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For young people of color, the coronavirus is a triple whammy along with poverty and violence

At a virtual town hall, youth discussed the emotional toll of COVID-19 on communities that have suffered from years of economic and social neglect.

Two women walk past a mural on the South Side. Black Chicagoans are far more likely to contract and die from the coronavirus.
Two women walk past a mural on the South Side. Black Chicagoans are far more likely to contract and die from the coronavirus.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

For decades, people of color have lived at the tip of the sword of health disparities.

Now in Chicago, residents of the city’s South and West sides are catching and dying of COVID-19 at higher rates.

As of last week, 72% of those who have died of COVID-19 in Chicago were black, and more than half of those who had tested positive are black.

The daily stresses of surviving are elevated by COVID-19. Its emotional toll can be as dangerous as the disease. You can’t save your body without a sound mind.

On Thursday, young Chicagoans gathered for a virtual town hall to dissect the triple whammy of violence, poverty and morbidity that plagues their communities. It’s a plague they have been living with far beyond their years.

The Zoom video conference of 52 youth leaders, social workers and elected officials was hosted by Communities United and VOYCE, grass-roots organizations that focus on education and racial justice.

They shared how their families have suffered from “generations” of disinvestment in health care, jobs and economic development, and safety.

“These past couple of weeks, I have been thinking a lot of my father,” said D’Angelo Moore, 18. “Because I lost him in 2015 from gun violence.

“Since his death I have felt a lot of self-blame, anger and pain, which led me to fight a lot in my high school,” said Moore, who lives in Austin on the city’s West Side. “It changed the way I started to make decisions.”

Two weeks ago, a friend succumbed to gun violence. “I feel like all the anger and sadness is coming back out.”

It’s all having “a major impact on my mental health,” Moore said.

Last Tuesday alone, seven people were killed and 14 wounded in gun violence. Chicago suffers the twin pandemics of a novel coronavirus and endemic violence.

The young voices talked of their own underlying condition — the mental and emotional stress of being poor in Chicago.

The young African American father-to-be, whose wife has been laid off from her restaurant job. Their baby is due “in 30 days.”

A Latinx, LGBTQ high school senior who suffers from “depression and anxiety.”

A young woman who fears for an undocumented parent.

They are told to stay at home, but they must work, in service jobs, many of them at minimum wage.

They rely on public transportation to get there. The CTA buses and trains are petri dishes for COVID-19.

On the street, they are threatened by police, they said.

Go to the grocery store? Buy online? They live in food deserts. Many have little or no access to the internet, credit cards, bank accounts.

If they have coronavirus symptoms, they can’t call their primary care doctor. They don’t have one.

Undocumented immigrants fear deportation. They don’t qualify for federal support under the coronavirus stimulus legislation, the CARES Act.

“We have so many people telling us what we need, and no one is asking,” said Meyiya Coleman of North Lawndale. “There’s generations of trauma that are still happening.”

They need — and are demanding — that the governor and mayor create a “support system” from teachers, social workers and counselors. Rent relief. Access to safer, affordable housing. Food safety. Help for homeless youth. An emergency mental health hotline to help lift them out of the novel coronavirus fog.

And understand that when this crisis passes, the generations of trauma will remain.

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Follow Laura S. Washington on Twitter @MediaDervish