreciate you so much.”
Another one of Rev. Jackson’s strong supporters who came to show her love was Dorothy Leavell, editor and publisher of the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspapers.
Praising Rev. Jackson’s long civil rights record, Leavell said, “He’s always on top of the issues and is always on the right side. We appreciate him. We are inspired by him. This pandemic will soon be over so we all can be back on the road to making things better,” she said.
A grateful Rev. Jackson thanked his supporters for their show of love and respect and began telling the media some of the many local and national projects he is working on.
At the time Rev. Jackson made his remarks to the media, Cook County had 29,535 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,248 deaths. In Illinois, there have been 73,760 confirmed cases and 3,241 deaths. Nationally, there had—during the time of the caravan—been 1,317,376 cases and 78,200 deaths and globally, 3,835,828 cases and 279,655 deaths.
Working closely with his senior vice president, Dr. S. Todd Yeary, Rev. Jackson has formed a number of coalitions with several organizations including the National Medical Association, the National Bar Association, educators, clergy and elected officials.
Rev. Jackson and his coalitions are busy warning people to obey the state’s “stay-at-home” order needed to flatten the COVID-19 curve.
After Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered large events canceled and the closure of restaurants and bars with similar action by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who also recently railed about large parties on the West Side, Rev. Jackson has been busy appealing to the public to wash their hands at least 20 seconds, avoid crowds, practice social distancing, stay home and obey proper protocols.
But he also has been worried about the number of detainees in jail and inmates in prison who either have been strickened by COVID-19 or have died. Rev. Jackson wrote a letter to President Trump on March 18, 2020 reminding him that “not everyone can do this.”
He gave as an example of those locked up behind the walls because “there are too many people in proximity to each other who do not have the option of social distancing, and there are literally millions of persons incarcerated who were arrested but not convicted who are languishing in prison awaiting trial.”
Rev. Jackson asked Trump to begin testing the 2.2 million people who are incarcerated and to release those non-violent offenders and place them on monitoring programs. Trump called Rev. Jackson the next day and said he would consider his request. Since then, several inmates and detainees across the nation have been released to electronic monitoring.
But Rev. Jackson isn’t a “one-issue” civil rights leader. On April 15, 2020, in conjunction with the National Medical Association, he issued a joint statement on the response to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic in a public health manifesto.
Calling COVID-19 a “global threat,” Rev. Jackson said the virus has “disproportionately impacted African Americans and other communities of color” so much so that it exceeds the representation of Blacks in the overall population.
COVID-19 has illustrated how the effects of pre-existing health disparities, structural impediments and the ongoing harm done by inadequate strategies are affecting the African-American community.
In addressing this pandemic, the public health manifesto calls for several preventive measures including sheltering-in-place, worshipping at home, wearing facial coverings, practicing physical distancing by at least six-feet and abstaining from hosting large gatherings at home.
The coalition also called on state and local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to collect and publicly report COVID-19 data including testing, emergency department visits, hospitalizations, the outcome data—listing the race, ethnicity, gender and the 9-digit ZIP codes of the victims.
The coalition wants those who are high risk, like African Americans, Latinos, and American Indian/Alaskan Natives, to be assigned a high priority risk score to speed up COVID-19 testing.
The coalition is also calling for more mobile units to provide COVID-19 testing including “walk-up” testing at drive-up testing stations. “Not everyone has a car,” Jackson pointed out.
They also called for greater Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for those frontline health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes.
On affirmative action, the coalition wants to rescind effective immediately the U.S. Department of Labor’s suspension of certain affirmative action guidelines as provided for in the March 17, 2020, memorandum from the director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance programs.
“By carving out exceptions to essential equal opportunity policies as related to federal contracting during the COVID-19 response, some will be denied opportunities at the very time when everyone should be allowed to fully engage in addressing the current public health emergency,” the manifesto stated.
“There can be no ‘whole of America’ response if all of America cannot equally participate in the response,” the manifesto stated.
And globally, the coalition is asking for aid to African countries in response to the COVID-19 era. They are calling for an aggressive deployment of essential medical resources including testing kits, PPE, ventilators “to mitigate further global spread and deaths in African countries,” as well as the potential for re-emergence in African immigrant communities in the U.S. where persons may return to their homes of origin and then return to the U.S.
The coalition is also calling for recruitment and training needed to deploy African-American medical professionals to the U.S. given the “critical” shortage of Black medical professionals. They also want the government to partner and support Black schools of medicine, nursing, and health sciences.
They also want the government to reduce the debt burden on students of color attending medical/nursing schools and to begin earlier in the K-12 educational process to expose students of color to the medical profession and the opportunities available within that profession.
Rev. Jackson is also leading a national coalition to secure funding of the CARES Act needed to help small businesses survive during the COVID-19 era, and he noted that each week he is giving away 3,000 meals to those in need.